Saturday, May 10, 2008


The following audio link was sent to me by my good friend, Don Charles. It details two "therapeutic" approaches to raising a transgender child.

It must be very difficult for the average parent to deal with a seeming discordant expectation for one's child to have as a gender identity one that isn't in harmony with his anatomical characteristics. It seems to me that the focus of the "therapy" should be on the parents, and affirm and reinforce their acceptance of their child as he/she truly is; allow the child to be authentic and true to him/herself; empower the child (and, later on, the adult) to withstand what discrimination he/she will undoubtedly face in a society that sees human characteristics as inherent dualities.

Two contrasting "therapeutic" modes of approach to this issue are highlighted in this audio, and it bears listening to, as we can see that one therapist seeks to have the child conform to the expectations of the society in which he lives; the other therapist seeks to have the child be authentic, and live a life true to his authentic gender identity. (I use the masculine pronoun here, as these children are under five years old, and I don't know enough about the cases to draw any premature conclusions concerning what gender identity they will eventually have as they mature, although I have little reason to doubt that they will identify as female for the rest of their lives; that definition will be in an unfortunate accordance with the norms that see "gender" as binary, rather than as being on a continuum.)

The audio from NPR can be heard here.

The following is a slightly edited version of the email I sent to Don Charles regarding my reaction to the audio:

"I just listened to the audio, and it's compelling on a number of levels. First of all, Zucker is primarily seeking to have a transgender child be able to 'adjust' to the prevailing norms of society, rather than affirm him as to who he is as a unique human being, and affirm his self-identity.

"Second, he compares 'skin color' with 'transgenderism,' thereby cheapening the issue with which he is dealing. Skin color is merely superficial; gender identity goes to a good part of the very core of one's humanity. By his making that comparison, he shows little understanding of gender identity, its likely immutability, and it's importance in the life of someone who 'knows' from the time that he is two years old that he doesn't belong in the body with which he was born.

"For someone who has been a therapist in this area for over 30 years, and who has 80 people on his waiting list, he shows far too much ignorance in the area which he claims to be his specialty.

"The other therapist is right: Zucker, and the other Zukers of the therapeutic world, are engaging in 'coercive therapy,'and have as their primary goal to have the patient adjust to the norms of society, rather than to have the child be authentic to the person who he/she is, and is meant to be.

"The very existence of 'Gender Identity Disorder' in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual shows the bias of much of the therapeutic world that sees 'gender' as existing as a binary characteristic; gender performance being either 'male' or 'female' according to the expectations and values of the dominant culture; sees gender identity that doesn't conform to one's anatomical status as being 'abnormal' by definition.

"As far as I know, none of these contentions can be supported by empirical data. Zucker's main focus seems to be to have his patients conform to their anatomical status and societal expectations and norms, rather than allow each person the right to his/her uniqueness, regardless of whether or not that uniqueness meets with societal approval."
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