By Bob McLaughlin, PhD, Becca Keo-Meier, Colt Keo-Meier, PhD, and Robbie Sharp, PhD (APA Members and Founders of Gender Infinity)
Joaquin may only be 8 but he had a death grip on the microphone, a message, and a mission. He told Houston’s Mayor and the packed city council chambers that he cared about his sister so much he wanted her to have a good life and that he believed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was a step in that direction. HERO protects citizens from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, including veterans, the aged, and transgender individuals like his sister.
Joaquin’s sibling, Sammy, age 9, was assigned “male” at birth, but robustly asserted being a girl as soon as she was old enough to say it, despite efforts and influences from her family and community. Their mother, Terry, desperately sought resources to help her child be a “normal boy” like Joaquin, but her efforts didn’t make a dent.
Like many transgender and gender non-conforming children, it didn’t matter what toys or clothes she was given or what was taken away, or that she has XY chromosomes and a penis. Most boys who like stereotypical “girls’ things” know they are boys inside, but it is profoundly different for transgender children. Joaquin’s sister knew inside she was a girl.
Terry knew that her other child was withdrawn, chronically sad, and too distracted to make friends or attend in school. When a psychologist diagnosed her child with Gender Dysphoria (GD), Terry began attending Gender Infinity summer conferences in Houston with her children. She met families with similar concerns and learned that no one knows what Sammy’s long-term gender identity will be, not even Sammy. It is far too early to know if she will want transgender-related surgical procedures; that’s for adults. But Terry knows that her child’s happy childhood depends on being able to express who she is without being ostracized and criticized at every turn1,2,3.
The vision of Gender Infinity in Houston is simple – that the world will be inviting to every child, regardless of gender expression and identity. We (the authors) founded Gender Infinity to bridge the gap between providers, community advocates, and families of gender-diverse children. Gender Infinity’s family conferences like the ones Terry attended, as well as multidisciplinary trainings for healthcare professionals, attorneys, and educators, establish local networks that strengthen family and professional resources that help children be children.
Sammy’s female identity was early, insistent, and thorough despite efforts to redirect her. So Terry is prepared if Sammy continues to assert a female gender. If so, Terry, Sammy, and their physician will consider hormone blockers to prevent male puberty that would determine Sammy’s height, skeletal, and facial structure, give her an Adam’s apple, and promote facial and body hair that Sammy already dreads. If, for some reason, Sammy’s female identity does not persist, Terry and her family and friends are prepared to facilitate another adjustment.
With Mom on board, Sammy now expresses herself through clothes, hairstyles, and activities that help her be herself. Still quiet and shy, she is also vibrant, happy, and at peace with herself. Joaquin will tell anyone that this helps his sister and his family; he is a happier brother – and a family hero – who knows his sister feels settled at last.
For more information on transgender and gender identity issues, check out the following resources:
Transgender Identity Issues in Psychology: APA’s webpage with numerous resources, including the following:
Answers to your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression is an introductory brochure developed for a general audience to help with most frequently asked questions about this topic. Also available in Spanish and Russian.
Foundations for Psychological Practice with Transgender & Gender Nonconforming Clients This online continuing education course provides basic information about trans-affirmative approaches to research, supervision and clinical work. Online course | 1 credit
Practice Parameter on Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Sexual Orientation, Gender Nonconformity, and Gender Discordance in Children and Adolescents (PDF, 546KB) from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, September 2012.
Brill, S. A., & Pepper, R. (2008). The transgender child: A handbook for families and professionals. Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press.
Ryan, C. (2010). Engaging families to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth: The Family Acceptance Project. The Prevention Researcher, 17(4), 11- 13.
Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., Diaz, F. M., Card, N. A., & Russell, S. T. (2010). Nonconforming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: School victimization and young adult psychosocial adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 46(6), 1580–1589. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0020705
Bob McLaughlin, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, is Assistant Dean and Associate Professor, School of Allied Health Sciences, at Baylor College of Medicine where he teaches Health Behavioral Counseling. He is past President of the Houston Psychological Association, Texas Psychological Foundation, and the Harris County Child Abuse Task Force. He trains and consults in school districts and has keynoted conferences, educator workshops, and lay and professional groups on various topics, including sexuality, sexual behavior, and gender identity development, which constitute one focus of his clinical practice.
Becca Keo-Meier is a dual MSW/PhD student at the Graduate College of Social Work, University of Houston. Becca serves as co-facilitator of a local transgender and gender diverse youth support group (HATCH) at the Montrose Center, co-facilitator of the transgender PFLAG Houston Chapter group, and co-trainer of Cougar Ally Training, which aims to inform faculty, staff, and leaders about how to create safer spaces for LGBTQ individuals at the University of Houston. Becca has received academic and community awards from the National Association of Social Workers (Houston Chapter) and Houston Transgender Unity Committee for transgender specific community service, scholarship, advocacy, and research. Becca’s doctoral research interests include transphobia and transgender-negativity.
Colt Keo-Meier, PhD, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist specializing in working with sexual and gender health concerns in children, adolescents, families, and adults. He is a clinician, researcher, consultant, and educator in the area of LGBT Health, and has authored several articles on transgender individuals. He has taught Human Sexuality at the University of Houston and Baylor College of Medicine. He is a past co-chair of the Committee for Transgender People and Gender Diversity for APA Division 44 and the co-chair of the Student Initiative Taskforce of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).
Robbie N. Sharp, PhD, Licensed Psychologist and Licensed Specialist in School Psychology, is Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Allied Health Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. She is active in community prevention research, school mental health, and advocacy in children’s mental health issues. She chairs the Mental Health Needs Council of Harris County, Texas. Robbie is past-president of the Houston and Texas Psychological Associations and served on the Professional Advisory Board of the Attention Deficit Disorders Association – Southern Region.
Image source: iStockPhoto
Video provided courtesy of Joaquin’s mother, Terry