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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Katzwer’s Out of the Bag: How young is too young to undergo a sex change?

Published: October 21, 2011
Section: Opinions

What a person wants to do with their own body is their business. Therefore, while I may not entirely understand gender reassignment surgeries, I can respect the transgendered people undergoing them and wish them well.

Tommy, a resident of California, is currently taking the first steps to become Tammy. Good for him! He is a mature adult who has decided that he is unhappy in his current life and is moving to remedy this. Oh wait. He’s not a mature adult—he’s 11.

That’s right; this 11-year-old boy began taking GnRH inhibitors this summer as part of hormone-blocking therapy to delay his puberty until he turns 14 or 15. This child is making life-changing decisions before he is mature enough to do so.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: He’s not doing this alone; where are his parents? His mothers, Pauline Moreno and Debra Lobel, are perfectly all right with his decision and are encouraging him to explore his sexuality and all the options available to him. Certain news sources—cough, cough, FOX News—are saying that this is what naturally happens when a little boy has two mothers. That’s a bunch of baloney. This is what naturally happens when a little boy has these two mothers.

The mothers’ sexual orientation does not overtly contribute to Tommy’s decision. Some news sources—FOX again—have suggested that these mothers pushed their son into this. I find that highly unlikely. More likely, he is a young boy experimenting with his gender and sexual identity who took strength from his mothers. Seeing how they live their lives probably gave him the courage to try and say things that other children might not try or say.

While I find his admission courageous, allowing Tommy to participate in hormone-blocking therapy is egregiously irresponsible on his parents’ part.

“This is child abuse,” said Dr. Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s like performing liposuction on an anorexic child. It is a disorder of the mind, not a disorder of the body. Dealing with it in this way is not dealing with the problem that truly exists.”

I have heard this argument against gender reassignment surgery before and am always caught between agreeing with it and being offended by it. Is he saying that transgendered people are mentally unbalanced? On the other hand, it makes sense. Anorexia is a body-image issue that is cured through therapy; isn’t being transgendered a body-image issue as well? Could these people go through therapy and find happiness while avoiding surgery?

I hope that before anyone commits to elective surgery, they will have pursued all other options. If this is the only thing that will make them happy, then so be it. While similar to anorexia, being transgendered differs in one major way: It will not lead to your death.

That doesn’t mean it is entirely safe either. This child clearly needs help. While he has had therapy in the past, he still threatened to mutilate his genitalia when he was seven years old. That is not normal.

Plain and simple, Tommy is too young to be making these decisions. Pre-pubescence sucks for everyone; every 11 year old hates their body.

Additionally, hormone-blocking therapy is not side-effect free. Tommy could, in the long term, suffer from other hormone abnormalities, vascular problems or even cancer. When an adult decides to use hormone-blocking or hormone-replacement therapies in preparation for gender reassignment surgery, they are aware of the risks and are choosing to continue with the treatment anyway.

Tommy is undergoing this therapy now so that he can make a final decision when he is a pre-pubescent 15 year old. What if he changes his mind? He may not go ahead with gender reassignment surgery but he will still suffer the side effects of hormone-blocking therapy.

And while the potential side effects may have been explained to Tommy, he is still only 11. What 11 year old is fully able to think ahead and understand what consequences may occur from present actions? Some 20 years olds aren’t capable of this.

When I was 11, I flitted from thing to thing, never able to decide anything. One week I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up, the next a writer and then an actress. Obviously I was all over the place. And while it is possible to know what you want your future to be as a child, your mind is too distracted to realize fully which desires are fleeting fancies and which are sustainable. I wanted to be a writer and, look, I’m writing. I still love dinosaurs but you could not pay me enough to be a paleontologist. Ditto for theater.

Of course, switching dream jobs is different from switching genders. That doesn’t change the fact that children are ill-equipped to make intelligent and thoughtfully-considered choices. I just hope that when Tommy turns 14 or 15, he will make whichever choice makes him happiest and he will not regret having decided something so drastic when he was so young.