Thursday 8 May 2008

Mommy, don't take me there!

This one is difficult to write. I won't pretend to be properly objective as a scientist should be. I have a little boy, the same age as the child being discussed, and more than a Rocket Scientist, I'm a parent. This hits me where I live.

I refer to NPR's story, Two Families. It's about two very different approaches to the same vexed issue, one of them favoured by Kenneth Zucker, who I've mentioned in a previous post.

Now would be a good time for anyone with an ounce of humanity to grab their blood pressure medication, and a handkerchief.

First, a whole bunch of disclaimers, why my subjective assessment should be taken with the appropriate amounts of NaCl.
  • There's the problem of Projection. How do I know that what I felt 45 years or so ago is what this child is feeling? Every case is different.
  • I know Dr Zucker is acting out of the highest motives, and has far more knowledge than I do.
  • I know the parents are doing the responsible thing, getting the best professional advice, and sometimes you really do have to be cruel to be kind.
  • I of all people should know the price to be paid, the surgery, the sterility. Had my metabolism not gone weird, I wouldn't have put myself through it
  • As a right-winger, I consider NPR to be only slightly more reliable than Baghdad Bob. We're not getting the whole story, only carefully selected parts that fit the predetermined narrative.
  • The tears streaming down my face and onto the keyboard show my own objectivity is hopelessly compromised, so be careful of any editorialising I might do.
Now onto the story... you can listen to it here.
It does seem to be the case that, at least in the short term, Carol's son Bradley is struggling in some ways with Zucker's therapy. Carol says it was particularly hard at the beginning.

"He was much more emotional. ... He could be very clingy. He didn't want to go to school anymore," she says. "Just the smallest thing could, you know, send him into a major crying fit. And ... he seemed to feel really heavy and really emotional."

Bradley has been in therapy now for eight months, and Carol says still, on the rare occasions when she cannot avoid having him exposed to girl toys, like when they visit family, it doesn't go well.

"It's really hard for him. He'll disappear and close a door, and we'll find him playing with dolls and Polly Pockets and ... the stuff that he's drawn to," she says.

In particular, there is one typically girl thing — now banned — that her son absolutely cannot resist.

"He really struggles with the color pink. He really struggles with the color pink. He can't even really look at pink," Carol says. "He's like an addict. He's like, 'Mommy, don't take me there! Close my eyes! Cover my eyes! I can't see that stuff; it's all pink!' "

Still, Carol says, Bradley has made some progress. Today, he is able to play with boys. He has a few male friends, and has said that he now enjoys boy things. And there are other signs of change.

"I mean, he tells us now that he doesn't dream anymore that he's a girl. So, we're happy with that. He's still a bit defensive if we ask him, 'Do you want to be a girl?' He's like 'No, NO! I'm happy being a boy. ...' He gives us that sort of stock answer. ... I still think we're at the stage where he feels he's leading a double life," she says. "... I'm still quite certain that he is with the girls all the time at school, and so he knows to behave one way at school, and then when he comes home, there's a different set of expectations."

'Mommy, don't take me there! Close my eyes! Cover my eyes!

She's trying to be a good girl - or rather, a good boy.

I know I'm not objective, but how can anyone do something like this to a child, regardless of circumstances?

I confess I am too emotionally disturbed by this, too many really bad memories to be objective about it.

If I didn't know any better, I'd call this torture, child abuse, that will likely instill all sorts of nasty little neuroses in later life.

In my own situation, I can blame neither parents, nor therapists. I hid it from the first, and the second didn't exist back then. I did it to myself, unable to wear even the palest of pastel shirts because "boys didn't do that". I was investing so very much of my psychic energy into trying to be a boy because I looked like one. I tried to be good.

For forty-seven years.

I don't want other kids to be put through that.

In a follow up Q&A session Dr Zucker explains himself.
I've seen many kids over the years present with all the indicators of GID, and in terms of my quantitative measures they're very extreme. But the follow-up studies I've done, and others too, show [that] a substantial majority of kids seen for GID in childhood show desistance — that is, when they're older they don't want to be the other sex. We just published a study of 25 girls we first saw in childhood and found that only 12 percent seem to have persistent gender dysphoria when they're older. We find similar rates of persistence in boys.
The study is A follow-up study of girls with gender identity disorder. Drummond KD, Bradley SJ, Peterson-Badali M, Zucker KJ. Dev Psychol. 2008 Jan;44(1):34-45. From the abstract:
At the assessment in childhood, 60% of the girls met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for GID, and 40% were subthreshold for the diagnosis.
So not 25, but 15 were diagnosed with definite GID. The study goes on to say that most of those who didn't remain Gender Dysphoric ended up as Butch Lesbians or completely asexual. And 20% went through Room 101 for nothing. Some of the cases were only 15 years old at follow up, with mean age 23.4 years, younger than many, perhaps even most, transmen transition, usually after living as Butch lesbians for years.
As his pile of toys dwindled, Carol realized Bradley was hoarding. She would find female action figures stashed between couch pillows. Rainbow unicorns were hidden in the back of Bradley's closet.
As opposed to a girl hiding her identity in a secret place in her mind.

