Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Children "uncertain" about gender to be given puberty-delaying injections

Six children in Britain are to be given hormone injections to delay the onset of puberty because they and their parents believe they suffer from gender-identity-disorder.

The monthly injections will postpone the physical changes of adolescence, giving the children more time to make decisions about their identity. It will also make any sex-change operation easier if they decide to permanently change to their preferred gender.

Meanwhile the parents of another child in Britain have decided to reveal the sex of their five-year-old boy. They had previously hidden it so that the child could decide his preferred gender and not have it ‘imposed’ upon him by society.

In the case of the six children, the injections will be carried out at a gender identity issues clinic in North London run by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust as part of an NHS trial. It will be the first time children aged between 12 and 15 have ever been given this treatment in the UK.

Amy, 11, who renamed herself Charlie, is one of the children who has been accepted on the ground-breaking trial.  According to her parents Kathy and Jamie from Torbay, Amy was a tomboy from birth. She insisted on wearing boy's clothes, would cry if placed in a dress, and would only play with toy cards and Spiderman figures.

Her mother was not overly worried but at the age of five, Amy asked her, "When is my willy going to grow?"  

Last September, on Charlie's insistence, Kathy allowed her daughter to start secondary school as a boy.

"I feel braver," Charlie told The Sunday Times Magazine.  "Boys can be a bit braver than girls."

Now with puberty looming, his mother agreed to pause the process using drugs.  

"He cannot relate to his female body at all," Kathy said.  "He's in denial."

Until now, the jabs have only been prescribed to those over 16.  

However, supporters point out that nearly a quarter of sufferers aged 11 to 15 harm themselves or attempt suicide.  

The injections contain drugs called hypothalamic blockers that suppress their sex hormones delaying the onset of puberty.

In the past 10 years they have been increasingly used in countries such as the US and the Netherlands to give children time to think about their identity.

Dr Polly Carmichael, director of Tavistock's Gender Identity Development Service, told The Sunday Times Magazine that social conditioning in childhood may play some part.

“If there weren't pejoratives attached, for example, to boys who prefer more stereotypical girl-type activities and clothes, then it would be so much easier for these children to explore different ways of being without feeling they have to be physically one thing or the other."

Meanwhile, the English couple who have finally revealed the sex of their five-year-old boy explained their reasons for hiding it until now. Beck Laxton, 46, and partner Kieran Cooper, 44, decided not to reveal baby Sasha's gender in the hope it would let his 'real' personality shine through.  

They referred to Sasha as, “the infant" and only allowed their child to play with 'gender-neutral toys' in their television-free home.  

During the first five years of his life, Sasha has alternated between girls' and boys' outfits, leaving friends, playmates and relatives guessing.

But Beck and Kieran have finally revealed his masculinity to the world after it became harder to conceal when Sasha started primary school.  

Beck, a web editor, told Cambridge News: "I wanted to avoid all that stereotyping.  Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid.  Why would you want to slot people into boxes?”

Beck and Kieran, from Sawston, Cambidgeshire, were so desperate not to ‘prejudice’ Sasha's life with ‘gender stereotypes’ they didn't ask midwives his sex until 30 minutes after he was born. Only a handful of immediate family members were told of the baby's sex. 

"I don't think I'd do it if I thought it was going to make him unhappy, but at the moment he's not really bothered either way.  We haven't had any difficult scenarios yet. Nobody's ever mentioned it and I would hope that if they actually said something to Sasha, he'd be confident enough to make a good response."

In May 2011, parents Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, from Canada, vowed to raise their baby Storm as a gender-neutral child sparking worldwide discussion.  

Dr Daragh Mc Dermott, a psychology lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, said the psychological effect of raising a gender-neutral child is not yet known.  

He said, "It's hard to say whether being raised gender-neutral will have any immediate or long-term psychological consequences for a child, purely because to date there is little empirical research examining this topic.

"That being said, the family setting is only one source of gender-specific information and as children grow, their self-identity as male, female or gender-neutral will be influenced by school, socialisation with other children and adults, as well as mass media. As a child grows they develop their own independent sense of self that will include their own individual gender identification."