Gender Identity Disorders and Children

*Kate as a child

Kate as a child

I wanted to find out if there are any parental rearing factors associated with transsexualism and how soon someone can experience gender dysphoria. In terms of my final Phonar piece, I wanted to begin my subjects story from their childhood to see if anything within their childhood maybe triggered their conflict or if there are common elements within the childhoods of people who become transsexual.

Gender identity disorders from a public perspective are often misunderstood and confusing. They are complex in nature, hard to make concise and complete, their trigger and cause frequently a mystery. Is there any scientific evidence as to why someone may have transgender feelings? Is gender dysphoria an outcome of upbringing and parental rearing? Is it purely down to the individual? Is it a combination of all these? This led me to find out more about the origins of gender identity disorder, gender identity development and studies into the potential factors, which can trigger gender dysphoria.

Transsexualism is at the extreme end of the spectrum of gender identity disorders characterized by, among other things, a pursuit of sex reassignment surgery, also referred to as SRS. The origins and cause of transsexualism remains unclear. However, an indication of anatomic brain differences between transsexuals and non-transsexuals has been found. Certain parental rearing factors have also been associated with transsexualism. Gender identity development also aids in understanding transsexualism. I want to explore each of these elements in detail in order to gage a better understanding of those who are transsexual and make sense of their conflict.

Adult gender identity and gender role behaviour develop gradually over a long period of time and are influenced by a multitude of things, active at different developmental periods. Children and teens are now asserting their gender identities and expression at younger ages. Parents are now faced with decisions about how to let their children express themselves and as they reach adolescence whether or not to medically intervene. Is it a phase? Should it be repressed? Or is there a permanent solution? Boys who like to play with girls’ toys or girls who are considered tomboys are not considered to be children with gender identity disorder. The degree of incongruence between gender identity, gender role and natal sex can majorly vary. So how does one identify definitively if their child is GID or not? And more importantly how does the child know?

Studies suggest that GID children present distress within their gender role and a developmental lag with regard to several aspects of gender learning. Parents of boys with gender identity disorder frequently claim that from the moment their sons could communicate, they insisted on wearing their mothers or sisters clothes, were merely interested in girls’ toys and only played with girls. These individuals would often show distress with their gender as well as their sex. It is thought that GID children are also less likely to label sexes correctly and make more mistakes when answering questions regarding the stability of gender.

Children with GID are more persistent and consistent that the gender role they feel is the correct one, in regardless to their actual sex. Pediatric Psychiatrist, Edgardo Menvielle, suggests that children begin learning about gender very early in life, as young as 2-3 years of age. “Many children at this age are already able to label themselves as well as other people around them in terms of gender based on what they see” But what can cause children to feel they are a different gender? Is it just a normal part of a persons’ development?

I found that parental and family factors could influence GID. Extreme closeness to the mother, absences of the father or parental dynamics, such as maternal wish for a daughter have been held responsible for the development of gender identity disorders. Retrospective studies in adult transsexuals have also shown differences in recalled child-rearing patterns between transsexuals and non-transsexuals. Male-to-female transsexuals (MFs) characterized their fathers as less emotionally warm, more rejecting, and more controlling. Female-to-male transsexuals (FMs) rated both parents as more rejecting and less emotionally warm, but only their mothers as more protective. When meeting and interviewing my subjects I wanted to find out what their relationships were like with their parents and learn about their upbringing. I wanted to know if family and parental factors really can impact a person’s internal feeling in regards to their gender.

When speaking to my subjects *Rachel and *Kate (male to female transsexuals), both were sure from a very young age that they did not quite fit into the role and body they were assigned at birth. My main subject, *Kate had a wonderful childhood and was very close to her mother, which links to the research outlined above. I want to reflect my subjects childhood in my final piece to show that this isn’t necessarily the trigger of transsexualism and that they are just like me and you.


Cohen-Kettenis, P.T and Gooren, L.J.G . (1999). Transsexualism: A review of etiology, diagnosis and treatment . Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Volume 46 (Issue 4), p315-333.

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