Transgender at Five

May 21, 2012

Tyler was born a girl, but at the age of 2 he began insisting that he was a boy. At first, Tyler's parents shrugged it off, but slowly concluded this wasn't just a phase.

Tyler now revels in living as a boy, but treatments for transgender children pose difficult choices for parents and doctors.

Reporter Petula Dvorak, Tyler's mother and a doctor who treats transgender children in the District will discuss this story at 11 a.m. Monday, May 21. Submit your questions here.

Editor's Note: The Washington Post took a number of steps to protect the identity of Tyler and his family beyond their community, where the situation already is widely known. We used only the middle names of Tyler's parents and sister and did not publish details about where they live and go to church and school in the Washington area. Tyler's name in the story is the one his parents would have given him if he'd been born a boy.

Welcome!

This is Jean.  I am a working mother with two great kids.  Tyler is my transgender son who transitioned to male last fall at 4 and 1/2 years old.  My older daughter is Moyin and she is as girly as you can get.  Thanks for taking the time to join us today.

Its not a question I just want you to know through all the vile hatred people are going to be throwing your way, there are a lot of us who really respect and thank you for bringing this story here. That child is wonderfully brave and so are his parents. I hope awareness can eventually eliminate the hatred as people realize that they come into contact with all sorts of people all day and dont even know it. In a single day you may encounter all races, religions, orientations, transgendered, and non transgendered people, people screaming silently because no one knows what they are going through, people with cancer, depression, aids, and people who are perfectly healthy and happy in the bodies they were given, I dare to guess one would run into that last group a lot less than any of the others.

Thank you so much for your comment. It was very brave of the parents to come forward and I am humbled they trusted me with their story. I really don't know how I would've reacted if I were in their shoes. I have so much respect for what they are doing. The easy way out is to ignore it. They are clearly doing difficult work for what they believe is best for their child right now.

I am preparing a presentation on the rights of children for an organizing meeting for an international working forum on children's rights. It is clear to me that Tyler's choice of gender is a right of a child. Is it seen that way by parents of young transgender children and the professionals who work with them? --Dr. Edna Ranck, Washington, DC

I think identity expression is a childs right.  I do not think however, that Tyler has made a choice.  This is simply who he is and how he sees himself.

What are the evidence-based treatments (other than drug/hormone) for transgender children?

According to what I've learned, other than drugs and hormones (which don't come until pre-puberty and then in late puberty), the "treatment" in every child I interviewed (and I spoke with a few more than our little one, Tyler) was to just let them live outside as they feel inside. For most families, the problems -- depression, behavioral, suicidal,-- all went away once the child was allowed to switch.

How can you possible know at age 2 what this child is really feeling inside?

That is why we waited until 4 and 1/2 before we made any changes and consulted experts who deal with gender identity.  We also are not making any kind of permanent change.  Hair grows back, clothes can be changed, the legal name is still female.  We are simply embracing Tyler as he sees himself and allowing this to play out in whatever way he leads.

How are his classmates dealing with the subject? Congratulations for the beloved family!

Tyler's classmates could not care less.  They all took it in stride and made the switch very quickly.  He is the same kid just a different presentation on the outside.  The other parents have also been very supportive.  We are very blessed to have such great people in our lives.

I couldn't help but feel that this was a story of a mom who wanted a little girl to be pretty in pink. The father didn't notice the problem. Being a girl is more than liking dresses and the color pink. Being a boy is more than shorts and liking Spider-Man. Actually, those are the least important differences between the male and female genders. While I have now way of knowing the child or the root problem, but it seemed that if the mom had given in a little more that this child would have never been diagnosed as having a gender issue. Kids love to say and do the opposite of their parents. Sometimes the more they are pushed the harder they will resist. The child is happy because they now have one fewer topics to argue about. Growing up, my neighbors kids would only eat mac and cheese. While others thought it was funny, it seems their life was easier when they pick the big battles and let the small stuff slide.

Actually I have an older daughter who is very frilly, pink and as girly as you can get.  I have supported both of my children in being whoever they are.  Tyler wanted a boy name and for us to use male pronouns and I was the one who really pushed to make this happen at home and eventually out in the world.

For me, this whole issue of one being able to determine one's gender is very confusing. I believe males have an X and Y chromosome and can't give birth. Females have two X chromosomes and can give birth. It's as simple as that: you are what nature made you. Somebody (especially children) can't redefine something just because one feels like it. I can't call, say, a duck a turtle just because I feel like it.

If gender is only about chromosomes and biology, then why are we do feminine boys get bullied and butch girls get labeled tomboys?  And why does my children feel such intense pressure to only play with certain toys and act certain ways?  Gender is much deeper than our physical selves. 

We don't believe children under 18, 16, 14 - depending on the country - are able to vote, drive, marry, manage a bank account, drink, smoke, have sex, chose a religion, change their names. Of course some of these activities are potentially or immediately harmful to themselves or to others, but that's not the reason why we bar the kids from them. It is because we don't think their minds are not developed enough to know better. So, why is this case different? If a kid was equally insistent in getting candy at every meal or not eating veggies, should we acquiesce as well?

I don't think a child asking people to call them "him" or "he" is the equivalent of having sex or driving.

A child knows. For the same reason I knew I was a girl at 3 (having no visual example whatsover of that primary, below-the-belt difference between boys and girls), I knew I was a girl. As Jean told me, there is so much more that separates men from women than just what's in our pants. We often talk, drink, decorate, drive, play, shop and eat differently. All of that is about what's inside, not what's outside. And by the way, these kids do not get candy at every meal. We know that eating candy at every meal leads to bad teeth, bad health and bratiness. Doctors know that in many cases, fighting a child on gender identity can lead to suicide, self-mutilation, depression, anxiety. I don't think any parent can be faulted for trying to avoid the things that, historically, gender variant children go through.

