Should Children Be Allowed to Select Their Own Gender?

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Why you should care

Because self-knowledge is not always easy, or free of controversy.

Our question this week: Should children be allowed to select their own gender? Let us know by email or in the comments below.

In 2011, The Toronto Star reported on a controversial baby, Storm Stocker-Witterick. Storm’s parents had decided not to reveal the sex of their child and to let Storm determine which gender she or he wanted to identify with. The public outcry in response to the story was overwhelming. Angry letters came pouring in; drivers rolled down their windows to shout “Boy!” at the Stocker-Wittericks as they walked down the street. When The Star revisited the family more than five years later, it found that the young Storm now confidently identified herself as a “she.”

The story of baby Storm raises an issue that many still find controversial, and that is the subject of this week’s Third Rail With OZY question: Should children be allowed to select their own gender?

A recent study found that allowing transgender children to socially transition was beneficial to their mental health …

In Storm’s native Canada, accommodating a child’s gender identity or gender expression is now protected by the nation’s human rights code. It remains a raging debate in Canada’s neighbor to the south, with many arguing that children should not be afforded that option. For example, according to a recent statement issued by the American College of Pediatricians, a socially conservative advocacy group of pediatricians and other health care professionals, “[a] person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking.”

Such self-knowledge is not confused thinking, says Morgane Oger, chair of the Trans Alliance and founder of the Morgane Oger Foundation, and there are several recent research studies to support the benefits of allowing transgender children to socially transition (like adopting changes to appearance, name and pronouns) at an early age. A recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, for example, found that allowing transgender children to socially transition was beneficial to their mental health, and they did not demonstrate any higher levels of depression or anxiety to their peers. What can create mental issues, on the other hand, is being stigmatized or not allowed to transition.

Does a child know enough to make such a decision at a young age? Many transgender adults speak of knowing from an early age about their true gender identity. “The vast majority of kids that come out as transgender stay there. It tends to stick,” says Oger, and if it doesn’t, it’s not really that important. “Children should be able to be who they are, whether or not that identity changes.” The decision later to medically transition, on the other hand, is obviously a more significant one, and one that in Canada is generally made in coordination with a child psychologist and the child’s parents.

Should parents who allow their children to choose their own gender be considered irresponsible … or enlightened? Do we risk doing transgender children more harm by restricting their choices? “One must not pressure one’s children. We know this is detrimental to them,” says Oger. “Just leave them alone.”

Do you agree? Is gender a choice that children should be able to make for themselves? Let us know by emailing or by answering in the comments below.


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