There are not many that would argue against seeking expert advice in relation to our bodies and our health. On the other hand, determining just who is an expert and what qualifies them to offer both advice and care could easily generate many strong and often opposing opinions. We live in a polarized society that ascribes to the concept of right and wrong, black and white, boy and girl. Most television or radio shows present “balanced” stories by featuring expert perspectives from both sides of the issue, as if the complex issues facing our society could be simplified down to two and only two “sides.”
Of course, when it comes to acknowledging and recognizing the innate gender identity of a child, specifically a transgender or gender non-conforming child, parents are understandably eager, if not desperate to find expert advice and guidance. Contributions to the body of knowledge of where gender originates and/or how it forms are definitely on the rise. More and more doctors and therapists are attempting to meet the needs of the growing number of families who are seeking to support their child’s natural expression rather than the proven destructiveness of “reparative therapeutic” approaches.
But, the reality is that this expertise is still in its infancy.
Leaders in the field of transgender research, especially as it applies to children, are postulating and theorizing as we speak. Medical providers are enforcing “suggested” guidelines that may not only be outdated but also have little applicability to children and teens. Some providers consult with their in-house “expert,” a provider who may have seen only ONE transgender patient before.
Lawyers with little to no understanding of gender identity issues and children are advising schools on which bathroom your child should use. What they don’t acknowledge is that their advice is often based on which bathroom will cause the majority of the adults the least anxiety and not which bathroom is optimal for the child.
Doctors graduating from our medical schools may have access to one single grand rounds lecture that addresses the broad spectrum of LGB adult populations. This lecture, perhaps held over a lunch break, is optional and may last fifteen minutes. This brief session will not produce an expert on transgender health and most certainly not transgender kids’ health and well-being.
Meanwhile, with each passing day, our trans kids get older. For so many, time can be the enemy as pubertal changes take them further from their true selves. Increasingly rigid gender restrictions are likely to bombard them with each passing year in the form of bullying, teasing and ridicule.
Experts and the Illusion of Certainty
Noreena Hertz, an influential economist and professor, had this to say about “experts”:
The problem lies with us. We’ve become addicted to experts. We’ve become addicted to their certainty, their assuredness, their definitiveness, and in the process, we have ceded our responsibility, substituting our intellect and our intelligence for their supposed words of wisdom. We’ve surrendered our power trading off our discomfort with uncertainty for the illusion of certainty that they provide.
In a recent experiment, a group of adults had their brains scanned in an MRI machine as they were listening to experts speak. As they listened to the experts, the independent decision-making parts of their brains switched off. It literally flat-lined. And they listened to whatever the experts said and took their advice, however right or wrong. But experts do get things wrong. Did you know that studies show that doctors misdiagnose four times out of ten?
Don’t Forget That Our Experts Are Human!
They are likely to be just as challenged as the rest of us to grasp concepts such as ‘anatomy does not necessarily determine gender’ or more specifically ‘not every boy has a penis and not every girl has a vagina’. With a few exceptions, every expert was raised – just like the rest of us – in a culture that only acknowledges two genders with little to no validation of any gender expression outside of male or female.
The experts you find may have a willingness to “treat” your child with potentially no training or practical experience – just a willingness to express their confident opinion. Or, they may have a great degree of knowledge about issues as they relate to children but not issues related to being transgender. If they are familiar with transgender issues, this may be solely limited to work with adults (vastly different than addressing the issues relevant to a seven-year-old’s gender expression and identity, for example). There simply hasn’t been enough time for the scientific or therapeutic body of knowledge to accumulate and be widely accessible.
That being said, here are…
Four Great Parenting Tips From Experts*
- Love your child for who they are. The most current research from experts’ show that simply loving and supporting your child exactly as they are increases their self-esteem and optimizes their ability to thrive throughout their lifetime. Meeting your child where they are is important also. Don’t be in a hurry to make decisions that don’t need to be made just yet.
- Talk to as many experts as you can! Yes, do this, but also designate yourself as the one to best distill all that you hear and learn. Collectively, these experts spend a minute amount of time with your child compared to the hours, days, weeks, months, and years that you do. No one is a better expert on your child than you.
- Make connections with other families who are also navigating this uncharted terrain. Hear their stories and share yours. Do not underestimate the expertise acquired from those navigating similar journeys.
- Be proactive in your information gathering and also know that you will make good, informed decisions. You are your child’s best advocate.
Expert advice, knowledgeable providers, informative books, good data and research ARE out there, don’t get me wrong. Just remember to trust yourself as a resource in the body of knowledge and still developing protocols.
* Commo N.S. Ense, MD; and E. Xperi Ense, Esq.