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60 Minutes Science of Sexual Orientation: An update

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  • Laura
    From the blog http://wthrockmorton.com/ by Warren Throckmorton Part 1 Recently, I posted a link to a NPR broadcast outlining two approaches to treating
    Message 1 of 1 , May 30, 2008
      From the blog http://wthrockmorton.com/

      by Warren Throckmorton Part 1

      Recently, I posted a link to a NPR broadcast outlining two
      approaches to treating children who are gender non-conforming in
      their play and activity preferences. In light of that broadcast and
      the controversies surrounding these different approaches, I provide
      an update from Danielle, the mother of twin boys first featured in a
      60 Minutes broadcast originally aired on March 12, 2006. The
      segment, titled Science and Sexual Orientation, was by any measure a
      provocative program. The producer answered numerous questions about
      the show on the CBS website and many blogs, including this one,
      provided commentary. I still use the clip in some of my classes to
      illustrate a variety of issues regarding how the media interprets
      sexual orientation research.

      One of the most interesting aspects of the show was Leslie Stahl's
      interview with twin 9-year-old boys, Adam and Jared. Recently, the
      mother of the twins, Danielle, wrote researcher Michael Bailey with
      an update regarding her son, Adam. Dr. Bailey and Danielle allowed
      me to share the note on the blog. She does not preach or lecture but
      rather reports on her experience. First, to set the stage, I want to
      reproduce an excerpt of the 60 Minutes segment introducing Adam and
      Jared:

      The bedrooms of 9-year-old twins Adam and Jared couldn't be more
      different. Jared's room is decked out with camouflage, airplanes,
      and military toys, while Adam's room sports a pastel canopy, stuffed
      animals, and white horses.

      When Stahl came for a visit, Jared was eager to show her his G.I.
      Joe collection. "I have ones that say like Marine and SWAT. And then
      that's where I keep all the guns for `em," he explained.

      Adam was also proud to show off his toys. "This is one of my dolls.
      Bratz baby," he said.

      Adam wears pinkish-purple nail polish, adorned with stars and
      diamonds.

      Asked if he went to school like that, Adam says, "Uh-huh. I just
      showed them my nails, and they were like, `Why did you do that?'"

      Adam's behavior is called childhood gender nonconformity, meaning a
      child whose interests and behaviors are more typical of the opposite
      sex. Research shows that kids with extreme gender nonconformity
      usually grow up to be gay.

      Danielle, Adam and Jared's mom, says she began to notice this
      difference in Adam when he was about 18 months old and began asking
      for a Barbie doll. Jared, meanwhile, was asking for fire trucks.

      Not that much has changed. Jared's favorite game now is Battlefield
      2, Special Forces. As for Adam, he says, "It's called Neopets: The
      Darkest Faerie."

      Asked how he would describe himself to a stranger, Jared says, "I'm
      a kid who likes G.I. Joes and games and TV."

      "I would say like a girl," Adam replied to the same question. When
      asked why he thinks that is, Adam shrugged.

      In this email, Danielle reveals that at one time Adam thought he
      would like to be a girl. In fact, she considered puberty delaying
      drugs to allow Adam more time to reflect about his gender identity.
      At one point, he wanted to be a girl and bear a child via his own
      body.

      With this update, Danielle discloses that Adam is not as definite
      about wanting to transition as he once was. She reports that he has
      adopted a male identification, albeit a somewhat unconventional one.
      Here is her update:

      Adam has changed since we did the 60 Minutes show. He is the same
      yet different. From the research done a gazillon years ago about
      children like him- he's basically following the guidelines as they
      were told to me. One day I would love to get my hands on the actual
      research papers! Anyway, he turns 12 on [recently]. He still shows a
      preference for society labeled "girl" items, yet he no longer states
      he wants to change his body into a girl. He no longer talks about
      having a baby from his actual body or wanting to know when he will
      start to grow his breasts. I think most of these changes are due to
      society (school peers) and his awareness of the actual facts of
      life. His favorite color is now purple instead of pink and he still
      prefers to buy "girl" tennis shoes. He dreams of becoming an
      actor/model and being a professional chef. As I stated, from what I
      know of this past research, he's reaching the age where he's
      blending in with his peers. I expect the next two years of Middle
      School to be difficult ones. Then he goes into High School where
      differences are just a way of life. I'm thinking he may actually
      find out who he is some time towards the end of High School. Again
      it follows what I know of this mysterious research paper.

      I belong to several email groups with other families that have
      children like Adam. I don't participate much because I'm not sure if
      most of them are following the right path with their children. I
      often wonder "if" I had told Adam that "yes" he could be a girl when
      he became old enough would he have stayed on that track of thought?
      However, at the urging of his therapist, I told him I understood he
      was a girl yet he was really a boy and couldn't be a girl. A lot of
      the parents are allowing their children to grow long hair, dress 100
      % as a girl, and go to school with a girl name and girl clothing.
      Therefore they are totally embracing their child in the opposite sex
      role. The children are living that role and that life style. So have
      I done my son an injustice by telling him that he has a boy's body
      and even if he wants to be a girl during school hours he had to be
      the boy as his body was made? Then again, I have allowed him to wear
      just about anything he was comfortable wearing.