Suicide is a mature thought for such a young child, how would this be expressed?

This child, Tyler, never expressed that. He is lucky because his parents are working to avoid the depression that could lead to those thoughts early on. But the transgender child of another mom, Catherine Hyde, told her when he was 6years old that he was going to get a real gun and kill himself. That child is now living as a young woman, 18, in college and terrific.

Doesn't the honesty of her gender need to be addressed and acknowledged by the the child before something as drastic as what is being done with the child is tried? You do more damage when you placate her emotional state rather than address the deficient mental state of denial. Fantasy over reality...for a 5 year old, will retard her/his growth and ability to come to terms with her true self. Why not wait until the child can understand the complex nature of what is being said rather than rely on emotional support at the expense of the physiological one. Seems selfish to chose this path rather than address the hard reality.

Fighting Tyler on how he sees himself would do far more damage than saying "mommy and daddy love you no matter what".  Tyler can always go back to a female identity if his perception changes.  This is not an easy path and not one we would ever take lightly.  We thought long and hard and spent many hours researching and talking to experts.  In the end, it came down to what is best for our child and we believe we are doing the right thing for him.

Is allowing your child to transition completely legal? What legal challenges did you face, if any?

I know one child, Jackie Green (who just made it to the semi-final of the Miss England pageant) got full, transition surgery at 16. She had to go to Thailand...that can't happen here as far as I know. Her doctor in the US, Norman Spack, began treating her with hormones and drugs at 12. For Tyler's family, there are no legal issues unless Child and Family services ever intervenes and believes they are abusing or neglecting the child. This can be murky, legal water because it is so untested and relies on lots of education on the part of social workers. This is why they carry a "safe folder" everywhere they go, with the psychiatrist's diagnosis, all of Tyler's paperwork, etc. The next legal hurdle they face now would be a legal name change, though that's not something they are considering anytime soon.

How did you decide to allow Tyler to transition at a young age? Did you ever think about taking the "wait until 18" approach?

Tyler wanted to transition and was already pushing at 4 to make changes.  It started with him refusing to wear girl clothes and he even put a hole in a shirt one day when I made him wear it.  He also began brining me scissors and asking me to cut his hair and I knew if I didn't do it, he would.  And the beauty of allowing him to transition now is that he can explore his identity in a safe, controlled environment.  He plays with dolls and trucks.  He picks his clothes.  He is not told he has to be one thing or the other by us.  He is just Tyler. 

My sincere best wishes to Tyler and his family. But as a father myself to very young children, I'm having a real hard time seeing how a child so young can make such significant decisions. There's a reason we don't hold children responsible for their actions at that age. Tyler can't sign a contract, open a bank account or drive a car, for example. Obviously all kids are different, but in the end they're still young children, immature and still developing. Thanks.

Thanks for joining us. And yeah, you are right. Of course very young children can't vote, etc. But kids are about 2-4 when they start acting out their gender roles, right? Even with folks who don't do the pinky-glittery-girlie thing or the trucks-swords-guns thing, those children will act out their general gender roles. I remember a study recently that even showed little girl monkeys cuddling stuffed dolls while boy monkeys bashed things with sticks. So, if our BRAINS tell us to do these things, why wouldn't a brain tell a child -- if there is something different about the way that brain is wired -- to act one way, even if the body parts outside won't make them act another? It is a very difficult decision, one I know this family did not make lightly. One of the things I kept asking doctors is, "if the child changes his/her mind and decides to go back to what the birth certificate said, is there any harm in those months or years living as the opposite gender?" All the docs said no. The only problem they found was in the case of controlling parents who didn't allow their children flexibility. That seems to be the key, flexibility and knowing your child.

Do you feel you are rushing this?  Your Tyler is only 5 years old. I realize all scenarios are just that, but many years ago I knew another Mother who's 5 year old son only wanted to play with Barbie's and toy horses- he wanted a Barbie Party at a local horse barn- the entire party was Pink, Pink Pink.  The 5 year old Boy was dressed up like a pink pony and wanted everyone to give him a pony or Barbie doll...so let's say 30 years later this young man is married, kids and laughs a great deal about his Barbie party! He does however have a Horse and rides ;0) My story to you is simply - this child did exhibit feminine characteristics and of course all who knew were tentative but love is love is love- he grew out of it and this desire for Pink / Barbie's went on for years. Why not wait and see. I would also like to inquire how much TV/Video/Phone time has this child been able to log. I really believe the parents have not done a service to this little girl (yes she is still a little girl) by having this story released to public and the WAPO /Petula Dvorak should all sit down and have a meeting regarding compromising a child's life for the sake of readership and sensationalism.

Our desire in going public was to help others understand this issue and maybe provide families going through this same struggle with support and options.

Tyler knows he can go back to a female identity at any time and tells me emphatically that he is now and always will be a boy.  Our society is so narrow in our perceptions of gender.  It is a shame that our children need to have any label and can't just be who they are, do what they like, and present however they feel without all of this controversy.

During the time you thought Tyler was still going through a phase- were you aware of transgender? How did you go about discovering that gender identity developed at such a young age?

Like most peopel, I knew almost nothing about transgender people.  I learned by doing lots of research.  I spent all of my free time reading and watching videos on the topic until I was sure.  I still continue to read about this and will be a life long learner about transgender people no matter what happens with Tyler.

Is gender neutrality part of treatment advice?

I know one expert recommends that and we did go for neutral clothing for a time but it was not enough for Tyler.  He really wanted all things "boy".

Thus condemning Tyler to 16 years of misery, including his entire school life? Why?

