A reader writes: “How can a mother be sure her 23-year-old is transgender and not gender variant?
“I raised a daughter who was outgoing, confident, lots of friends, intelligent, accomplished, and seemingly happy. No complaints about being female, no engaging in ‘male’ activities – no signs other than some androgynous dress in high school.
“Then she goes to college. After one year I noticed she was moody and questioned her – she admitted finally that she thought she was male and didn’t want to talk about it. Stunning, but I tried to be supportive, the college was helpful, he’s had plenty of friends, and family members have been neutral to supportive. My son and I have always been, and remain close. I love him dearly.
“For three years I have had to initiate nearly every conversation about this, but Ben has always been very defensive about the topic of being transgender. A year ago (in spite of being in a supportive environment), he needed treatment due to feeling suicidal and homicidal. This concerned me greatly, and I wanted Ben to make sure he didn’t have psychological problems that needed resolution before starting T (depression and other mental illness runs in the family).
“Ben now says all is well and he has just started T. I realize he’s an adult, and it’s his life to live, but as his mother I’m concerned. For all I know, he didn’t tell his new therapist all that happened a year ago.
“He is still so feminine (in dress, mannerisms, interests, activities, etc), and he talks about being ‘queer’ and about gender-bender events he goes to, and he’s going through an exhibitionist stage where I find ‘steamy’ photos online of him posing in a combo of male and female items. He says he wants to start T to get a deeper voice and to pass as male, but then he runs around in heels and feminine attire, which is confusing to me.
“I know every transgender person has their own story, but this doesn’t even seem close to typical. Ben seems gender variant to me, or maybe rebellious to an extreme. It’s hard to get him to define things, since he gets defensive and doesn’t want to talk, and if I ask too many questions he says it ‘invalidates’ him.
“I’m not going to reject him either way, but I remember being confused and headstrong at 23, and worry that he could be making a mistake. Should I just sit by and let things play out, even though the results could be terrible?”
The answer to your first question – the first sentence in your letter – is that there is really no way for you to accurately tell, because both “gender variant” and “transgender” are socially created terms that have no medical or psychiatric backing, in the sense that there is no diagnosis or agreed-upon professional definition for either one of these terms, that I am aware of. (more…)
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