I’d think a story like this would put the kibosh on the whole “choosing to be gay” argument. This boy, Brandon, has been drawn to “girl” toys and activities since he was a toddler.
Both Tina and Brandon’s father had served in the Army, and she thought their son might identify with the toys. A photo from that day shows him wearing a towel around his head, a bandanna around his waist, and a glum expression. The Army set sits unopened at his feet. Tina recalls his joy, by contrast, on a day later that year. One afternoon, while Tina was on the phone, Brandon climbed out of the bathtub. When she found him, he was dancing in front of the mirror with his penis tucked between his legs. “Look, Mom, I’m a girl,” he told her. “Happy as can be,” she recalls.
“Brandon, God made you a boy for a special reason,” she told him before they said prayers one night when he was 5, the first part of a speech she’d prepared. But he cut her off: “God made a mistake,” he said.
The article makes it sound like both Tina and her son have the same army father, but I’m assuming that’s a typo.
I don’t know a whole lot about theories on gender and identity. I know it’s been argued that people should resist the urge to segregate their children into “boy” and “girl” toy groups. Remember when Mattel brought out the child’s personal computer and the whole brouhaha over programs included? The boy machine was Hot Wheels blue and included all kinds of educational games with the fun stuff. The girl machine was silver with Barbie pink accents and had less education and more Barbie fun games on it. I also have a distant recollection of a study being done where people were allowed time to play with a baby and some were told the baby was a girl and others were told the baby was a boy and depending on what gender the person thought they were holding, they played differently – were generally rougher when they thought it was a boy.
Anyway, according to this Atlantic article, it’s possible to start young kids on puberty blockers if parents decide there’s a need for it. The value of that is not needing a whole lot of medical work to achieve the same goal. It’s also possible to reboot puberty later if necessary, just by stopping the treatment. But, does every kid who feels a conflict need the drugs, or, like a study found in 1987, does their predilection for feminine behaviours just mean they’re gay?
“We can’t tell a pre-gay from a pre-transsexual at 8,” says Green, who recently retired from running the adult gender-identity clinic in England. “Are you helping or hurting a kid by allowing them to live as the other gender? If everyone is caught up in facilitating the thing, then there may be a hell of a lot of pressure to remain that way, regardless of how strongly the kid still feels gender-dysphoric. Who knows? That’s a study that hasn’t found its investigator yet.”
Brandon’s stepfather voiced some concerns to the journalist:
He was worried about Tina’s stepfather, who would never accept this. He was worried that Brandon’s father might find out and demand custody. He was worried about Brandon’s best friend, whose parents were strict evangelical Christians. He was worried about their own pastor, who had sternly advised them to take away all of Brandon’s girl-toys and girl-clothes. “Maybe if we just pray hard enough,” Bill had told Tina.
I don’t think prayer can change minds. I think what they’ll have to do is change friends and probably change churches, too. They’ll have aim to have Brandon surrounded by supportive people who’ll accept the new him without thinking he’s a freak for wanting to dress like a girl.
On the flip side is Dr. Zucker, who believes that intensive therapy could make a kid feel comfortable in his or her own skin. He blames it on parents not pushing proper gender identities on their children from birth, that “biology is not destiny.”
Zucker has compared young children who believe they are meant to live as the other sex to people who want to amputate healthy limbs, or who believe they are cats, or those with something called ethnic-identity disorder. “If a 5-year-old black kid came into the clinic and said he wanted to be white, would we endorse that?” he told me. “I don’t think so. What we would want to do is say, ‘What’s going on with this kid that’s making him feel that it would be better to be white?’”
I disagree with him, here. I don’t think switching genders is the same as wanting to chop a limb off. I don’t really think the white/black stereotype works as an argument either, but I’m have trouble explaining just why. I know there was once a very real desire to “pass” as white and products were sold that advertised their effectiveness, including bleach. Some people felt there was a very real need to pass, as well. It wasn’t just for cosmetic “beauty” reasons, although some still place more value on lighter skin tones. I guess I can see the point he makes here, about trying to help a kid understand and appreciate what he looks like, but skin colour is skin deep. Gender is far more complicated.
Catherine Tuerk runs a support group in Washington D.C.
Tuerk was thrilled when the pendulum swung from nurture toward nature; “I can tell you the exact spot where I was, in Chevy Chase Circle, when someone said the words to me: ‘There’s a guy in Baltimore, and he thinks people are born gay.’” But she now thinks the pendulum may have swung too far. For the minority who are truly transgender, “the sooner they get into the right clothes, the less they’re going to suffer. But for the rest? I’m not sure if we’re helping or hurting them by pushing them in this direction.”
I can see that, and I think she’s made a valid point. Zucker has too, in terms of declaring that a five year old is incapable of abstract reasoning. I think that would be too young to say for sure that a boy’s love of dolls means he should be a girl. But, Zucker’s methods of stopping a boy from playing with girl toys leaves much to be desired:
They boxed up all of John’s girl-toys and videos and replaced them with neutral ones. Whenever John cried for his girl-toys, they would ask him, “Do you think playing with those would make you feel better about being a boy?” and then would distract him with an offer to ride bikes or take a walk. They turned their house into a 1950s kitchen-sink drama, intended to inculcate respect for patriarchy, in the crudest and simplest terms: “Boys don’t wear pink, they wear blue,” they would tell him, or “Daddy is smarter than Mommy—ask him.” If John called for Mommy in the middle of the night, Daddy went, every time.
Once-Brandon-now-Bridget has switched schools but Tina faces opposition and disgust from friends and family, especially from the Evangelical parents of one of Bridget’s friends who no longer lets the kids play together. Tina hopes her son’s life as a girl gets smoother.
I’d like to see a follow up on this in ten years or so and see how the family turns out. See if Brandon remains as Bridget or changes back. See if he manages to forge some quality relationships with people who know his history but don’t make it an issue or concern. I think it would be interesting.