An adolescent I know identifies as male and lives in a female body. He says he’s okay with the dichotomy. His problem is the pressure he feels: medicalize or else. He binds his breasts against his own wishes, despite extreme physical discomfort. He believes that once he is of age, he will have to begin taking masculinizing hormones he doesn’t want. His is a peculiar position, brought about by the peculiar time in which he is coming of age. A time of increased acceptance and possibility, a time of rabid political correctness and the silencing of dissent.
I thought of him while reading an important opinion piece in today’s New York Times by professor of clinical psychiatry Richard Friedman, called “How Changeable is Gender?”
Friedman surveys the available data in two areas of research: the relative satisfaction of transsexuals after medical treatment for gender dysphoria; and the fluidity of gender identity in children and adolescents. Based upon the evidence, he concludes that gender dysphoric people are not necessarily happier after medical intervention, and also, that gender identity in children is fluid and unstable.
Friedman’s piece is calm, reasoned, thoughtful, and devoid of political agenda. In other words, it is astounding to find it published in the mainstream press today. Indeed, he notes the climate in which he explores these concerns when he writes:
“I was surprised to discover how many professional colleagues in this area either warned me to be careful about what I wrote or were reluctant to talk with me on the record for fear of reprisal from the transgender community.”
There are many who wish to stifle free discussion of the medicalization of gender identity, and they are enjoying a remarkable success. It can only be hoped that voices such as Friedman’s will continue to speak against the “fear of reprisal.”
Gender identity may indeed be changeable. What we are permitted to say about it shouldn’t be.