Exactl! Thanks for that. One of the other families I talked to did try to wait. In the meantime, their child tried to commit suicide three times, cut himself and was constantly miserable and combative. At 15, they learned about transgender children and opened their minds. Other studies I read had these kids trying to cut off their penises, shower with their clothes on because they can't stand their bodies, bind their budding breasts and so forth.This is what Jean and Stephen are trying to spare Tyler from.

How can you do this to your child? If you're born with XY or XX that's what you are. This is a sin against god and humanity. Nature created a daughter - not a son. You've failed as a parent and as a mother.

My God loves all children and does not need to put them in a box.

Wow. What an article. To the parents, I am blown away by how you have handled this, given everything involved with your child, family, school, work, society... How you have dealt with this is so impressive and inspiring. My heart and prayers go out to you and your family as you deal with the many issues and decisions that have and will continue to need to be made...

Thank you so much and Jean and Stephen thank you for your support. I can tell you from hanging out with them these past few months, this isn't easy. But they feel it is right, at this moment. I don't know if I could do it, it's hard work.

I was so pleased to see that your church community is also supporting you through this difficult decision/transition, and loving Tyler no matter what. What would Jesus do, indeed!

Thank you!  We love our church too and want diverse people to know that there are places of faith that will welcome them!

Your story is fascinating and poignant, and I totally support how you are dealing with Tyler. My question is, as you contemplated how to deal with his gender identity issues, did you ever question whether he had somehow picked up clues about male privilege in society--that is, that Tyler perceived that males often have unfair advantages over females? I'm not suggesting at all that his dysphoria is a cultural issue, but I'm just wondering if that's something that you asked yourselves as you wrestled with this.

Yes, early on both my mother and mother-in-law discussed this possibility with us.  We also thought that maybe Tyler just wanted to be different from his older girly sister and this was how he tried but over time it became clear that this is much more than that.  We also have a home where both parents work, both clean, daddy cooks and does laundry, mommy has her own tool kit... So both of our kids do not really see male privelege.

How common is it for a child to show no signs of gender dysphoria until after puberty and then determine that he/she is transgender?

I think this is very common, and the norm in most cases. The idea that we can go back to adult transgender people now and interview them and learn that they knew at 2, or 3 or 4, gives very fertile evidence that a child can show signs very early on. And given that, parents can react very early on. Remember, the human gender spectrum is wide, actually. We can be tomboys, metrosexuals, girly girls, manly men. If only we weren't so rigid in our rules, things could be easier. If a boy who isn't transgender but also isn't macho wasn't showered with trucks and planes, maybe he would be happier, more comfortable. Someone earlier commented on pink legos. Seriously?! Why can't Legos be all colors for all kids?

How can you make the choice to play God? Your daughter isn't old enough to understand the change and you shouldn't be making the change for your child. All you've done is slight God - you haven't changed chromosomes

How do you know that this is not God's plan for my child?  We prayed and sought out spiritual advice as well as other experts.  Again I say: My God loves all children.

I'm amazed at all of these posters who think that a child below a certain age can't know something as basic as who they are. Did they have this experience when they were younger? Did they go through a phase where they were a unicorn and then just grow out of it? Did they think they were gay but later checned their mind? As a woman who has never been typical of my gender, i.e. not wanting to have children, let me fill you in on something. When you tell a child, or even an adult, that what they know in their heart and soul to be true is just a phase they'll grow out of, they may start to live disjointed reality, wondering if everything else they know about themselves to be true is actually a lie; that they're just crazy. So keep it up, you mindreaders out there.

I don't have anything to add to this. Very eloquent. Thank you, reader.

I can only imagine how difficult it has been for the parents to weigh the options and determine the best solution for their family. I'm not a parent, but I believe it when you say "kids know." I appreciate your bringing awareness to this issue and I hope that the sailing continues to get smoother, though I realize you've got many challenges ahead. Keeping an open mind helps so much, and I think you are doing the right thing.

Thank you so much for having an open mind.  We appreciate the support.

Apparently the commenter doesn't realize that some people have three chromosomes. What would the commenter likely make of that?

It's strange how I am more interested in learning about what is going on in the head's of the adults who judge this family, rather than what is going on in Tyler's head and children like him. When you are a parent, the one thing you can give your child continuously and unconditionally is love and support. We can all agree that not giving that would be "bad parenting." Tyler seems to be happy and thriving and at peace. What he wears or calls himself should not matter to ANYONE. Period. If ALL parents taught their children to live and let live, we would not be having this discussion. I pray that this family continues to receive more love and support than intolerance and hate throughout Tyler's life.

My thoughts exactly.  Thank you so much.

I'm sorry but this does not need to be reported. I agree with the other person that this is sensationalist reporting, but I guess that Petula needs to keep busy.

Don't worry, there's plenty to keep me busy. I don't need to find sensational stories. But there are many, many schools that deal with this issue. Some doctors say there may be one in 1,000 transgender children among us. It is not widespread, but common enough to address. And if it's not to help the people struggling with this, how about educating your kids when they come home to tell you about the transgender kid in our class. OK, gotta run, much to do.

So many people posting that it's "too soon" to allow Tyler to be Tyler. They seem to be advocating a return to the forcing him into girls' clothes and toys that obviously made him miserable. I don't understand their clinging to some theory in the face of the evidence.

I don't get it either.

That was the telling moment for me when reading the article. So to the people who think Tyler's parents are just indulging him (akin to allowing candy at every meal) and not letting him just develop as her, why would a three-year old make that statement unless there was something much more confusing going on in that child's mind? It's more than being a girl and wanting to wear a Spiderman costume.

I write to wish you well. While this indeed is so new it is newsworthy, I want to thank you for having the courage to recognize a child's problem and address it earlier in life rather than waiting until in manifests itself as a larger difficulty. There are so many emotional issues that can be identified early in live and it is far more helpful to deal with them earlier, rather than later.