      It's a dilemma that I don't think we will know the end of until this
      generation of children grows up. What happens if some of these
      children that have male bodies but are living life as a girl all
      through grade school finally reach an age where they decide they
      really don't want to have a sex change and be a physical girl? Then
      what will the ramifications be on that child because of the parents'
      actions?

      It's not like my child has Down syndrome and I can go to the library
      and check out 100s of books to get guidance on how to raise him.
      There just isn't much out there for parents who face raising a child
      like my Adam. I have so many questions about parenting him and very
      little answers. So I go with my gut and wonder daily if I have made
      the wrong decision or if these other parents are making the wrong
      decision. Then again, what may be the wrong decision for one child
      in this situation may be the right decision for the other. Ah, what
      a world we live in! Fifty years ago we wouldn't even be having these
      types of conversations or email groups.

      I have to share something about Adam. I have often wondered how
      these other kids are developing compared to Adam. Many in the groups
      have started hormone therapy to stop puberty in the kids. That way
      the kids have more time to mature and make the final decision about
      the course of their lives. For the boys they won't develop the
      deeper voice and the Adam's apple and male characteristics. If they
      decide to transition the theory is that it will be easier without
      these developments. I made an appointment for Adam to have some
      baseline tests done. I was seriously thinking about doing the
      hormone therapy for him to give him more time too. However, much to
      my surprise he was ready deep into puberty. The doctor said we could
      still proceed with it but I really couldn't expect to have undone
      what was already there. He was developing much earlier than
      expected. Now his twin, Jared, still hasn't started into puberty.
      So, my question is - with boys that follow gender non-conformity -
      do they start developing earlier than their peers? I realize we
      won't have the answer for many, many more years to come.

      First of all, I am grateful to Danielle and Dr. Bailey for
      permission to reproduce this communication. Second, I think it is
      important for clinicians and advocates alike to reflect on what we
      can learn from this experience. As far as I can determine from
      available research, most boys who want to be girls later become men
      who don't want to become women. Using the new paradigm with Adam may
      have altered his future in ways that could have added significant
      complication to his life.

      Given that this email was sent to Dr. Bailey, I asked him for
      commentary.

      Danielle is an admirable and unusual mother. She went to great
      lengths to protect Adam and to show him that she loved him
      regardless of his gender-related behavior and self-concept. She let
      Adam express his femininity (e.g., fill his room with "girls'"
      toys), while providing him with honest feedback about the likely
      results of his choices, outside their home. She also hesitated–in my
      view sensibly so–from encouraging Adam to begin a gender transition
      during childhood. I have met Adam, and I have read Danielle's
      updates. I would be surprised at this point if Adam decides to
      change his sex. He seems a happy boy, and I expect he will become a
      happy young gay man.

      I wonder, with Danielle, about the implications for gender-atypical
      children whose parents take the other, emerging, approach: allowing
      children to change their genders preliminary to biological sex
      changes in adolescence. Children like Adam start showing their
      behavior early (Adam at 18 months). All evidence we have suggests
      that only a minority (20% or fewer) of boys like Adam become women
      eventually. But if parents let boys become girls at childhood, will
      this drive up the probability? It seems highly plausible that it
      would. Sex reassignment is not minor medical intervention. It
      involves major surgery and lifelong hormonal treatments. All other
      things being equal, sex reassignment is something to be avoided. Of
      course, not all other things are equal. If a 6 year old boy wants to
      be a girl, it will cause him more short-term pain to refuse than to
      acquiesce. The costs and benefits are hard to estimate, and Danielle
      has been frustrated in her search for data-supported answers. It
      would be a fitting reward to her admirable example if people could
      set aside their differences (and the government could
      uncharacteristically support research on a controversial topic
      relate to sex), and begin to collect and share requisite data.

      Danielle and Adam should remind us that even if treated liberally,
      gender-atypical children will not necessarily choose sex
      reassignment. Indeed, perhaps the most liberal goal of all is to
      allow gender-atypical children to be comfortable in their own (non
      surgically altered) skin. By all appearances, that is what Danielle
      has accomplished.

      Since this email, I have corresponded more with Danielle. She has
      added some additional detail which I will report tomorrow.
      Specifically, she describes how she has responded to Adam when he
      has expressed questions about transitioning.


      60 Minutes Science of Sexual Orientation mother of twins

      ......Part 2

      At last, I am posting some follow up comments made by Danielle,
      mother of the twin boys featured in the 60 Minutes segment, Science
      of Sexual Orientation. Part one is here and should be read first.

