Raising a child after a divorce or annulment is already difficult, but co-parenting a transgender or gender-diverse child in different households with dissimilar beliefs raises its own issues, experts say.
Judge Kim Cooks last Thursday awarded joint custody to Georgulas and Younger. The mother had previously been given sole conservatorship.
The case has attracted criticism from conservative Republican politicians in Texas, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) raised concerns about “forced” medical treatments for “so-called gender dysphoria on young children."
These concerns are a tad misguided, experts say.
Predicting whether a prepubescent child will grow up to be transgender is difficult, said Jason Rafferty, a pediatrician and psychiatrist.
“I think one of the challenges with this case is that it sort of makes it black and white,” the Brown University assistant professor said. “Are we going to predict if this child wants hormones? The reality is we can’t.”
Most medical and psychological professionals agree that affirming children is the best approach for children with gender dysphoria, said Paul Mitrani, clinical director and child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute in New York.
Affirming means that parents can address such children by their preferred pronoun or name, ask them questions about their gender assertions and engage them in conversations about their interests and gender expressions in affirming.
“Affirming is just saying, ‘This is who you are right now,’" Mitrani said. “You’re not trying to push them one way or another.”
Parents have a role in making sure their children feel safe to be themselves, but how children express their gender with one parent over the other isn’t an indicator of the child’s transgender identity, according to experts.
If Younger’s child is acting like and preferring to be a boy, the child could be conforming to the father’s expectations and adapting in a way that diminishes stress, Mitrani said.
Younger has said that the child behaves as a boy and wants to be treated as male when not around the mother, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
Although much concern has surrounded the medical care of the 7-year-old, the likelihood that the child will deal with any serious medical decisions is low at the moment, Mitrani said.
If there is any change a transgender or gender diverse child might experience at this age, it is mainly social.
Starting hormone suppressants or beginning hormone therapy are choices that families make with the help of a team of medical professionals over time.
Hormone suppressants, which prevent the gonads from creating sex hormones, stop puberty, give families more time to decide about medical courses of action and can delay the stress that a developing body can cause a gender dysphoric teen, said Mitrani.
There are negatives and positives in starting hormone therapy early.
Tissue availability can be an issue, especially from male-to-female teens who desire a vaginoplasty.
Reality star and transgender activist Jazz Jennings, who has been identifying as and living as a female since early childhood, had a hormone blocker implanted in her arm at 11 years old, ABC News reported. Not fully developing as a young man meant she didn’t have enough tissue to construct a vagina, which resulted in her having an experimental procedure for her gender confirmation surgery.
The seemingly polar-opposite parents will have to attend family counseling with the child and the child’s twin and will have to agree on future treatment, according to CNN’s review of court documents.
The father, like his child, might need space to express himself and explore his own feelings. That requires a level of openness, said Rafferty, who has handled situations similar to that of Georgulas and Younger.
“When parents bring up concerns, those are concerns the child may need to consider,” he said. “A parent’s concerns bring that into the conversation.”
With the help of a team, Georgulas and Younger can create an individualized plan that works for them over time.
The public probably won’t get to know how Younger, Georgulas and their child fares, as the judge has prohibited both parents from talking to media about the case.