Stories about: GeMS

Studies explore gender identity and children

The journal Pediatrics released two studies this week that focused on the mental and physical wellbeing of children who don’t conform to typical gender roles.

The first study, led by Children’s Hospital Boston researcher S. Bryn Austin, ScD, indicates that kids who fail to adapt traditional gender stereotypes as children are at a significantly greater risk for physical, sexual and psychological abuse during childhood. These children are also more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in young adulthood.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Health and compiled data from almost 9,000 young adults. Participants were asked to recall their childhood experiences, including their favorite toys and games growing up. The types of charters they related to as children, which roles they adopted during pretend play and their earliest understanding of masculinity and femininity where all reported on as well. Researchers also asked participants to disclose information about any physical, sexual or emotional abuse they experienced at the hands of parents, other adults or older children. Finally, participants were screened for PSTD.

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Children’s in the News: courageous Children’s family speaks with Boston Globe

The Boston Sunday Globe recently ran a cover story about a Children’s Hospital Boston family being treated at our Gender Management Services Clinic (GeMS). It was an in-depth and well-written piece about a family raising a transgender teenager and her treatment at Children’s. The GeMS Clinic is the first major program in the United States to focus on gender identity disorder in children and adolescents, a population who are often victims of bullying and harassment and have the highest rate of suicide attempts in the world. 

I highly recommend the Boston Globe article, as well as the following companion blog, in which the father of the family discusses why they chose to share their story with the world…

My wife Kelly and I have had a number of defining moments since our twin children came into our lives. Each has been special in it’s own way, but most of these moments have been things that all parents can relate to: birthdays, first days of school and teaching the kids to ride a bike. But our family has also seen our fair share of different experiences; experiences that have been both frightening and extraordinary. Even some things that seemed simple at first went on to have a level of complexity we never expected.

Since sharing our story, we’ve met so many special people that have helped Nicole and changed our family forever. When we met Dr. Norman Spack, at Children’s Gender Management Services Clinic (GeMS) it was the first time we felt hope that Nicole could one day achieve her dreams. During that first visit, he lifted a tremendous amount of fear and worry from our shoulders and the smile on Nicole’s face when she left his office will forever be imprinted in my memory. I am not ashamed to say that I had doubts at first, but in one visit Dr. Spack erased them and set my family on a wonderful journey.

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Legislating equal rights for transgender people

A Boston Globe article talks about anti-bias legislation being discussed at the State House today. If passed, it would “add gender identity to the antidiscrimination law that protects people based on sexual orientation, gender and race. It would also amend the state hate crimes law to cover transgender people.”

Norm Spack, MD, from Children’s Hospital Boston’s Gender Management Services (GeMS) Clinic, has devoted much of his career to the clinical and psychosocial needs of transgender people, including recently co-authoring with the Endocrine Society’s international task force clinical guidelines for people who want to transition from the gender they were born in to the one they believe they should be. He’s glad for the protections the legislation might afford if passed, but has mixed feelings about what it says about society.

Transgender people are simply people, and it’s a sad commentary on our society that we need to apply special anti-discrimination laws for them as we have had to do in the past for victims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or race.

I don’t think of transgender people as “changing genders.” We have nearly 100 such individuals in our GeMS program and almost every one of them felt from early childhood that they were born with the wrong body. Therefore, rather than changing genders, trans people are affirming the gender they always had. They are changing gender roles, that, in some cases they could not change earlier due to bullying and discrimination.

Whether it’s race, sexual orientation or gender identity, we need to stop discriminating against people for being who they are.

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