The Boy Scouts of America recently announced that they now welcome transgender kids into their ranks. Many people have heard about this decision — but there’s much more to know.
As well-intentioned as the organization may be, there are some serious problems for all of the scouts when it comes to this policy. Here’s why.
First, having a boy who feels he’s a girl or a girl who feels she’s a boy camping alongside other scouts creates tension for all of the children. Where should the transgender child sleep or change clothes? If he is a transgender boy — feeling like a boy but living in a body with breast and a vagina — and he is asked to sleep alone, he will feel unaccepted. But if he sleeps with the other boy scouts — as the transgender lobby demands — the risk for abuse, pregnancy, bullying or chiding is unacceptably high.
Second, is it right to the other scouts to see a transgender boy take his clothes off and see breasts and a woman’s body? The reality is that no matter how well-mannered the non-transgender scouts may be, a few most likely will make fun of the child when the troop leader isn’t looking. This isn’t fair to the transgender child.
When adults approach complex issues, oversimplify them and slap pat answers on them, they do harm to children. Gender dysphoria is a serious problem for children who have it — but in truth, the incidence of real gender dysphoria in the United States is very rare. In 30 years of pediatric practice, I have not encountered a single case, and I have asked my medical colleagues around the country about this, who state the same.
Now, unfortunately, it seems to be suddenly “popping up” all around us ever since the story of Bruce Jenner/Caitlin Jenner hit the news. Is this because transgender children have existed all along but were afraid to speak out? I don’t think so. True transgender children easily communicate to their parents at a very young age that they feel troubled.
Depression and suicidal thoughts/actions stem from a deep sense of self-hatred.
As a child advocate and pediatrician, I take these issues very seriously because how we respond to this problem has enormous psychological and physical repercussions for our children. So let’s look at the best medical research available on what’s really going on with transgender children.
1.) The majority of children who feel like the opposite sex trapped in their bodies will grow up to be comfortable with their genetic identity when they are adults.
Whether a boy wants to be a girl or a girl wants to transition to a boy, years of excellent research by the best scholars in the world on this subject conclude that when children are supported in their biological sex and helped through adolescence, the majority become adults who are happy with their genetic identity.
There are volatile debates around this because gender identity and sexual orientation have become political weapons in the armamentarium of those who care less about children and more about advancing their social beliefs. That’s why those who really care about the emotional and physical health of children must pay attention to what medical research shows us, not what political or social pundits claim.
2.) Those who have had gender reassignment are not reliably relieved of the sense that they are living in the wrong body.
Studies have shown that the deep inner conflict of feeling trapped in the wrong body can follow men and women who have had sex reassignment. This is important to know since the point of hormonal and surgical interventions on children or adults is to make them feel better. To put oneself or a child through these life altering measures without knowing what the outcome will be is malpractice, in my opinion.
There is no other place in medicine where a doctor would intervene with such serious measures without having proof that the treatment reliably works.
3.) Transgenders state that their painful feelings stem from being unaccepted or maligned by peers.
This sounds like a reasonable argument until examined on a deeper level. Being bullied and unaccepted does cause pain for a child, but there’s more going on. Depression and suicidal thoughts/actions stem from a deep sense of self-hatred. People who contemplate or complete suicide do so because they despise themselves. The problem is not external wherein they like themselves but feel unaccepted by others. It is far worse — it is rooted in the self hating the self. Depressed people may feel their pain comes from outward unacceptance, but those feelings alone would not lead them to want to commit suicide.
4.) Transgenders who undergo gender reassignment have remarkably higher rates of psychiatric illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder and suicide than controls.
A long term study conducted between 1973-2003 in Sweden followed transgenders long after gender reassignment and found that they were 5 x more likely to have psychiatric problems than controls and were 19 times more likely to die from suicide.
5.) Many children claiming to be transgender are not.
When children of all ages witness adults giving a lot of attention to children with an issue, those who need or want attention take on that issue. I have personally witnessed this phenomenon over the last year in my work. I have received scores of letters from parents of children — mostly adolescents- who suddenly claim that they are the opposite sex and they want to be treated as such. My advice to parents is to acknowledge their feelings and have a heart-to-heart with their child.
These are kids who are confused (what 16-year-old isn’t confused about life?) and to tell them that everything in their lives — appearance, friends, desires, beliefs, goals, etc., is in a process of change. Therefore, it is important to stay the course they are on and ride these feelings out. The truth is, even if the child was truly transgender, supporting the child in his or her biological body serves him best in the long run. The child should never be chided or maligned, simply cared for cautiously and without an agenda other than to help him.
Our culture does enormous damage to children when we react to children claiming to be transgender on information gleaned from peers and popular thinking rather than on sound medical research. We have a lot of excellent research on transgender issues done by academic scholars around the globe and we need to be turning to them for advice rather than the internet, television or Facebook. The best place to begin understanding gender identity and its development in children is to read Dr. Leonard Sax’s “Why Gender Matters.”
The new second edition, which releases this summer, will have an entire chapter devoted to transgender and intersex issues. The book is scholarly, practical and gives important insight into raising children good sense. Every parent, whether you have a child claiming to be transgender or not, should read this book in order to understand the culture in which our children live.
Great parenting needs to make sense. Latching on to one of the numerous dogmatic proclamations made by our culture regarding gender issues not only fails to make sense, it is just plain harmful to children. Our children deserve the best we have to offer and when it comes to issues as serious as gender, we have sound medical research to help us.
Some resources to check out: the new second edition of “Why Gender Matters,” Leonard Sax, M.D., PhD (summer 2017 release); the work of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, editor of Archives of Sexual Behavior and 30 year involvement with Gender Identity Clinic in Toronto; the piece by Kenneth Zucker and colleagues, “A developmental, biopsychosocial model for the treatment of children with gender identity disorder,” Journal of Homosexuality, volume 59, pp. 369 – 397, 2012; and the work of Dr. Paul McHugh, past chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids,” which is part of The Strong Parent Project.