At playschool, all little Alexander wanted was to be Alexandra. Now the eleven year old is seeking hormone treatment. The Jugendamt (Youth Department) is set against it.
“Hi, I’m Alex!” The smiling girl, who opens the door to an old but pretty dwelling somewhere in Berlin, has long blonde hair, wears skinny jeans and a blouse. But this lovely eleven year old character, who readily shows us her pink room with white furniture and a pink unicorn on the, this should be a boy!
No, nothing suggests ‘boy’ here, yet for Alex gender identity has become a battlefield. Alex is transsexual – a girl with the sexual characteristics of a boy. And because of that, the child is now threatened with a secure psychiatric ward. The Youth Department wants to section her.
“For how long have you believed that you are a girl?” Alex looks me in the eye and answers back “for how long have you believed that you’re a girl then – always!” For Alex, the position was clear. Because she still had short hair she put on a hairband with two wool braids fastened to it. Her mother, Anna Kaminski*, had no problem with that.
After playschool Alexander officially changed sex and went to elementary school as Alexandra. She was accepted as such, which revitalised mother and child. Alex was a normal, happy girl.
A normal happy girl
But all was not well. The father continued to address the child as Alexander. He dressed his son in boy’s clothes and then when Alex cried and resisted, according to Mum, he got rough with Alex. Does one try to make the life of a boy more palatable to Alexander or let Alexandra continue to live as a girl? The parents separated over this conflict. They transferred responsibility for Alex’s healthcare to the Youth Department. Father fought with all his might against the behaviour of his child. Mother wanted to let Alex have her own way.
But now Alex has reached puberty. Her body is developing into that of a man. A man she does not want to become. She would rather die. Alex wants to be treated with oestrogens so she can develop as a woman. Her father wants to stop this. He has besieged the Youth Department, writing more than 150 pages about his supposedly disturbed wife who merely encourages the child to want to be a girl. IN response to all of that, as his wife tells it, the father himself does not even respond to inquiries.
What he has not written, but has told his wife, is that transsexualism has occurred once already within his family. It was, as is usually the case, concealed and suppressed. He wanted to spare his son from that Because of this he fought desperately, and thereby created a situation which is extremely stressful for his child.
How does one avoid the problem of transsexual children? Not only Alex’s parents are split; the scientific community is also divided. Children who want themselves to be of the opposite sex are not so rare. The desire to be of the opposite sex often disappears at puberty. In place of it, a homosexual identity often establishes itself.
Klaus Beier, sex therapist at the Berlin Charite, knows something about that. “If we could determine the criteria that could tell us for sure when a sexual identity problem in childhood turns into transsexuality, the gift of puberty blocking medication could be justified” says Beier. “But we don’t have the criteria, so forecastable cases must always be considered on the basis that discomfort in the biological sex could be left behind during the course of further development.
It has also been claimed that one of the parents can induce gender identity disorder, for example if the mother herself has a disturbed relationship with men and forces her son into a feminine role. Has Alex’s mother, this very normal and seemingly happy woman, painted the room pink and bought the unicorn contrary to the natural instincts of her child? Hardly conceivable. But Alex’s father is convinced the mother is the problem and that without her the child would be a boy.
There are also other stories concerning early transexuality besides those of Beier. A Dutch study, in which the development of children with so called gender identity disorders was monitored, indicated that biological boys who were particularly persistent in alleging that they were girls later developed into transsexuals. The late developing homosexuals were more likely to have said that is was always their wish to be a girl. But unfortunately they were boys. The Dutch are confident in the distinction and, in what they see as the clear cases, to begin with hormone treatment during puberty.
In Switzerland also, someone dares to diagnose children before the onset of puberty and to treat them. “I would accompany the child for a while” said Professor Udo Rauchfleisch of the University of Basel a renowned expert and consultant for transsexual people. He needs to see the child weekly for at least six months, then he can make a diagnosis. “If it is a transsexual, then one wants to begin the hormone treatment soon” said Rauchfleisch.
“It is of course a tremendous relief when the child develops in line with its preferred sex”. Some children treated with oestrogen never go on to experience a breaking voice or, instead of getting broad shoulders, would develop breasts. As an adult they would look like a woman and not like a man in disguise.
Alex has never had an unbiased assessment. Six years ago she should have gone to a major hospital in Berlin for tests. “They told me I would be unhappy later as a girl. After that I didn’t want to participate anymore” she says.
Stereotyping by doctors
She wonders about the stereotyping by doctors. They put me in front of a shelf; pink princesses on the left, cars on the right. I’m supposed to decide what I want to play with. That’s ridiculous. I play with a puzzle.” On hearing such stories, one realises just how absurd it is to assign to a child a behavioural role which otherwise gender-conscious educators simply try to put into perspective.
Alex is forever playing with dolls. But not football as well. Her hobbies are breakdance, swimming and reading. And what does she read? Books about girls on horses? Alex is reading Harry Potter – fairly gender neutral.
I wanted to speak to an impartial figure. Her teacher refuses; the case is too delicate. In the Youth Department the subject is addressed only once. The Mother is the problem? Why then is there no professional psychological assessment of her? Or perhaps the authorities, who simply want to avoid any further hassle with the father, are under no pressure from him.
The senior doctor spoke about the examination cut short by the father six years ago, then followed by an hour with the mother. He never got to see Alex herself. Nonetheless the diagnosis stands; the mother has influenced the child into a transsexual identity. Anna Kaminski consulted a therapist. Does she have a psychological disorder of which she is not aware? The therapist was unable to establish anything of the sort.
Never thoroughly examined
However to this day, Alex has never been thoroughly examined. Especially not over a long period of time as Rauchfleisch deems necessary. In this case, a report or an in-depth observation would now be so important. Because in the Youth Department, which was so quiet for years, a new nurse looked at Alex’s case. And she believes the father and fabricates information. The child is in danger of suicide and needs to be in a locked psychiatric ward. Under no circumstances should it receive hormones.
Instead it should experience puberty in the hope that it thereafter still wants to live life as a man. To that end it should be treated; should be offered inducements to develop into a manly role. Football and cars. Womanly desires ignored. Later Alex needs to go to a foster family. The most important thing – separation from the mother.
“That is absurd. One doesn’t take a child from its usual environment like that” says Professor Rauchfleisch. “And if one now wants to put it through a pseudo-upbringing, the child would most likely pretend, and be unhappy to death. That’s got nothing to do with therapy. Therapy guides people by way of self-discovery, it neither persuades nor dissuades. If the child is really transsexual, then therapy like that causes damage to the child. “
But although there aren’t any medical reports, the Youth Department is seeking to enforce involuntary committal through the district court. Anna Kaminski, totally shocked by this decision, has taken it to the next level, the case now lies with the Supreme Court. But the Youth Department wants admission to take place now. By way of interim injunction. Any day now they can stand at the door, and drag a happy, open-minded girl into a psychiatric hospital without a shred of medical evidence.
*Names have been changed
Original article in German by Heide Oestreich, Transexuality in Childhood 19/01/2012
This English translation © Rebecca Amanda Shaw 01/02/2012