As a toddler, one of the first things Thomas Lobel told her parents, Pauline Moreno and Debra Lobel, was, “I am a girl.” Her parents thought Thomas, who was signing because of a speech impediment, was confused. She wasn’t.
Thomas was shy, depressed, preferred sitting alone inside to playing with other kids, and preferred things typically associated with femininity, specifically sparkly headbands, dolls, and Wonder Woman, to things typically associated with masculinity, specifically baseball hats, action figures, and Superman. At age 7, she was diagnosed with gender identity disorder. At age 8, she changed her name to Tammy, started using female pronouns, and started picking out dresses to wear. According to her parents, “As soon as we let him put on a dress, his personality changed from a very sad kid who sat still, didn’t do much of anything to a very happy little girl who was thrilled to be alive.”
Predictably, people are bothered by this.
The Herald Sun uses the fact that Tammy’s parents are lesbians and adoptive as a way of framing the idea that Tammy’s gender and experiences are a result of living with people with a different “lifestyle” and are not internally driven. The Herald Sun and The Daily Mail both use the wrong pronoun throughout their coverage, and alternate between the names “Tammy” and “Thomas.” Both outlets also use language that questions the validity of the claims of their sources, such as “insists” and “claims”; call hormone therapy “controversial” without expanding on who, specifically, finds it controversial; and only include quotations from the parents, who are obviously supportive, and Internet commenters, who are scandalized and not even cited directly. You would also think that, because this story is about an 11-year-old, newspapers would stay away from the “before” and “after” photos that often characterize sensationalized stories about trans* people. And you would be wrong. Surprisingly, and despite pronoun issues, CNN does the best job, with quotations from the managing director of Gender Spectrum, several doctors, and a University of Toronto professor. And, of course, Chaz Bono.
Talking to doctors is especially important in light of arguments such as the idea that transitioning “interfere[s] with the child’s biology” (emphasis not mine. Want to feel angry? Read that article.) and that it is a form of “experiment[ation] on children” because hormone replacement therapy hasn’t been approved by the FDA. While the FDA currently mostly talks about HRT is as it applies to women going through menopause, saying that non-FDA-approved methods are unethical discounts the multiple other therapies that exist that are also not necessarily FDA-approved (and the fact that the FDA deals with drugs, not approaches to treatment). It also raises the question of which is more unethical: the chance of a medical risk, or forcing someone to behave contrary to their gender.
According to the American Psychological Association, “it is not helpful to force the child to act in a more gender-conforming way.’ When they’re forced to conform, some children spiral into depression, behavioral problems and even suicidal thoughts.” Tammy, who threatened self-injury while living as a boy and who was depressed when younger, certainly falls into this category.
According to Moreno, “He was in his own world just completely detached and that was a problem we always had was getting Thomas to participate in life. What we saw emerge when Tammy was allowed to be Tammy is, ‘Whoa!’ … It was an immediate transformation. She was so giggly and she was now interacting.”
This past summer, Tammy started taking hormone-blocking drugs by way of an implant in her left arm. The drugs will delay her experiencing puberty, must be renewed once a year, and are fully reversible — around age 14, Tammy will stop taking them and either go through male puberty or begin estrogen hormone treatment.
According to CNN,
“Medical practitioners have to be careful with children with gender identity issues, said Dr. Kenneth Zucker, head of the Gender Identity Service in the Child, Youth, and Family Program and professor at the University of Toronto. Giving children hormone blockers to kids before the age of 13 is too early, he said.
Zucker conducted a study following 109 boys who had gender identity disorder between the ages of 3 and 12. Researchers followed up at the mean age of 20 and found 12% of these boys continued to want to change genders. […]
All of this leads to unsettling answers for families trying to understand their children. No one knows whether a child’s gender dysphoria will continue forever or if it is temporary.
The unsatisfying answer repeated by experts is that only time will tell.”
Tammy’s parents should be applauded for giving her that time.