Yet not everyone who treats gender identity disorder in children believes in allowing them to transition to the opposite sex when they are young.
Kenneth Zucker, a child psychologist in Toronto who is serving on the psychiatric association’s task force, advocates neutrality for kids struggling with their gender identity.
Children who see him get the Barbies or toy soldiers replaced by puzzles and board games. His theory is that kids should be allowed to grow into a gender and not be categorized.
There’s some evidence — most of it anecdotal because so little research exists — that gender dysphoria is a phase many children outgrow.
In the U.S., it’s impossible to know how many children have gender identity problems because the condition usually goes unacknowledged by parents and pediatricians, said Edgardo Menvielle, who counsels transgender kids at Children’s National Medical Center in the District. About a dozen children from the area belong to his support group, and hundreds of families around the country are part of his online support network.
In the decade that Menvielle has been counseling such children, he estimates that about 80 percent end up switching back to what their biology tells them. The other 20 percent remain transgender into adulthood.
‘Not just a tomboy’
Was Kathryn going through a phase? After many hours of research and another full summer of bathing suit fights, Jean didn’t think so.
Kathryn was 4 when Jean finally broached the subject with her husband.
“Have you noticed that Kathryn wants to be a boy?” she remembered asking one night as she and Stephen were washing the dinner dishes after putting the kids to bed.
“She’s just a tomboy,” Stephen replied.
Jean shook her head.
“No, Stephen, I’m pretty sure Kathryn is transgender. She’s not just a tomboy,” she said. “And I think maybe we should start letting her call herself a boy.”
Stephen thought she was nuts. “I told her she was making too much of this,” Stephen recalled.
As a teacher, Stephen knew how cruel kids could be. He imagined his child walking into the social battlefield that is school, insisting she was a boy when under her clothing, she wasn’t.
What about bathrooms? P.E.? The prom? How would all that go?
Despite his resistance, Stephen promised his wife that he would pay closer attention to Kathryn’s behavior and really listen for her “I am a boy” anthem.