Gender Dysphoria in Children Thesis

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Gender and Sexuality: Gender Dysphoria in Children

Gender Dysphoria in Children

Gender is not an absolute or guaranteed condition in the human experience, and even young children can experience some confusion concerning their perceptions of what gender they should be based on powerful family, cultural and social influences. This confused sense of whether "I am a boy" or "I am a girl" can result in subjective distress that is known as Gender Dysphoria regarding their gender identity. While most adolescents tend to "grow out of" their gender dysphoric state, some continue to experience this dichotomy between their anatomical and mental sense of their gender. This study provides a review of the relevant peer-reviewed, scholarly and reliable online literature to provide an overview of transgendered children in general and gender dysphoric children through puberty in particular. An analysis of three each studies from the varying perspectives of essentialism, environmentalism and constructivism together with an explanation concerning the rationale used by the respective researchers for selecting this theoretical basis is followed by a summary of the research and salient findings in the conclusion. An annotated reference page is also provided.

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Thesis on Gender Dysphoria in Children Assignment

Most social researchers would likely agree that human experience their worlds in unique ways, but almost everyone is influenced by both nature and nurture as they develop over the life course. When some young people experience a gender identity that is at odds with their anatomical sex, it is little wonder that these same researchers would seek to explain such reactions in terms of these influences whether in isolation of each other or in combination with each other. In this regard, Segal (2006) reports that, "Both biological and social explanations of transsexualism are available. Some studies have linked specific physical and psychological characteristics to transsexualism and to other atypical gender identity behaviors" (p. 347). Based on her critical review of the extant body of evidence, Segal concludes that, "Transsexualism is unlikely to be associated with a major gene, but is likely to be associated with multiple genetic, epigenetic, developmental, and experiential influences" (p. 348).

Of those studies that have relied on the strictly biological basis to understand transgendered children, a study by Roughgarden (2004) found that, "Transgender experience begins with the earliest moments of consciousness. Transgender expression emerges early in childhood, along with other indicators of personality, temperament, and inclination. These narratives show that transsexualism begins with gender identity, not sex drive" (p. 265). Societal and family reactions to these young people who appear to be born with this condition, though, are typically less than compassionate. For instance, based on her empirical observations and study of homosexual and transgendered children, the director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, Caitlin Ryan, reports that some of the common reactions of families to children who are identified lesbian, gay or transgendered suggest that the latter condition can evoke the most severe responses on the parts of other family members and peers as well. In a recent interview with Barbara Walters (2007), Ryan and her associates reported the results of their research that found "transgender adolescents are more likely than lesbian, gay and bisexual youth to be rejected by their parents and caregivers, which increases their risk for negative health and mental health outcomes" (Adriano, p. 3).

While some transgendered youths experience verbal abuse and bullying, some are even subjected to outright physical torture and death as a result of their transgendered nature, with some high-profile cases including the 1993 murder of Brandon Teena (the account of which was made into the motion picture, "Boys Don't Cry"), and the murder of 17-year-old Gwen Araujo in 2002 who "was hogtied, strangled and then buried in a shallow grave by a group of teens. Araujo was killed after her attackers learned that she had been born a boy" (Adriano, p. 4). While transgendered children are therefore at risk of experiencing more violent encounters with their peers, many such children also experience rejection by their own family members. In this regard, Adriano quotes Ryan who emphasizes that, "Families reject their transgender children because of deeply held religious beliefs, cultural norms or pressure from other family members. Some forms of rejection, like physical violence, verbal humiliation or throwing your child out on the street, are obvious" (quoted in Adriano at p. 4).

Over time, some transgendered children experience some profound psychosocial reactions to such treatment and frequently seek to live a life of lies in order to avoid such persecution. "In response to pressure for gender conformity, transgendered children put enormous energy into trying to conform to expectations, into being the good son or the perfect daughter, often believing they'll eventually get it right" (p. 264). Likewise, Roughgarden also confirms that, "Transgendered children report violence from other children" (p. 265). Not surprisingly, some transgendered children tend to process these collective experiences in ways that do not provide them with the healthy outcomes they need to live their lives in a fashion that is congruent with their perceived gender, which can result in gender dysphoria and its associated comorbidities, including Asperger's syndrome, eating disorders, depression and even suicide (Cole, O'Boyle, Emory & Meyer, 1997) and these issues are discussed further below.

Essentialism (biological). Many researchers have assumed an essentialist approach to understanding and describing gender dysphoria in recent years, with an increasing number of studies citing the clear indication of the condition's biological origins. In this regard, Ekins and King (1996) describe the origins of the term in the mid-20th century as follows: "The concept of the transsexual and its seemingly clear differentiation from transvestism and other 'conditions' in the 1950s and 1960s began to lose ground somewhat. Early in the decade the term 'gender dysphoria' appeared in the literature and quickly established itself as the dominant term, although transsexualism has continued to be used" (p. 95). Unlike other definitions that change over time as new symptoms are described and treatments identified, Ekins and King suggest that the designation of the condition in this fashion was an important step in emphasizing the biological nature of gender dysphoria. As these authors point out, "This was not just a case of one term beginning to replace another, however. Gender dysphoria was introduced according to its originator, Fisk (1973), to reflect the fact that applications for sex-reassignment came from a variety of persons, by no means all of whom fitted the classic picture of the transsexual" (p. 95). The rationale cited by these researchers for using an essentialist theoretical basis for their study was that "they all shared the fact that they 'were intensely and abidingly uncomfortable in their anatomic and genetic sex and their assigned gender'" (Fisk, 1973, p. 10 quoted in Ekins & King at p. 95).

More recently, Green (2000) studied ten sets of siblings or parent-child pairs concordant for gender identity disorder (e.g., transsexualism) or gender identity disorder and transvestitism to identify possible genetic bases for these conditions. Based on his analyses, Green concludes that there is growing evidence for the genetic basis of gender dysphoria and encourages healthcare professionals to collect genetic samples of such patients to help develop a database that can provide important clues concerning the specific genetic markers that may be involved. In this regard, Green emphasizes that, "Clinicians evaluating and treating gender-identity patients with a positive family history should, with patient's consent, collect and store blood samples for future genetic analyses. Clinicians seeing patients in whose families gender dysphoria cooccurs should contribute to a family research database" (p. 499). Notwithstanding the growing body of evidence in support of and Green's reasoning for the use of a biological basis for his study of gender dysphoria, this researcher also emphasizes the need for additional research to determine any salient environmental factors that may play a role. For instance, the author notes that, "This brief report is intended to stimulate study of families with cooccurring gender dysphoria, transsexualism, or transvestism.... The vignettes do not detail potential social learning or psychodynamic influences on these persons' atypical development. Rather, their reporting here suggests promise for sophisticated genetic studies of such families with the newly emergent techniques of genetic science" (p. 499). Finally, Green suggests the establishment of a universal database can facilitate this research. According to Green, "These cases must be reported in scholarly publications. In consequence of the rarity of transsexualism, a pooling from the various centers worldwide is required to take this attempt to understand the origins of this vexing disorder to the next level" (p. 499).

A study by Coolidge, Thede, and Young (2002) examined the degree to which genetic factors might play a role in gender identification disorder, as well as the prevalence and heritability of the condition. Based on the survey responses from parents of 314 twin pairs, aged 7 to 14 years, these researchers identified a 2.3% prevalence and 62% heritability rate for gender identification disorder in their sample of twins, but identified nonshared environmental effects explained 38% of the variance (Coolidge et al.). These… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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