Thank you, I'm answering some for Jean because she is typing away as well. I know this is pioneer thinking on their parts, and it's nervous-making. But they are handling it with grace and sensitivity. Thank you for writing this!

Has anyone attempted to track children like these as they age? Do any switch back? How many go on to gender reassignment surgery? How do their peers react as they all move into puberty?

Allowing children to transition has only become common in the last 10 years so there is very little data.  But the great things about allowing a young child to transition is that he can always transition back without any long term negative effects.

I think this article did a great job of articulating the difference between transgender and someone who doesn't always go with their gender norms. My daughter has refused to wear dresses and skirt since the age of three, wants her hair cut short, and plays with building toys, never dolls. On the other hand, she has never expressed a desire to be a boy or insisted she was a boy. Kudos to the parents for listening to their child. As stated, some kids do end up going back to their gender and no longer remain trans. Tyler's family is giving Tyler the space to figure out what is best for Tyler, backed up with love and support.

This is well said, thank you.

The family is identified as being church-goers....how did they reconcile belief with reality? i.e., I assume they believe God created their child in His image, therefore, how do they explain a gender-identity crisis?

The same parents with autistic children or kids with cerebral palsy do.  We realize that God is greater than us and far beyond our understanding.  And quite frankly there is nothing wrong with my child.  He simply defies societies narrow vision of what he should be.

The child did not "make a decision." Tyler acted out how he felt, and was apparently consistent from a very young age.

Your daughter is still your daughter. Trying to medically alter her personality isn't going to change chromosomes.

This family is doing nothing to medically alter their child. They are allowing the child to live as she wants, as a he. That means nothing to anyone but the adults who have a problem with it. The really tough decision-making happens later, and I think that long before any medical intervention is considered, this child will have had time to learn, think, consider and educate himself on it.

Most people don't know that you can change your name by usage alone rather than going to court to change it. Or does the family want a legal document to add to their safe folder documenting the name change?

Oh wow, that's interesting. I didn't know that either. I know they are considering the name change, but probably not for quite a few years, once it's clearer that Tyler really wants to be Tyler. Jean was telling me she was on a nationwide chat group with other trans parents the other day and they were already doing legal name changes at 5 and 6. "Wow, and here I am the conservative one," she quipped.

Hello. How do you feel about the transition? Any anger? Disappointment?

I was more afraid for what kind of life Tyler would have than anything.  The statistics of violence against transgender people are horrific.  I did realize though that a strong foundation at home would help him and is more important than my own fears.  And I personally don't care if my child is a boy or a girl.  It is the same child inside.  Happy and healthy are my goals.

Edna again. From my work with young children and the policies that affect them, I know that children under five have a real sense of who they are; many Americans don't know that or refuse to accept it. It is one of the reasons that the United States is only one of two countries out of 195 that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In addition, during the early 1980s, I read an article in a U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services periodical about very young children who were depressed and even suicidal. Melanie Klein, a psychiatrist who studied with Freud and who worked with infants and mothers often recognized severe depression in infants. My other questions: how often does a child ask to alter gender to a difference from biology? --Dr. Edna Ranck, Washington, DC

I'm a bit baffled by some of the vitriol in the comments to the article, even in some of the chatters today (though they seem better behaved). It seems to challenge people in some way that I don't grasp. If a kid wants to play with spider man rather than barbie, or wear brown rather than pink, what does it have to do with them, particularly at such a personal level? And what is the "significance" of it that some have alluded to, given the utter lack of any permanent change (until adulthood, when the excuse of "they're just a kid" goes away)?

To those who do not believe that anyone can know who they are at 5, or even earlier, I suggest you learn about gender development. We all develop our gender between 2 and 5. It's just that some of us are told that we failed that part of being a human being because we disagree with the chromosomal definition of sex being used to define gender. Sex and gender are two different things. I'm 64 years old and a had to wait to transition from male to female until I was 44 because at that time there was no help for people like me. I wish you could imagine the pain that could have been avoided if there was.

When my son (now an adult) was 3 or 4, he constantly said, "I wish I was a girl" and he even grew his hair long all through elementary school. But he never said, "I *AM* a girl", and never asked to dress in girls' clothes or be called by a girl's name. I think there is a huge difference in Tyler's case vs. someone like my son, who was, I think, just going through a phase. When I read some of these questions, I wonder if people actually read the article.

How is this handled by the schools? Are they generally supportive of the parents' decision and how do they handle questions from other kids? In my limited experience with my own kids, it seems that kids don't really care all that much and if their questions are answered factually (age appropriately, obviously) it isn't a big deal I also imagine that it helps kids understand from an early age that people are different and promotes a more accepting attitude from both parents and children.

Leesburg, thank you for your question. It really varies school by school. Dr. Patrick Kelly, out in Baltimore, said he got pulled into some vicious fights with schools on gender variant children. Another family I spoke to in Howard County told me the teachers actually approached the parents and suggested that the child could be transgender. "Jack" was allowed to come to school as "Jackie" (the teachers were relieved, because Jack's desire to be Jackie was a huge distraction in class. Once in a dress, Jackie just became a regular student, rather than a constant issue.) There, they allowed Jackie to use the nurse's bathroom, rather than a public one. In Jean and Stephen's case, they already are at a very open and accepting private school that welcomed Tyler and had staff training about the issue.

i have a 15 year old f to m transgender son.. I need help and advice. GHY Virginia Beach

Thanks for reaching out and kudos for looking for help. If you don't mind, email me at dvorakp@washpost.com and I will get you some numbers and contacts. Also, look up your local PFLAG website, they will have names and numbers of counselors.

