Parents Of Transgender Boys Take Different, Provocative Paths

Illustration for article titled Parents Of Transgender Boys Take Different, Provocative Paths

There is a fascinating story up on NPR's website about two little boys who wish they were girls, and the different approaches their parents are taking in dealing with their gender confusion. Basically from birth, both Bradley and Jonah favored girl things. Bradley wanted to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz for Halloween when he was 2 1/2, and insisted on wearing his Dorothy hair (made out of a tea towel) for months after; Jonah, according to NPR, "was 2 when his father, Joel, first realized that no amount of enthusiasm could persuade his child to play with balls." (Heh, balls.) But seriously, folks. Both these boys wanted to be little girls pretty much from the moment they could express the desire, and while Bradley's parents have tried to force him out of it — by taking away his Polly Pockets and Barbies and encouraging interaction with other boys — Jonah's parents have allowed him to embrace his desires. At this point, Jonah's parents refer to him as "she", and she herself tells people her name is Jona.

Both Bradley and Jonah are under the care of psychiatric professionals — Dr. Ken Zucker and Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, respectively. Zucker and Ehrensaft have conflicting theories on how best to deal with a transgender child. Zucker, based in Toronto, believes that boys like Bradley should be socialized as boys, even if they see themselves as girls. He reasons, "Suppose you were a clinician and a 4-year-old black kid came into your office and said he wanted to be white. Would you go with that? ... I don't think we would." Eherensaft, who works out of the Bay Area, sees Jonah's condition as clear cut case of transgender identity. "If we allow people to unfold and give them the freedom to be who they really are, we engender health. And if we try and constrict it, or bend the twig, we engender poor mental health," she tells NPR.

I know both sets of parents are just trying to do right by their children, but it's incredibly difficult to defend Zucker's point of view when you hear how unhappy Bradley is. Since his parents took away all his "girly" stuff, his mom says, Bradley "really struggles with the color pink. He really struggles with the color pink. He can't even really look at pink...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!'" Meanwhile, Jonah — now Jona — is thriving. According to her teacher, "Jonah is one of the most popular kids. Kids love her, they want to play with her, she's fun, and it's because she's so comfortable with herself that she makes other people comfortable."


Two Families Grapple with Sons' Gender Preferences [NPR]

Q&A Therapists On Gender Identity Issues In Kids [NPR]

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1) i'm very happy for jona, but she's growing up in the bay area— things would be far different for her if she were in, say, rural missouri. i don't know much about toronto, but i wouldn't be so quick to judge bradley's parents. if they aren't in a community like san fran, it might be tougher both for them and their child.

2) i agree that it may be too early for jona to *really* know if she's a boy or girl, but i think as long as she's happy, she should be able to keep going. if she hits puberty and suddenly decides "screw this. i'm joining the football team" she can cut her hair, buy some new clothes, and transfer schools. if she's been allowed to simply be who she is, she'll likely be self-possessed enough to handle it.

3) random story: when my cousin was 5, his favorite color was purple. when another boy in his class teased him for liking a girl color, he loudly announced, "i'm a PERSON and i can like WHATEVER COLOR I WANT." for this reason, and many others, i adore him. (and no, he no longer loves purple. but he does perform in a children's opera when he's not performing fake motorbike stunts in his back yard.)