The Atlantic Monthly, November 2008

This month’s issue features Hanna Rosin on the question of whether children should have sex changes.  Not all children, just the ones who seem interested.  As she interviews parents, children, and professionals on all sides of the question, she finds some unexpected attitudes and difficulties. 

Jeffrey Goldberg writes of his attempts to attract the attention of airport security screening personnel by posing as a potential terrorist.  Carrying weapons, using a fake boarding pass, failing to produce identiciation, and wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with the words “Osama bin Laden Hero of Islam” Goldberg got— on the plane!  No problem whatsoever.  He quotes aviation security expert Bruce Schneier‘s characterization of the TSA screening process as “security theater” and of the long lines it creates as ripe targets for suicide bombers.


  1. cymast

     /  October 25, 2008

    Paying child $21 a week to look in the mirror and say “I’m a boy” is child abuse. So is this: “Boys don’t wear pink, they wear blue,” they would tell him, or “Daddy is smarter than Mommy—ask him.” If John called for Mommy in the middle of the night, Daddy went, every time.

    Zucker should be prosecuted for child abuse and malpractice.

    Puberty blockers- that’s a tough one. But I would have to ultimately keep the best interest of the child the top priority, and let the child be her or his own self. Barring childhood abuse/neglect (such as Zucker’s disgusting perpetrations), the child knows better than anybody else what gender s/he is.

    What’s wrong with allowing a child to live whatever gender the child sees fit? Why would there be any perceived pressure to continue living as a fe/male if the choice is always the child’s?

    In my job, 98% of the calls I get are from men who identify as women, at least in fantasy. I know many of these men desire feminization in real life, but the feminization fantasy is the only aceptable outlet they have. A few take female hormones or would like to. Almost all make their “fetish” more acceptable by incorporating a humiliation facet into the feminization fantasy- it’s slightly more more acceptable to be effeminate if you’re being teased about it.


    Holy crap! Is this for real?

    Not long after 9-11 I flew to Hawaii in a trench coat. Underneath I wore a skimpy sheer camisole (no bra) and long pants. I was asked to remove my coat to go through security. I started to slip my coat off my shoulders, and the security guy blushed and waved me through. On the plane, the passenger sitting next to me kept insisting I share her sandwich with her. She reached into her purse and casually pulled out a standard kitchen knife. Then she cut her sandwich in half while I braced myself for the SWAT team that didn’t show up. The rest of the flight was without incident. Once in Hawaii, I waited several hours for my luggage to show up.

    For real.

  2. acilius

     /  October 27, 2008

    Quite an airport story! You should post that. I’ve often thought we should have a “Narratives” category, that would be a good inaugural for one.

    The parents of “Brandon”>”Bridget” whom Rosin puts at the center of her story certainly seem to be keeping a steady focus on their child’s best interests, and those who follow Zucker’s advice and take the pink crayons out of the box seem to be acting out of panic. Zucker’s claim that his methods should be regarded as successful because none of the children he’s treated before their sixth birthday has gone on to have gender reassignment surgery is chilling- how many of them have become alcoholics? How many have committed suicide? How many now use violence in their intimate relationships, or in other parts of their lives?

    I’m sure the gay-rights activist Rosin interviews is right when she says that children can’t be expected to know whether they are pre-transsexual or pre-gay. I’m also sure that children subjected to Zucker-style treatment will never figure the difference out. Maybe that’s where some of your clients come from.

    Still, I can see what Rosin is getting at when she suggests that some of the parents who take the opposite approach may also be acting out of panic and that their action may strip the child of meaningful agency just as surely as the Zucker method does. It’s quite a big production to give a kid puberty blockers, change his/her name, perhaps move so that he/she can make a fresh start. To say to the kid who’s been the focus of all that “you can change your mind any time” is like the old war movies where they say to the soldiers lined up for the dangerous mission “you can turn back now and nothing will be said”- of course none of them will. It would take superhuman courage to change your mind at that point.

    I wish Rosin had been able to go into more depth about the clinic in the Netherlands where they have a regular psychological screening process before deciding whether to prescribe puberty blockers. I’d like to know how good a job that system does of keeping panicky parents from shoving their kids onto an express train in either direction.

  3. cymast

     /  October 27, 2008

    I will post my airport story! Though I really don’t remember any more detail than that.

    Yes, I know many of my clients very strongly identify as female. Of those clients, most are “straight males” in real life. When they call, they are allowed and encouraged to be “straight females.” Many of my clients (virtually 100% are biologically male) who were zuckerized as children- either by parents or zuckerites- have self-abuse issues. Some self-injure during a session, others ask me to denigrate and humiliate them via a roleplay fantasy.

    I wouldn’t know what else to do for a child other that leave gender/sexual affiliation recognition up to the child and say, regarding treatment, “you can change your mind at any time.”

  4. acilius

     /  October 28, 2008

    I wouldn’t know either- that’s why I wanted to hear about those Dutch psychologists, to find out if they’ve come up with something that keeps the child in charge of him/herself.

  5. believer1

     /  November 1, 2008

    I too think the perants on both sides of the issue are going too far. I think the parents just want to help their children so badly. they want to make what they see as a problem go away asap. i think the best thing they can do is give the child time and talk to the child openly. Let them know it is ok to be gay and it is ok to be transgendered. in other words it is ok to be ones self. If they know they will be loved and accepted they can feel free to figure it out. I think people need to stop being afraid of talking to children about important issues. Children love to learn. They are very good at leting others know when they have enough imformation.

  6. cymast

     /  November 1, 2008

    Well said, B! You sound like you’d be a child psychiatrist who would actually help children.

  7. acilius

     /  November 1, 2008

    You sure do! What you say about the importance of listening is just the right thing.

  8. believer1

     /  November 11, 2008

    thanks for the very high praise!

  9. acilius

     /  November 11, 2008

    It’s well deserved, I assure you.

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