Thank you for sharing your story. Accordng to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders there has to be " a profound disturbance of the normal gender identity". I am assuming that Tyler showed his mental state as a girl every day after his babyhood. Can you site some examples? What did you hear about counseling for Tyler and the family that could have possibly been thought of as a remedy at that time? The article mentions Edgardo Menvielle and the counseling that he does with transgender chlldren. It says that 80 per cent of the kids "end up switching back to what their biology tells them". Can you comment on your feelings on that? Thanks again for sharing yoru story.

Tyler would get very angry when we said he was born a girl and would yell at us that we were wrong.  He was just so certain.  But mostly he was fine I think in large part because we did not force him into girl things and allowed him to choose clothes and toys.  Our feelings on going back are: Tyler knows who he is and we will love and support him as he grows and changes even if it means transitioning back.  We did it once we can do it again.

I am a gender activist and am so proud of the family for handling this so wonderfully. I don't know why people are so resistant to listening to children - they know who they are. Jean and Stephen, while many will balk and question your decisions, it is clear you did the research and are loving Tyler as he is. I hope there will be more understanding and support for those who are gender dysphoric and/or transgender in the future. There is too much anger and fear based on things people do not understand, so thank you for sharing your story and thanks to Petula for bringing this to us!

Thanks. I am publishing this so people see the support out there for them! In the end, why does letting a child change MATTER so much to people?

There is a very good movie called "No Dumb Questions" which talks about how three kids deal with their uncle becoming an aunt. The aunt, while male, endured years of abuse and bullying at school. I applaud your decision. There is nothing worse than being bullied. Because you allowed your child to be who he is, i think he will avoid the bullying.

Oh, I'll have to go look for that movie. Great tip, thanks!

So, according to your logic, God created this child to live a life of misery? God intended this child's mental and emotional comfort zone to be condemned by people like you? I'm sorry for you, believing in a God like that.

What about kids with cancer?  Why did God create them?  I actually think we are lucky because Tyler is happy and healthy and his gender identity has been easily remedied.  It is small minded people that have the problem, not him.

so many people are saying that Tyler is too young to have a gender identity. When my nephew was around 19 months old, someone seemed to turn off the baby and turn on the boy. He went from being interested in toy cars because you could push them around and started to like them because they were *cars*. It was a clear noticable change over a very short time. By the time she was that age, my niece was still interested in cars but mostly because the movie Cars wasn't scarey and she was obsessed with baby dolls too. No one has any problem with kids expressing gender identity or says they are too young to mean it when what they express matches their genes. I don't get why the feelings become a problem when what they are expressing doesn't match. People used to make left handed children write with their right hands too. No one would even consider that now.

As a transgender advocate of long standing, aged 64 who transitioned from male to female at the age of 44, I can only plead with people to understand the amount of pain that can be avoided by listening to the needs of the child. Back when I was a child, in the 1950s, there was no help available. Four decades of pain and heartache are more than most pople can bear. I'm one of the lucky survivors...but I certainly wish that I could have started my life much sooner.

Thank you for your story. It speaks volumes that I could never, ever articulate.

What should a parent do if a child insists that he is a dog?

Buy him a doghouse and save money by feeding him kibbles, of course! Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Does Tyler express any desire to change his physical body or disappointment with his current body?

We watched Chaz Bono on Oprah and the only thing Tyler said aftwards "When can I have the surgery?"  He still asks from time to time and I tell him when he is 18 if he still wants surgery then we will talk.

As a transgendered individual who transitioned from male to female at the early (for the early 90s!) age of 19, let me say how wonderful it is to see how more open minded parents and the culture at large are becoming. I remember when I was a child how I would consciously hide my feelings from my parents and friends for fear of being ostracized (or worse). Tyler is incredibly fortunate to have such loving parents, and if he decides to continue on with his chosen gender the benefits of avoiding the problems those of us have had to deal with by transitioning later are incalculable. I have to admit, I'm a bit jealous!

Thank you.  Hopefully, we can continue to make it easier for all of the trans people out there by educating others.

Where was it stated that the parents were "trying to medically alter her personality"? It was Tyler's personality that led them down the path they're taking. Did you even read the article?

This says more about what people believe "God's image" is than about what God wants for His children.

The article quoted a doctor who said 80% of such children revert to identifying with their biological gender. At what age does this generally happen - before or after puberty?

I think this really varies by child. I have no good answer for this. Anecdotally, one doctor told me that just as puberty sets in, some children will decide to switch back. For others, they may see how difficult life as a transgender person would be, they don't have a good support structure, so they just give up and switch back. Many of these folks come back to transition later in life. It's an intricate combination, our hormones, our brains, our bodies, isn't it?

Just wanted to say kudos for bringing us this story. It is fascinating and you told it well. Best of luck to Tyler and his family!

Thanks from Jean and Stephen!

OK, let's find out how many children threaten suicide and become severely depressed at not getting candy at every meal.

Don't you think that allowing Tyler to express herself as a boy may still cause her peers to label her as being different? It may not happen now, but as she gets older other kids may tease her for acting like a boy since they don't see this as normal. In addition, the extent to which one has to go to accomodate this type of behavior I believe may also lead Tyler to feeling isolated. Have you thought about this?

Tyler already felt isolated because everyone kept saying he was a girl when he did not see himself this way.  And we are hoping to educate others to help gain acceptance of Tyler and transkids.  Why should Tyler have to live as a girl when that makes him so miserable?  To be socially acceptable?  And we have a group of transfamilies to provide support during the tough times.  Tyler will never be alone anymore than any of us are.

Just a comment for the people who keep bringing up chromosomes as some sort of trump card for attacking Tyler's and his parents's choice... chromosomes only tell part the tale, and occasionally not even very well. People can have XY, XX, XXY, XXXXY, mosaics where everything mixes together. And then on top of that you have a great number of medical conditions like Androgen Insensitivity Disorder where a male (XY) child is completely immune to testosterone and other androgens, and develop into women. There are thousands of women in this situation, many who may never even know, would we then say we should force them into living as men? And this doesn't even bring in the issues Intersexed people have all the time. If anything this story, and others like it, help educate the population of what sex and gender is REALLY like.

