Dr. Oz discussed transgendered children with Dr. Robert Garofalo from the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago. What do you do when your son says he is meant to be a she or your daughter says she is meant to be a he? Would you let your child become the opposite gender? Would you let your child have gender changing surgery and alter their body? Dr. Oz took us inside the life of transgendered kids, a highly controversial topic that challenges the beliefs of what it means to be a male or female.
A transgender kid is a child where the gender on the outside does not match the gender on the inside. They can show signs of being transgendered as early as 2 or 3 years old. Transgenderism is not as rare as you think – 3 million Americans believe they were born the wrong gender. Where does gender come from: your anatomy or your thoughts and feelings? Some parents allow their children to take hormone blockers to stop puberty and others heed the advice of psychiatrists who say that a child is transgendered does not necessarily translate into a transgender adult.
Josie, a young girl (born as a boy), was originally born as Joseph and has had her story featured on National Geographic Explorer. Vanessa, Josie’s mom, and her father (who is in the military) were told during a doctor’s exam that Josie might have gender identity disorder (another name for transgender). Josie would get very angry when her mom would take her for a haircut on their military base, because she associated short hair with being a boy when she felt like a girl. Vanessa would try to put Josie into GI Joe outfits, but she would demand pink legging and little denim skirts… she always gravitated towards the girls department at clothing stores.
Dr. Robert Garofalo said the following three criteria need to be met to be diagnosed as transgender:
3 Criteria for Being Transgender
1. Discomfort with the gender assigned at birth.
This has nothing to do with who you like; it has to do with what gender you feel you are.
2. Rejects genitalia, gender specific clothing or anything that represents the gender they physically represent on the outside.
Dr. Garofalo has seen very severe cases where a boy will feel so much like a girl that he will hate being male.
3. Duration of how long these feelings last.
In the case of Josie, they knew this wasn’t just a “phase” because it went on for quite some time. Josie was on all kinds of medications (ADHD, ADD, hyperactive, depression even Tourettes), and now that they allow her to dress and behave like a female, she is a very happy person and flourishing without any medications.
Some transgender children take medication to stop puberty. Hormones are normally released from the hypothalamus and go to the pituitary gland, where hormones are sent in females to stimulate the ovaries. However, by taking these puberty blocking drugs, you can hold back what normally happens for your gender (curvy hips and breast in women and deep voice and facial hair in men). Dr. Garofalo warns that we do not yet know the long term consequences of these drugs though.
Isaac, a 15 year old boy was born a girl. He always knew he was a boy though, and everyone who saw him always thought he was a boy. He started to grow breasts around the age of 11 and then started to menstruate… he did not know what to do. Isaac started taking hormone blockers, because his parents were terribly worried about depression and suicide. He then started taking testosterone to get facial hair and a deeper voice. When he was 14, he had a double mastectomy in San Francisco, to remove his breasts. Isaac said to him it just felt like having two big tumors removed. Dr. Oz asked him if he could have waited 4 more years until he was the legal age of 18, if his parents had not allowed him to do these things. Isaac said he could have waited and coped, but he would have been very sad and would have had a very different high school experience. Isaac’s mother said you can’t change a person’s mind, but you can change their body. His father said that after the breast removal surgery, Isaac was much happier… he even painted a big sun in his room. Dr. Garofalo said that most parents don’t surgically alter their child’s gender until they are 16, but if you are worried about suicide or depression, it is really a family decision. Garofalo’s advice for transgendered kids and their families are to focus on core issues – self esteem, mental health and safety – happy is the operative word!