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More Hope for the Trans-confused (and Their Healthcare Providers)

Following on the Texas court ruling [1] in 2016 which challenged the federal regulation that required doctors (even against their conscience or medical objection) to perform gender-transition procedures on children, there is now more encouraging news of efforts to both protect medical practitioners from violating their Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm,” and allow them to practice medicine in accord with their deeply-held religious convictions.

As has been well documented in the scientific medical literature [2] for some time, intervening upon children’s physiology comes with grave and often irreversible consequences.  In the most recent effort to stem the tide of ideologically-driven medicine, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is proposing a new regulation [3] that takes account of the medical research and therefore provides the opportunity for patients to receive appropriate guidance from their physicians, who, if not seduced by the current propaganda of gender ideology, will counsel patience and watchfulness to these at-risk youth and their families.

Because the research data are clear that the vast majority of these youth will emerge from their feelings of gender confusion by adulthood (Cohen-Kettenis, 2001; Zucker & Bradley, 1995; Drummond, Bradley, Peterson-Badali, & Zucker, 2008; Wallien & Cohen-Kettenis, 2008), providing an empathic but firm waiting period (along with appropriate therapy, discussed below) will prevent a great deal of unnecessary suffering for those who are already experiencing great distress.

Instead of being affirmed in their confusion, receiving potentially-harmful hormones or hormone-blocking medications, or as some have suggested, beginning to alter their physical appearance surgically in dramatic ways, these young people will have the time and space to reflect on their lives and its challenges.  With this time, and, with appropriate guidance, hopefully they can begin the difficult journey of discerning their identity in a more complete and authentic manner—a discernment made much more difficult by the current cultural shift towards false or misplaced tolerance, acceptance and even celebration of youth who announce they are “transgender.”

What Confused Children Really Need

The vast majority (99.98%) of children are born with unambiguous sexual identities [4], and admittedly those rare cases of real ambiguity constitute a great trial for the child and his or her parents.  Although complex, in such cases, experts in genetics, endocrinology, urology and psychology, working together, can assist parents in making decisions for their child that provide the optimal circumstances for him or her to grow and flourish.  However, for the growing number of children who are speaking about feelings of being a different sex than that which they were born (“trans”), the dynamics are quite different.

Although such assertions were much rarer in the past, when a child did share confusion about his or her sexual identity, parents would either correct the misperception themselves in some way, or seek help from medical professionals who would counsel the child and family on how to encourage behaviors and attitudes consistent with the child’s sex at birth.  While not 100% successful, in the vast majority of cases some combination of natural development and socialization, puberty or amelioration of some underlying condition of insecurity, emotional problem or family dynamic issue, would foster the child’s growth in self-understanding and eventual healing.

In the current zeitgeist, however, parents are confronted with a confusing set of options that were not available nor discussed in decades past.  From stories in the media, to advocacy groups in schools, to some professional health care provider organizations, parents are being encouraged or even directed to accept and celebrate their child’s proclamation.  Such support can be a real barrier to the common-sense solutions of the past.

In many schools and communities, a vulnerable child who announces that he or she is “transgender” will be bombarded with attention and encouragement which make parental efforts to promote a reality-based sexual identity difficult at best.  In some instances, it was becoming virtually impossible for parents to directly challenge their child’s misperception of his or her sexual identity.  Until the recent court ruling, which will be hopefully strengthened by the newly-proposed regulation, the proper role of parental authority in guiding and forming their children was in serious danger of being usurped [5] by other forces in government and society.

One should not underestimate the confusion among parents with respect to the impact of gender ideology.  Caring, loving parents who would never dream of feeding their child an unhealthy diet or allowing him or her to ride a bicycle without a helmet, are assenting to surgery, hormonal interventions and counseling which affirms and encourages their child to persist in their confusion, none [6] of which will lead to happiness or a flourishing life.

Hopefully, the new mandate would create some time and space for parents to discern how to nurture their child through these difficult developmental experiences in consultation with trusted physicians who have studied the science objectively.  Governmental attention to, and clarity regarding the needs of, these at-risk youth might also foster increased awareness among parents that the gender-ideology-driven mandate to accept without question their child’s statement of identity is not only unnecessary, but also potentially harmful.  Instead, they can trust their own observations and intuitions about their child, and what will be in his or her best interests in the long run.