Young children know they are boys or girls because they are told one way or the other, the same way they know what a cat is, or a cookie, or anything else. They're just labels. Girls or boys, you can wear any clothes you want to, there are no such things as "girls" clothes or "boys" clothes. There are no such things as "girls" toys or "boys" toys. I'm female by anatomy. I have worn all kinds of clothes my entire life, including those supposedly made for men or boys as often as I've worn dresses. I played with trucks and dolls, ran races, played football and basketball. You have made your daughter think she is a boy because you have labeled the things she feels comfortable with and likes doing as "boy" things. That's ridiculous. Why didn't you tell her she could do or wear whatever she wants? If people make fun of you, they've got a problem.

We did not label these things; society did.  We also gave our child a "girl" name based on physical biology and that name was quickly one of many things that made my child uncomfortable.  We are still not labeling.  Tyler has dolls, a doll house, trucks, spiderman toys, legos ...  We do not limit either of our children by societies rules.  This is about something much deeper.

I thank Petula and Tyler's parents for their loving, caring and learning. I too wished that 70 years ago there was information on this for my parents, yet it took until this Century for REAL information to be published. It's the narrow mindedness of many that keeps many of us hidden. THANKS FOR THE ARTICLE. CHLOE R

Thanks for sharing this story. It never ceases to amaze me how distressing the topic of gender identity (and probably racial identity) can be to some people. Our culture is seemingly obsessed with categorizing ourselves. Read up on poor Storm Stocker, whose gender has not been made public, to see how crazy this makes people. Although I think their approach is extreme, Storm's parents have certainly pointed out how uncomfortable society is when kids do not conform to traditional gender stereotypes. Bravo to Tyler and family to helping to break us out of our comfort zone.

Once Tyler's old enough to use public bathrooms without parental supervision, will it be the boy or girl bathrooms? What about locker rooms?

Tyler is being taught to navigate public bathrooms.  He will use boys bathrooms and locker rooms.  He will have to be able to assess the safety of the situation each time and then decide how to proceed.  Sad that my child has to worry about going pee.

The article stated that many of the children who when they're young think they're transgender, eventually outgrow it. Is there a way to determine which children are truly transgender, and which are merely going through a phase? It seems that obtaining transiting treatment for the "phase" kids would be just as harmful as denying it to the truly transgender ones.

This is a good question, and it goes to the heart of why the parenting decisions of Jean and Stephen can stir up so much controversy. There is so little data on this. But docs I talked to said it's relatively easy to weed out the ones who are just doing the very typical, cross-gender behavior of preschoolers. It's that complete insistence that the child IS the other gender. Even some of the gay folks I talked to -- the boys who danced and wore dresses early on -- said they never wanted to BE girls, they just wanted to dress or play like them. So some really intensive counseling with experts who know what they are doing is one good way to figure out the phase kids. Remember, this has only been studied, accepted and acknowledged in the US for about 10 years, so education, methods and treatment are all evolving. As for the phase kids, doctors said there is probably little or no harm to the ones who simply get to live as the opposite gender. They only find it difficult in extreme cases, the kind of Toddlers-and-Tiaras craziness that has the mother of three boys INSISTING that her fourth boy is a girl. That boy may go along with psycho-mommy's desire to be a girl and please and indulge her. But if he wants to fight it and go back to being a boy, he will have a difficult time. Those cases are rare -- but the amount of reality TV out there tells us they exist.

As far as puberty suspension, there is no real evidence that it does any harm if stopped. Lots of kids are on it for different reasons - the kind of baffling early onset puberty that we think is because of cow milk hormones, etc. Thanks for this!

At age three my own daughter began to announce frequently '' im a boy'' . I was shocked , and would always snap back angrily you are a girl. She acted like tomboy also . In middle school she played all sports and wen through a phase of dressing masculine . I hurt over this but allowed it. My daughter is now 17 and dating(5th boyfriend) loves make up and all things purple pink and sexy. She is also preparing for her prom . I have many more tom boy stories about her but I only want to encourage you mom to support your baby no matter what. Also sometimes when we resist they fight back harder just to get a rise out of us. watch ,wait who knows may be one day tyler will look back and ask what was i thinking, or say dad, mom thanks for your unconditional love and support.

Thank you so much.  We do want our child to know he has our unconditional love and support.

You didn't really read the article, did you? You're just viewing it through the lens of your prejudice. Who knows how many parents with children like Tyler will take courage from the description of these parents and their coming to terms with just letting the child be who he feels he really is. And really, you think the kid is going to save the clipping to read it as an adolescent and be ashamed?

We were very, very careful to find all kinds of ways to shield Tyler's identity. This is not sensationalism. Jean turned away lots of TV and big shows. She just wanted others to know they are not alone. And the overwhelming amount of emails I got from parents thanking her for their story shows they indeed are not alone in this!

Thanks for being such great parents, and for your willingness to share your story. Are there charities that help kids whose parents aren't as supportive? And/or, I don't know any (out) trans kids and I'd love to help build a more welcoming world... any suggestions?

I think just being open and speaking up when the opportunity arises is important.  I do not know of any organizations that are specifically to help kids whose parents are not supportive.  Many people turn to PFLAG because there has not been much for transpeople.

Food for thought: according to the Intersex Society North America there are approximately 1:1500 births of a child who cannot be determined by doctors to be either male of female. I wonder how the "god" of some commenters feel about those individuals. Many ancient cultures felt that people who displayed both male and female traits were actually the embodiment of God. Good for you for not limiting God's love to just those who follow mainstream religious and cultural views.

