Gender identity is defined as one’s internal sense of self and their gender. Some people mentally identify with their assigned sex at birth, while others identify with a gender other than the one assigned at birth, whether is be male, female, non-binary or anything in-between. This is defined as gender dysphoria which can lead a person to identifying themselves as transgender. Despite the fact that many believe this is a personal decision, research has shown that there are twenty-one variants in 19 genes related to the release of estrogen that are critical to determine whether the brain is masculine or feminine. The exposure to these chemicals or lack there of, can result in incongruences between their external sex and internal gender.1 As a result, some children and young teens are able to make decisions about their gender at such a young age.
It is a well-known fact that a person’s brain fully develops at the age of 25 which means that before a person reaches that age, the frontal cortex (the decision-making part of one’s brain) is not fully developed. This is what justifies the behaviours of young children and adolescents. However, when a child believes they were born in the wrong body, because they do not identify or feel like the sex that they designated at birth, is that an imbalance of hormones or a decision they are choosing in the moment? Often parents like to believe the latter, however if the gender dysphoria is so strong that it risks the safety and well-being of the child, the courts will intervene to try to find the best solution in the best interest of the child. In 2008, a 14 year old child in Quebec was born as a female but identified as a male; he had suicidal thoughts and behaviours that led to automutilation in order to match his outward self with his inner self. In this case, the child stated that he had had these feelings of gender dysphoria from as early as the age of 6. Despite the child’s young age, the judge agreed that it would be in his best interest for him to attend therapy and receive the medical treatments that his doctor recommends.
Although the process is easier when parents are understanding and supportive of their child, it can become more complicated when one or both parents do not support the child’s decision. In 2008, a father in British Columbia went to trial to prevent his child from gender-affirming hormone treatments that would allow his son’s outward appearance to reflect his inner feelings of identity. The judge granted the child access to these treatments and ordered the father not reveal his child’s identity, nor the identity of the medical professionals treating him. Moreover, the father was also ordered to respect his child’s chosen pronouns and only refer to him as “him/he”. Since the judgment, the father has violated all court orders and was consequently arrested and facing a criminal charge for contempt of court. A court order, regardless of its contents, must be respected. Despite the court order, the father posted his emotions and details about the case on social media. This was in direct breach of the court order.
1 Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. “Gene variants provide insight into brain, body incongruence in transgender.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200205084203.htm (accessed April 1, 2021).
A court order is crucial to respecting the justice system. When a person acts in a way that goes against a judge’s order, they are not only disrespecting the judicial system, but also, in this particular case, risking the safety and security of the child. After his hearing on April 12, 2021, the father was sentenced to 6 months by Justice Michael Tammen of the B.C. The Supreme Court for having breached the order.2 Despite the fathers’ feelings towards his son’s identity, the judge’s court order prevents him from speaking out about certain aspects of his son’s life. It is for this reason that he has been arrested and sentenced. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that parents of transgender children are worried about such significant decisions.
A person’s identity is something they live with their entire life; it grows and changes with every experience. For this reason, parents might wonder if their child’s decision regarding their gender will change just as other aspects of a person’s identity: their career choices or family plans. Children will switch back and forth between different careers; one day they want to be a firefighter, the next a doctor. Just because they switch career choices frequently does not mean the same will occur with their gender. There are significant differences between a person’s gender identity and their career choice, which means as a parent, it is important not to compare the two too strongly.
2 Andrew Weichel, “B.C. Dad Jailed 6 Months after Repeatedly Exposing Transgender Son’s Identity, despite Publication Ban,” British Columbia (CTV News, April 16, 2021), https://bc.ctvnews.ca/b-c-dad-jailed-6-months-after-repeatedly-exposing-transgender-son-s-identity-despite-publication-ban-1.5390847.
As a parent, if your child identifies with the opposite gender from which they were born, although it may be confusing to you and may go against your beliefs, it is important to take the time to understand your child. It is equally important to make the effort to respect and accept their decision, because your child is just trying to be their best self and find happiness. We do recommend seeking professional help or discussing with your family in private to discuss how you are feeling and how to cope and support your child. If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact us.