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Education Reporter

Gender Variance — Order or Disorder?

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A California elementary school is taking the unisex concept to a new level, or new low, depending on one's point of view. As reported by SFGate.com (the San Francisco Chronicle online), Park Day School in Oakland has stopped grouping children according to their gender. Instead, girls who prefer to be boys and boys who'd rather be girls are affirmed in their behavior. The school even has a unisex bathroom.

Park Day's transformation took place over the past few years, as parents began enrolling children as young as kindergarteners "who didn't fit on either side of the gender line." In 2005, the school hired a consultant to help teachers deal with the transgender students.

SFGate reports Park Day's staff members "are among a growing number of educators and parents who are acknowledging gender variance in very young children. Aurora School, another private elementary school in Oakland, also is seeing children who are 'gender fluid' and hired a clinical psychologist to conduct staff training."

A survey by the Washington, DC-based activist organization GenderPAC, found that nearly 2,000 elementary schools and 150 preschools nationwide have district policies banning discrimination based on the gender identity and sexual orientation of students.

These schools reflect a growing trend among some educators, psychologists and pediatricians to normalize behaviors in very young children that have long been considered Gender Identity Disorder (GID). "Children who suffer from GID are being redefined by radical pediatricians as 'gender variant' children who should be affirmed in their sexual confusions," laments Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) Executive Director, Andrea Lafferty. "These children need serious therapy, not affirmation for their gender confusion."

Psychologists Weigh In 
Psychologists at the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) say children who develop GID often live in homes where cross-gender behavior is tolerated or encouraged as a "phase." Dr. Kenneth Zucker observes that these children "are also frequently in homes where the maternal psychopathology is evident and [who] develop separation anxiety because of a mother who is emotionally unavailable."

Conversely, one clinical study showed that boys with GID had an overly close relationship with a mother accompanied by a distant, peripheral relationship with a father. Another study found that feminized boys spent less time with their fathers during the ages of one through five years than sons in a control group.

Dr. Zucker adds that GID children are often brought up in homes where "tolerance and non-responsiveness was common. Encouragement of these behaviors seems to be more common than negative or discouraging reactions."

On the opposite side of the issue, the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC publishes A Parent Guide "for parents who want information and advice on a child with gender-variant behaviors." The Center denies parents bear any responsibility for children with gender identity problems: "Although science has yet to pinpoint the causes, we know that gender-variant traits are not typically caused by parenting style or by childhood events, such as divorce, sexual abuse, or other traumatic experience."

According to NARTH, there are also behavioral traits linked to biological processes that may characterize children with GID. For example, prenatal sex hormones may impact the developing brains of pre-born children, such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), an intersex condition affecting genetic females. During fetal development, the external genitalia of these infants become masculinized. Dr. Zucker says it is presumed that this phenomenon also affects their developing brains; studies of girls with CAH indicate they have a higher risk of becoming bisexual.

Encouraging Rejection of Gender Roles  
The Children's National Medical Center warns parents not to automatically accept traditional assumptions about social gender roles and sexual orientation. "Some experts used to believe that gender variance represented abnormal development," the Parent Guide states, "but today many have come to believe that children with gender-variant behaviors are normal children with unique qualities — just as children who develop left-handedness are normal."

The Center's reference to left-handedness is interesting. According to NARTH's literature, Dr. Zucker's findings show that boys with GID have "a significantly greater rate of left-handedness than other boys." Additionally, Zucker found that GID boys have "an excess of brothers to sisters and a later birth order than non-GID boys, suggesting 'maternal immune reactions during pregnancy,'" whereby a male fetus is experienced by the mother as more "foreign" or "antigenic" than a female.

Link to Homosexuality 
Whatever the causes, Dr. Zucker believes parents should place limits on their children's cross-gender behaviors. If they do not, he says, the behavior in effect becomes reinforced. He points out that there is a link between GID and homosexuality and that clinical experience suggests psychosexual treatment is effective in reducing "gender dysphoria." NARTH experts believe "individual counseling and parental counseling are both effective methods of treating GID."

The Children's National Medical Center agrees there is a link between GID and homosexuality. "Research on boys with gender-variant histories suggests that most of them have a same-sex orientation (i.e., they are gay) . . ." However, the Center rejects the assumption that gender variance is abnormal and discourages any attempt to change such behavior. "What drives gender-typical or gender-variant traits cannot be changed through the influence of parents, teachers, coaches, or therapists. . . . We strongly oppose parenting approaches or therapies that focus on pressuring children to change and accommodate to a stereotype of how a girl or a boy is 'supposed to be.'"

"Acceptance" or Therapy?  
Even more ominous is this admonition in the Center's Parent Guide: "You must reach acceptance in order to affirm your child's uniqueness." It later states: "A red flag should be raised when the therapist seems to focus on the child's behaviors as the problem rather than on helping the child cope with intolerance and social prejudice. In the past, professionals assigned the diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder to children. This approach is flawed because it implies that these children suffer from a mental disorder. Along the same lines, therapists used to recommend techniques to change gender-variant behaviors. Professionals that still make these types of recommendations should be avoided."

NARTH professionals disagree. "Boys and girls with gender identity problems are not freely experimenting with gender atypical activities," writes NARTH Scientific Advisory Board member Dr. Richard P. Fitzgibbons. "They are constrained by deep insecurities and fears and are reacting against the reality of their own sexual identity, usually as a result of failing to experience love and acceptance from the parent of the same sex or same sex peers. Therapy is not directed toward forcing a sensitive or artistic boy to become a macho sports fanatic, but toward helping the boy grow in confidence and be happy he is a boy."

Grove City College Associate Professor of Psychology, Warren Throckmorton, agrees that some gender-variant children can be redirected to their birth sex. Quoted on SFGate.com, Throckmorton said: "I've treated kids who were quite sure they were the opposite gender and are now quite consistent in their behavior and their feelings with their biological sex."

Transgender Activism 
The Traditional Values Coalition believes the notion of gender variance is being exploited by "transgender activists" who are "aggressively targeting our public school children." "This insanity must stop," says TVC's Lafferty. The Coalition's Back to School Report for 2006 describes "the growing movement of transgender activists, including teachers, counselors and pediatricians who are teaching children that being male or female is 'fluid' and changeable."

"This is absolutely crazy, but pediatricians from some of the nation's most prestigious children's hospitals are involved in this gender confusion movement," maintains Lafferty.

In a statement of "Purpose" titled "Defending True Diversity," NARTH offers this 50-year-old definition of normal from researcher C.D. King, which is perhaps the bottom line: "Normality is that which functions according to its design."

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