Thank you.  I wish more Christians were not so narrow.  More people would practice religion and maybe find peace if we could focus on the love and our similarities instead of differences.

I have trouble understanding this and I would really like to get it. If I had a black child who really "felt" white, and "acted" white (based on our community's stereotypes) and insisted on being referred to as white, I would have to say to them, "That may be, but the fact is that you're black." It wouldn't be an option (to any reasonable person) to start treatments and procedures to have his "outside match his inside." (I realize that Tyler's family hasn't reached the medical steps yet; this is more of a general transgender question.)

Well we asked Tyler what it meant to be a boy and then tried to make those changes for him (ie clothes, room decorations ...) but it wasn't enough.  So I would want to know what it means to be white.  If is just cosmetic then it is no different than plastic surgery.  If it is more then I would want to address what is missing in this person.

What do you do when your child hits the age 8/14/21/etc? Your daughter will never live a normal life now. Can't have a child - can't go to the prom - etc. No one is going to want to date a shim. This is a very selfish act you took

That's harsh. And there is no way for the parents to know exactly what they will do when Tyler is 8/14 and so forth. They are trying to do what is best for him. This child is warm, happy, great in school. Why mess with it because you want the child to dress according to what's in the underpants? They are everything but selfish, it's a difficult thing they are doing, but it is done with education, a doctor's counseling, pastoral counseling and love. And by the way, did you look at the pictures? Prom dates are going to be lining up to be with this beautiful soul. Plus, have you seen how hot Chaz Bono's girlfriend is??

There's a terrific book written by a friend of mine called "The Last Time I Wore a Dress." (written by Daphne Scholinski, who now goes by Dylan). It's his story of being diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder and being sent to a mental hospital to learn how to be a girl. I highly recommend it. Dylan now runs sent(a)mental studios in Denver and does a lot of outreach to gay/transgender youths. Just another resource for those who might need it!

Thanks for coming to the chat and for this book. I'll put it out there for all to read, sounds compelling. And how brave to write it.

I just want to express my support and thanks for caring enough about your son to pay attention to what he was telling you. I know an adult transgendered man and he had quite an unhappy childhood having to remain a girl. He did know as well, always, that he wasn't a girl. I believe psychological and biological gender do not always match. I'm a lesbian and while I always knew I was different in some way, I did not think I was a boy or ever want to be a boy. It's not the same thing at all, for those who think it might be.

Thanks for this comment. That is the thing that keeps ringing in my ears, the tough childhood of the transgendered adult. If you, as a parent, could prevent this, who wouldn't try?

It's not quite a question, but as a trans guy, I want to tell you that you're doing the right thing, and that the people questioning you don't understand what it's like. This is more comparable to treating an illness or a defect than to the voluntary things people make examples with, and no one would say you should wait until 18 to correct a cleft lip or club foot.

Eloquent example, Solidarity. Thank you!

There's been an ongoing transgender case at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown, where a F=>M student who has not yet undergone surgery insisted on using male locker rooms and showers. The student was eventually charged with indecent exposure, and expelled. How do you advise parents of pre-surgical transgender children to have schools and other organizations handle the shower and locker room situation, when the children clearly still lack the anatomy of their ultimate destination gender?

I hope they seek legal action against the school. 

This also highlights our need for laws to be put in place to protect everyone.  I know in our area people were worried that laws protecting transpeople would make it easy for pedophiles to access opposite gender bathrooms ... but I think the laws could be written to require some kind of documentation from a doctor or therapist.  My son has documentation.

 

I notice Spider Man is mentioned frequently here. Spider Man would approve of this 100%!

Totally. Great point.

All these (presumably) adults are writing in about how Tyler will be teased and ostracized, when the family is reporting that his peers have responded well. Kids are naturally flexible and accepting of differences. I wish we could say the same about their parents.

The adults are the ones with the problem!  Sadly many pass that on to their kids and they are the ones who will mistreat other kids.  It is very sad.

So a "normal life" means depression and suicidal thoughts. How nice.

What is normal, anyhow? Thanks for that pithy response.

 

I am wondering if Tyler has expressed a desire to have a boy's body. I am wondering , and I'm sure it varies child to child, if children who feel they have the mind of the opposite gender, always want to change their body to match their mind or are some happy to have that opposite gender mind in their existing body. I guess I'm thinking a person should not be forced to mutilate their body, just to express themselves they way they need to. I hope this makes sense!

Some people live as gender queer, body one gender and outward presentation as another, and are really happy.  Tyler will have many choices down the road.

Also not a question, just admiration for your bravery and awareness. My child did not exhibit the desire to change genders until after a suicide attempt and a long period of questioning during the teen years. It has been a challenging adjustment for me, but my child, now an adult, is happy and successful as a transgendered female to male. I don't know if I could have been as supportive if the issue had come up at an early age. I do know that the transition is more difficult after puberty for these children.

Just because some people are only comfortable in a world where everything is black and white and rules are set down for everything doesn't mean that the rest of the world is that way. why are you imposing your discomfort on children who, as the experts said, stopped being depressed and suicidal as soon as their view of their own gender was accepted?

And you know this how? Let's hear from all the transgendered people, and cross-dressers, etc. who have full dating lives, because, believe me, we're out there.

Yes! And I know you have more fun than many of boring people out here!

I'm a 58-year-old hetero woman who can't have children and didn't go to the prom. So according to you I "can never live a normal life"? How insulting.

Amen.

A transgender child joined our 6th grade class this year. Kudos to her parents, who made it clear from day one this is where they are at. There was a little anxiety with some parents, but props to our kids, who totally took it in stride. Even at an age where they are starting boy-girl relationships, they seem completely unaffected by her gender identity. She just is who she is. And I think her family's openness is what makes that possible.

