Dear Dr. Meg,
I have a 16-year-old child who was born a girl but is convinced that she identifies more as a boy. I am wondering lately if this is caused by a lack of understanding her self-identity?
Also, I’ve read that transgender feelings can begin as young as four years old, so what age or stage does a person typically begin to develop self-identity? When, how, or do parents even play a role in teaching their children self-identity?
I am a believer in Jesus Christ and have walked with my Lord for 30-plus years. I have done my best to train my children in the way they should go. Regardless of the opinions of Christians out there, this is my reality.
I am in a very difficult position where I need to love my child right where she is, careful not to crush her spirit and yet provide a loving direction at the same time. It is not easy! Calling my daughter a he and “Jack” instead of Joy every day is not an easy task. There are many days I want to pull my hair out! Lots of prayers is how I get through, I guess.
Thank you for considering answering my questions. God bless you!
You ask an excellent question, so let me address it as thoroughly as I can. Here are the issues that you face.
You must absolutely love your daughter and be sensitive to her. Empathize with her and let her know that you fully understand that she is in deep emotional turmoil. Ask her questions like, What does it feel like to want to be a boy? How long have you felt this way?
Understand that your daughter needs psychological help. Many adults believe that if gender-confused kids simply accept the gender that they feel they are and get medical help, they will feel better. Research does not back this up. Whether your daughter changed into a boy or remains a girl, she is in deep inner conflict and needs help from someone who will not simply “affirm her perceived identity.”
Research shows that about 0.6% adults live with gender dysphoria. This means that the true incidents of gender dysphoria are quite rare. What is far more common is for kids and teens to go through a phase lasting about two to three years where they want to be the opposite sex.
Girls want to identify with traditionally masculine behaviors, clothes, activities, etc., and boys identify with those of girls. These are children who first identified a sense of wanting to be the opposite sex later in elementary school or during adolescence. The majority of true gender dysphoric people begin feeling as though they are the opposite sex trapped in their own bodies. My question for you is: When did your daughter start having these feelings? If they are recent, she is not really gender dysphoric. This is most likely a stage.
Research shows that even those truly gender dysphoric individuals do not feel better as adults psychologically -even if they transition. In fact, the rate of suicidal ideation or death is very high. Here is a quote from Gender Matters by Dr. Leonard Sax, who has done a vast review of the medical literature on the subject:
After sex-reassignment surgery, transsexual clients were nearly five times more likely to have made a suicide attempt and 19 times more likely to have died from suicide compared with matched controls, again after adjusting for prior psychiatric problems. The researchers did not find any significant difference between MtF individuals and FtM individuals on any of these outcomes. Being transgender, even in Sweden and even after having sex-reassignment surgery, puts you at much greater risk of having major psychiatric problems, including death by suicide. This finding is consistent with multiple other studies.[v]
I would refer you to Dr. Sax’s excellent book Gender Matters and to the work of Dr. Kenneth Zucker. Dr. Zucker is one of the world’s leading authorities on gender dysphoria and works at the Gender Identity Clinic in Toronto. Read good medical literature from experts who have studied this over decades and who have no agenda other than to help children and adults who are struggling with real psychological problems.
Unfortunately for kids, they are caught in a sociopolitical firestorm that serves to advance adult agendas and exists for reasons other than to help them.
Here’s what I recommend you do:
Love and support your daughter but tell her that you will call her Joy. Let her know that it is perfectly fine for her to become more masculine while staying in her own body.
Find activities that she can participate in that are typically male and encourage her to do them.
Tell her that many things are changing at 16 and that intervening with hormones and surgery have not proved to help, and they are highly controversial in the medical community. Therefore, you are going to wait on medical intervention.
Tell her that even those who transition doesn’t necessarily resolve the feeling she has that she is “in another person’s body” and that you will do everything that you can to help her resolve that. Empathize with her and let her know that this must be very hard.