Once we faced that heart-wrenching ah-ha moment when Sam was just 8 years-old (XX vs. XY blog post, dated July 9) we quickly agreed that we needed professional help. Not knowing where to begin, I dove head first into the Internet and quickly became lost, confused, and scared out of my mind. A cursory search of the term ‘transgender’ yielded a swift education on the subject…none of the information being what I would call happy news. Weeding through hundreds of websites I quickly learned that the cause was unknown, that it was relatively rare (no direct studies on the prevalence have been done, however several clinical papers published in the past 20 years provide estimates ranging from 1:7,400 to 1:42,000 in males and 1:30,040 to 1:104,000 in females^), and that a large number of transgender people suffer from depression, substance abuse and eventually succumb to suicide. It was at that point our family began to circle the wagons, vowing to do whatever we could to help Sam avoid those tragic side effects.
During that first search of the Internet I also learned that the official diagnostic term used by the American Psychiatric Association is ‘gender dysphoria,’ and it is that term, as ugly as it sounded, I thought I needed to use when I contacted a local child psychologist’s office to make our first appointment.
“Children’s Mental Health…how may I direct your call?”
“Ummmm, yeeeeees,” I sputtered as I tried to deliver my rehearsed line for the receptionist, in a tense voice I did not recognize. “I have a child that has (long pause) I mean, we think might be suffering (longer pause) oh, I guess I wouldn’t call it suffering…but we just don’t know (longest pause)…”
UGGGG! This was NOT what I had just practiced for the last hour! Stop it, I scolded myself…what is wrong with you? Just tell her what you need.
“Let me start again,” I said with an apologetic tone. “I have a child that has gender dlkskdlfjoiewj,” I mumbled, my mouth refusing to say the derogatory word ‘dysphoria.’
“Excuse me, what did you just say, I am having a hard time understanding you,” the receptionist said, completely unemotional.
Of course you can’t understand me, I thought. I can’t even understand myself.
“I have a child that we think has gender dysphoria,” I finally managed to spit out with a wince in my voice and at the speed of a Sotheby’s auctioneer taking bids on the sale of a much sought after item. “Is there someone I can talk to about this in your practice?”
And so began our ascent to find answers to the million and one questions we had about what Sam was facing. The first child psychologist we worked with will always have a special place in our hearts. While not experienced with gender variant kids (ah, gender ‘variant’ now that is a much better term than ‘dysphoria’) she did her best to help us help Sam. We would have been happy to continue seeing her, however the day came within just a few months when she gently explained that to provide Sam with the best possible care, we really needed to see someone who had experience in this area. As luck would have it (please note this is one of the few times I will use the word ‘luck’ with this subject matter, but it seems appropriate here) we live near a major metropolitan health center, which is one of the few places in the nation that has a well established human sexuality program that includes professionals dedicated to gender variant children. And so that is where we found ourselves, still uncomfortable with the vast unknown laying before us, but prepared to do whatever we needed to ensure Sam’s well being.
We took that first, very difficult step…difficult because it meant we were no longer living in a state of denial, which can actually be quite a comfortable place if you fear the face of reality lurking just around the corner. But just like any first step, it signified a new beginning, a step forward toward what we hoped to be a happy ending.
^ Transgender Mental Health, “The Prevalence of Transgenderism” http://tgmentalhealth.com/2010/03/31/the-prevalence-of-transgenderism/