This is awesome, thanks for sharing. And it's some of the reason I am so glad the Jean and Stephen shared their story. Not just for parents like them, but parents like us, who want to know more, want to know why, want to know all about it, but may not want to ask. And you are right, the kids really don't care. It's us grownups who mess it up!

First, I commend the parents for allowing Tyler to live as his authentic self. My question is: has there been any tension in your marriage when deciding how to move forward with Tylers treatment? If so, how did you move past it?

We had short periods of tension when we did not see eye to eye on things.  I was ready for Tyler to transition before my husband was but in the end we came together.  Our love for each other and our children enabled us to come together and do the right thing.  And we always kept it removed from the kids so they never hear us argue.

I don't mean to pile on with attacks. The parents sound loving and supportive and at the end of the day, that's the most important thing. My question is one that I've always had about transgender. Petula said, "there is so much more that separates men from women than just what's in our pants. We often talk, drink, decorate, drive, play, shop and eat differently." Most of this is learned. Pink used to be the color for boys. Lace used to be for boys. Toy and clothing stores are so rigidly gender-segregated it's sad. (Pink legos for girls, etc when regular legos used to be just fine for girls!) Even if you think you protect your kids from these influences, they still are affected-- by their friends, classmates, media, etc. Why isn't Tyler just "a kid who likes clothing and activities that are -generally- pushed on boys in our society at this time"? Transgenderism seems to be based on a wholehearted acceptance of gender stereotypes, instead of pushing them to be more open to diversity. I understand that bullying is an issue, but is the solution to conform to the bullies' expectations of what each gender should be?

I agree that our society is very narrow in defining gender but one big issue for Tyler is that he wants to have a penis.  He talks about it, pretends he does have one, and even seems to feel incomplete.

This is where I start having trouble. I wouldn't necessarily want my girl changing in the locker room with a trans girl or my boy in the locker room with a trans boy. But making the trans child use a neutral handicap restroom would just single him or her out more. How do you think you and the schools will deal with this?

Yes, it is a puzzle for lots of schools. But I also remember that all the locker rooms have stalls. Remember going in them when you had stupid underwear on or didn't want anyone to see your awful new training bra? I assume that's an answer for some

Nature has a variety of gender and/or reproductive strategies that go against the traditional "born a male/female, always a male/female" system. For example, look up "sequential hermaphroditism " in wikipedia. "Sequential hermaphroditism is a type of hermaphroditism that occurs in many fish, gastropods and plants. Here, the individual is born one sex and changes sex at some point in their life. They can change from a male to female (protandry), or from female to male (protogyny)."

Nature plays some awesome tricks on our silly assumptions, doesn't it?

How has your older child handled her brother's transition?

Moyin struggled with it in the beginning.  We found other families with transkids and hooked her up with the siblings so she has some friends who understand.  We also enlisted her school to support her and they were wonderful!  We began to read about and watch videos of trans kids so she would begin to see her brother was not the only one.  Latly we took her to counseling also so she could ask an expert questions and talk about her own feelings.  She loves and accepts her brother and knows that she also is loved and accepted for who she is.

I'm a little tired of all these hypotheticals being presented as analogies. Show me where this happens -- a child insisting that they are of another race -- and I might be vaguely interested, but where is the evidence that this happens the way the transgender children feel?

I have a friend who is a pre-op male to female transgender. She's married to a non-trans man. Just because you're closed-minded doesn't mean everyone is.

To Tyler's mom - I just wanted to let you know that this article almost made me cry, thinking about how miserable to the core your son must have been, and how utterly lucky he is to have a family that loves him so much. You are doing the right thing by your child. I don't understand the hatred and vitriol coming from some of the chatters/comments. I guess some people are just very scared of the unknown and their response is to lash out and be angry. Very sad. Thank you for your bravery - it is people like you who are changing the world for the better and for all the future Tylers out there.

Thank you.  You help when you speak up also!

...is what we as parents are supposed to give our children. Not finger-pointing/assuming only we (as outsiders) know what is best for our child/being judgmental. While this is certainly a difficult issue for a parent to face, and us as a society, we can at least be open-minded. Don't we owe this to not only Tyler but ALL kids?!

Yes. well said.

I say Kudos to you for your acceptance of this child--just as he is. I have always thought that neither sex nor sexuality is a matter of choice. There is not always an either/or and that the creator gave us varying gradations of what is male and female. Has your acceptance been a gradual submission or a painful reckoning.

I came on board pretty quickly with very little angst.  Like you my mind and heart are pretty open.

Will people stop calling the surgeries connected to sex reassignment "mutilation?" Mutilation is described as something that "degrades the appearance or function of any living body, usually causing death." I wouldn't think anyone would call any number of surgeries performed to remove some malfunctioning organ or cancerous node "mutilation." Those transgendered individuals who have gone through these surgeries would hardly say the procedures "degraded" their appearance... quite the opposite, I'm sure.

Show me where people are being forced to mutilate their bodies.

Thank you for all the support.  Tyler is very loved and lucky to have such a great community.  I hope I was able to answer your questions.  Please continue to learn more about this and open up to the beautiful diversity of humanity.

Time to wrap up ...we went almost an hour over and we still didn't get to everyone's questions. Sorry, we tried to hit all the topics though. Thank you so much for joining us and thanks to Jean for continuing to be such a bold and brave mom taking on the people who question her. I hope everyone learned something today. Have a great day!

In This Chat
Petula Dvorak
Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post.
Tyler's Mother
Tyler's mother. Please note: The Washington Post took a number of steps to protect the identity of Tyler and his family beyond their community, where the situation already is widely known. We used only the middle names of Tyler's parents and sister and did not publish details about where they live and go to church and school in the Washington area. Tyler's name in the story is the one his parents would have given him if he'd been born a boy.
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