      Danielle said this in her initial email:

      I often wonder "if" I had told Adam that "yes" he could be a girl
      when he became old enough would he have stayed on that track of
      thought? However, at the urging of his therapist I told him I
      understood he was a girl yet he was really a boy and couldn't be a
      girl.

      Wanting to be clear, she wrote to elaborate:

      This was my response when he was three years old. We thought it
      would be confusing for that age of a child to hear he could be a
      girl but not until he was older. Later in his life I was up late
      watching a tv show about transgender surgery. Adam had awaken and
      was watching the show behind me - I didn't know he was there. I
      heard a gasp. When I turned around there was my Adam staring
      intently at the tv. He asked me in a shocked whisper "Can I do that
      surgery and be a girl?" I told him "yes" he could but not until he
      was 18 years old. He became very excited. You have to understand the
      differences in his age. I believe the information I gave him at each
      step was based on age appropriate responses. He did stare at me for
      a bit and asked me if I would really let him do something like that
      if he wanted. I assured him I would if it would make him happy. He
      wanted to know why I would help him change his body. I informed him
      because I loved him and I didn't want him to be sad or hurt. He
      asked me if I really loved him that much. My response was a very
      sound "yes!" that seemed to please him very much.

      The last time Adam and I talked about him being able to change his
      body into a girls body Adam was indecisive. Again, I believe it's
      the age/stage of his life and awareness of all around him. This
      conversation occurred after Tyra Banks had issued an invitation to
      be on her show. At that time Adam advised me he wasn't sure what he
      wanted to do. He didn't know if he should change his body so he
      could be a girl, stay with a boys body, if he was straight sexually
      or gay. Again, I believe his answer and confusion to be age
      appropriate. I declined the show offer because I didn't want him to
      expose himself when he was so unclear about his future. I didn't
      want to "lock" him into any particular role. That was when I decided
      to proceed with the hormone therapy to give him more time and
      maturity to decide what he wanted for himself. However he was
      already fully into developing so we decided not to go ahead with the
      treatments.

      We are in the process of working on another television project. I am
      allowing Adam to participate because I believe the show will allow
      him to show his confusion and be himself as he is for a 12 year old.
      This lead us to another conversation about the issue. For all of his
      wise wisdom he informed me he still didn't know what he wanted to
      do. "After all Mom, I'm only 12. I'm not suspose to know 100% for
      sure where my sexuality belongs. I'm suppose to be able to explore
      and decide later" And that's where I have left it. For him to be a
      normal 12 year old child, maturing, developing and exploring the
      possibilities of his future. I'm here to guide him, support him, and
      show him all the possibilities of the future. I can love him, hold
      him, praise him and catch him if he falls. That's my role as a
      parent.

      I then wrote to her to clarify how these thoughts related to her
      parenting decisions, specifically with his name and school. She said:

      The issue of what name to use during school was never really
      discussed. I wouldn't have allowed him to use a girls name at school
      even if he had pushed me to do so. He was "Adam" and that was that.

      During school hours he could wear what he wanted as long as it
      followed the school dress code. He only asked to wear a dress to
      school a few times. My response was always that his brother couldn't
      wear his fireman clothing so he couldn't wear his dresses to school
      however, he did wear them around the house. He did wear a girls
      black sweater with gold thread for two years. He wore girls tennis
      shoes all his life because of the color and sparkles and still wears
      them. He would wear girl shirts; however, in today's fashion world,
      sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference except in color. In
      his younger years, he wore girl jeans with sparkles but only for
      about an year then he didn't want to wear them anymore. But the
      really feminine clothing was only at home. My life was easier
      dealing with this issue because I had twins. His twin wanted to be a
      fireman. He had everything to do with a fireman just like Adam had
      everything to do with being a girl. My rule was that the girl
      clothing (dresses, heels, jewelry, skirts, femme blouses, makeup)
      and the fireman clothing stayed home when we went to the library,
      grocery store, grandma's, church, school and so on. My main reason
      for my restrictions were due to my parents who are totally against
      Adam's gender issues. However, his Nana didn't care what he wore so
      he could take his dresses to her house and wear them over there. I
      did have an issue at school once where the principal asked me if I
      could get Adam a different book bag (his was pink) and buy him
      different shoes (his were white with a pink logo on them). I advised
      her that he wasn't breaking any rules by his choices so I wouldn't
      make him give them up. I told her I could give in to him and allow
      him to wear dresses to school if she really wanted to push me since
      there isn't a dress code that says he can't. She backed off after
      that. However, I wouldn't have ever allowed him to wear a dress to
      school anyway. Yes, I had restrictions about what he wore and did in
      society but he did have a bit of freedom by his choice of shoes.

      I again want to thank Danielle for her candid comments. I have
      received emails from parents and professionals who are glad for this
      glimpse into how one parent reasons through these difficult issues.
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