A debate is brewing over the treatment of children who are confused about their gender. Picture a little boy in a pink tutu, fairy wings and ballet pumps. Now imagine that five-year-old boy being treated with hormone-blocking drugs in a clinic established to diagnose and treat children who believe they were born in the wrong body.
Gender Identity Syndrome, first identified by the American Psychiatric Association in the 1990’s, has spawned a new industry, one where children as young as five, are receiving puberty suppressing injections, despite a paucity of research with respect to the side effects or medical dangers that may accompany these treatments.
At Tavistock Clinic in the United Kingdom over 165 children are being treated by the clinic’s team of social workers and child therapists. Seven of these children are under the age of five, despite Tavistock’s own research that indicates that up to 80% of these children will change their minds about living in the wrong body, once they reach adolescence.
Nonetheless, proponents of hormone therapy believe the treatment is worthwhile to prevent the mental distress these children will experience as their bodies mature. The treatment is also said to be beneficial to those children who will eventually have gender-changing surgery. Others say the treatment reduces suicide and self-harm rates.
Contrary opinions abound. Professor Russell Viner, a hormone specialist at London’s Institute of Child Health believes the impact on a child’s developing bones and brain has not been ascertained and warns of the potential danger. He notes the drugs definitely reduce a patient’s fertility level.
Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a world authority on gender issues, has a children’s clinic in Toronto and is opposed to hormonal treatments for children. He says:
“Suppose you saw a black kid that wanted to be white. Wouldn’t you try to understand what was happening…You certainly wouldn’t recommend skin-bleaching.”
He is of the view that gender confusion is an issue of nurture, not nature and believes dysfunctional families or cultural backgrounds play an important role.
Expert Dr. Donald Drescher of the New York Medical College also favors a “wait and see” approach and decries the use of hormone therapy for young children.
The medical and ethical issues of prescribing intrusive treatments on vulnerable children certainly requires more intense scrutiny than it has received to date.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang