Transgendered: How Young is Too Young?

Posted on May 21, 2012


Sunday’s Washington Post carried an extensive article profiling a family that is convinced that their five-year-old daughter is fully transgendered.  Their suspicions about this were first sparked when the child was just two, and preferred short hair, pants, and toys like swords and trucks.  The child insisted “I am a boy,” and at age three, appeared confused when her mother showed her a toddler-level book about anatomy and explained that she was a girl, and had always been a girl.  Long story short, the family has allowed the child to transition to the male gender, and now is looking ahead to the decisions that will eventually come with puberty and maturity:  puberty blockers, hormone treatments.

My worry with a case like this is that children express themselves imperfectly, especially when they are very young.  When I was this child’s age, I already had a penchant for pants and toy guns, and hated baby dolls and dresses.  I repeatedly expressed a wish that I had been born a boy.   But my parents would have been very, very mistaken in concluding that I was transgender.  What I really was expressing was:  girls are locked into a social expectation that I categorically reject, and I want all the freedom, choice, dignity, and outright fun that boys can have (some so-called professionals seem to think that even that much is “gender nonconformity disorder,” which I also reject).  But all I knew to say at age three, or five, was:  “I wish I was a boy.”  As it turns out, my preferences stuck:  I went into a male-dominated profession, and there is not one dress in my closet.  But I am also married, straight, and female.

So here we have a five-year-old saying she is a boy.  It bothers me that apparently, no one has asked her the question, “Why are you a boy?” or “Why do you want to be a boy?”  That it seems as if no one has really probed where these statements are coming from.  They should not be brushed off as nothing, but neither should they be taken fully to heart as gospel truth from the mouth of this babe.  It bothers me that the family has jumped into the transgender identity with both feet, rather than taking a more measured, neutral approach and waiting to see what happens.  Maybe the child really is fully transgender; time will tell.  But if not, could these parents be mistakenly pushing their child erroneously into the opposite gender for the wrong reasons?

How young is too young to begin a transition in earnest?  How can parents know that they are making the right decision?