Zucker's therapy sometimes works. But he's not just guilding the lilly with his claims, he's making 24ct gold statuettes. It's all about politics you see.
The therapists supporting a child's transition early, I have characterized them in a half serious way as liberal essentialists. On the surface, the approach comes across as very humanistic, liberal, accepting, tolerant of diversity. But I think the hidden assumption is that they believe the child's cross-gender identity is entirely caused by biological factors. That's why I call them essentialists. Liberals have always been critical of biological reductionism, but here they embrace it. I think that conceptual approach is astonishingly naive and simplistic, and I think it's wrong.
Well, I'm no liberal, Dr Zucker. I plead guilty to humanistic, accepting and tolerant of diversity though, as I see those as being more characteristic of the Right than the Left in practice, even if we don't say the Politically Correct things. We also have a greater commitment to evidence-based conclusions rather than things that are expedient to believe for our own comfort.

I don't claim that gender identity is entirely shaped solely by biological effects either. Torture, Rape, and other trauma can cause physical changes in the brain in some cases. The biology shapes the possible, and studies on Intersexed people who undergo a natural apparent sex change show there's a large group that can function well as either gender. Some people are just not strongly gendered either way.
I managed the Boy act for decades, after all. I was a tomboy, I liked the idea of being a boy. I just wasn't one. I had things nowhere near as bad as these children.

"Astonishingly naive and simplistic"? Not compared to ignoring the neurological evidence in favour of dusty old Freudian theory, and ideas that conformity to an average is a Good in its own right.

The American Psychological Association (APA) passed a resolution back in 1997 condemning "reparative therapy" .
Supporters of the resolution, which passed the APA Council overwhelmingly by a voice vote, believed that it was critical for the Association to make such a statement due to the questions of the ethics, efficacy and benefits of conversion therapy which are now being debated within the profession and within society as a whole.
The context was that of attempting to change sexual orientation in consenting adults. But it seems that when it comes to gender identity, and small children, the same techniques are quite permissible, despite even more questions about the dubious ethics, efficacy, and benefit.

What questions? Children saying 'Mommy, don't take me there! Close my eyes! Cover my eyes! for example. It all comes down to that. As a Scientist, I must take into account the evidence, the numbers. As a mother parent, those words weigh even more heavily in my decisions. Torturing children is wrong, even if, especially if, it's "for the good of society" or a political or moral principle. Such a society, such a political ideal, such a system of morality, is wrong and does not deserve to exist.

I remind everyone that Dr Zucker now chairs the APA's Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group.


Anonymous said...

Oh Zoe!
Over fifty years ago they (Parents in collusion with doctors) tried to the same thing with me.

I was the bane of my father's life. His little 'pansy' son. Thing was, I never knew what I was doing that enraged him.

He'd ask me a question...I'd respond...He'd go "...look at him, look at the bloody little panty-waist...He'll be sitting down to piss next!"

I'd try so hard. I'd get back-handed-to make a man of me! When I was six the brought me a rugby football uniform for my birthday. They made me go and DRESS UP in it. I stood in front of them crying because I felt silly in it.

And when I was lying in bed, three and four years old, with my PJ's down around my knees. My skinny legs apart. Praying God to fix me, because there had been an awful mistake, I didn't know about gender roles.

I only knew that I fitted inside my body like a left foot into a right shoe.

The formative years of where the antie on the gender role conditioning is ratcheted up in an attempt to "cure" you is just another form of abuse.

All that came out of my experience was a confused, abused, transsexed adult, who's life was ruined for years to come.

Zucker and his cohorts are no different to John Money. Self annointed ersatze experts willing to destroy futures in an effort to prove their theories.

Damne: you've got me crying now.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Joanne. Zucker will go down with the likes of Dr Money as destroying the lives of children. Why can't we just let our children be? What's so bad about them being themselves? What's wrong with our socoiety that we let crackpots like Zucker run amok? The problem isn't the children, it's our society.

I don't trust Zucker or his studies. Remember John Money had studies too. Studies that he falsified. I'm not saying that's what Zucker is doing, but I do believe he is probably cherry picking what he does report on. Sooner or later we will find out about the failures, just like we did with Dr Money. But how many children will be sacrificed in the process???

Proofoundly sad and angry.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Zoe,

I have no idea how Zucker will be seen in the future. If his patients are at all like I was he will certainly effect results witgh the brainwashing of children. It works on adults. Why not on children.

The man is as despicable as Mengele and probably not much different: he would destroy what he is too blind to recognize. That there may well be 'brain sex' is dismissed out-of-hand by this 'scientist.'

I ached for Bradley when I heard the story and rejoiced for Violet. When Bradley and the other 'cured' transsexuals awaken at last, and I feel most if not all, will. May they visit the pain they will surely experience on this demented man.

Although, to be honest, I would rather see his pain come much sooner. Maybe within the next three days.