Transgender children feel disconnected at a young age

Posted on: November 18th, 2011

From the age of 3, Thomas Lobel didn’t feel quite right. Hindered by his ability to talk because he had apraxia, the 3-year-old used sign language. One of the first things the toddler told his parents was, “I am a girl.” Confused, his parents shook their head and singed back, “no, no Thomas is a boy.”

From then on, Thomas went on maintaining his girl gender identity. Although, he was physically male, Thomas often played with dolls at school, and told his classmates he was a girl. Now as an 11-year-old, Thomas prefers to be called Tammy. She wears dresses to school and carries on her life as a girl.

An article by CNN states that when children insist that their gender doesn’t match their body, it can trigger a confusing, painful odyssey for the family. And most of the time, these families face isolating experiences trying to decide what is best for their kids, especially because transgender issues are viewed as mysterious, and loaded with stigma and judgment.

Transgender children experience a disconnect between their sex, which is anatomy, and their gender, which includes behaviors, roles and activities. In Thomas’ case, he has a male body, but he prefers female things likes skirts and dolls, rather than pants and trucks.

Gender identity often gets confused with sexual orientation. The difference is “gender identity is who you are and sexual orientation is who you want to have sex with,” said Dr. Johanna Olson, professor of clinical pediatrics at University of Southern California, who treats transgender children.

When talking about young kids around age 3, they’re probably not interested in sexual orientation, she said. But experts say some children look like they will be transgender in early childhood, and turn out gay, lesbian or bisexual.

There is little consistent advice for parents, because robust data and studies about transgender children are rare. The rates of people who are transgender vary from 1 in 30,000 to 1 in 1,000, depending on various international studies.

Like Tammy, some children as young as 3, show early signs of gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder, mental health experts who work with transgender children estimate. These children are not intersex — they do no have a physical disorder or malformation of their sexual organs. The gender issue exists in the brain, though whether it’s psychological or physiological is debated by experts.

Many transgender kids report feeling discomfort with their gender as early as they can remember.

Read the entire article, including Mario’s story: