Dispute & Resolution

Our son says he’s a girl

Background

Since their divorce about five years ago, Harry and Elizabeth have worked hard to be successful parents of 12-year-old Stephen and 14-year-old Anne. Elizabeth stayed in the family home and Harry bought a house on the same street. Harry remarried and has teenage stepsons; Elizabeth remarried and has no stepchildren.

Harry and Elizabeth agree their children should attend their local public schools, they cannot attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they should not change doctors or dentists. Harry and Elizabeth attend their children’s parent-teacher meetings together. Elizabeth usually takes the children for their doctor and dentist appointments because her schedule is more flexible. She always lets Harry know that the children have appointments and tells him what happened at the appointments.

Since Stephen was a toddler, he preferred to wear girl’s clothes. He borrowed his sisters clothes and when shopping selected girls clothes. Harry and Elizabeth agreed Stephen should have the freedom to choose his clothing.

When Stephen entered middle school, his teachers told Harry and Elizabeth that Stephen was not doing well socially and suggested he could change the way he dressed. Harry agreed with the teachers, Elizabeth did not. They decided to ask Stephen for his thoughts.

Stephen told his parents that he is sure he should have been born a girl and that he just would not feel comfortable dressing like a boy. He told them he’s OK without a lot of friends.

Harry and Elizabeth decided to ask Stephen’s pediatrician for advice.

The pediatrician who has cared for Stephen since his birth discussed the possibility that Stephen is transgender. Harry exploded; he accused Elizabeth of making Stephen a sissy and declared it an absolute mistake to have allowed Stephen to dress like a girl. After Stephen stormed out, Elizabeth and the doctor discussed the difficulties of being a transgender adolescent.

The doctor told Elizabeth about a treatment known as puberty blocker that has been accepted practice in Europe for several years and recently accepted in the USA. A shot is administered quarterly that basically stops the adolescent from entering puberty. The advantage for Stephen is he would not develop an Adam’s apple or facial hair, which would make a transition easier, if he chooses to change his gender when he is an adult.

The pediatrician provided Elizabeth with literature about puberty blockers, the name of a support group for her and Harry to attend, and names of therapists for Stephen.

Elizabeth met with Harry and shared the information with him. Harry said he would never agree that Stephen could receive the puberty blocker, he would never attend a support group, and that Stephen would not be seeing a therapist. Additionally, Stephen would no longer be dressing in girl’s clothes.

Harry got a lawyer who filed for orders restraining Stephen from receiving puberty blockers, seeing a therapist and dressing like a girl.

The court ordered Harry and Elizabeth to attend mediation.

Discussion

Harry, Elizabeth and their attorneys came to my office. I initially met with them together. I was aware that they had a history of successful co-parenting and hoped to build on that relationship. As it turned out I had to move Elizabeth and her attorney into a different room.

I first met with Harry, who was doing his best to stay calm. Harry explained that he never approved of allowing Stephen to dress like a girl. He said in the beginning it was not a big deal because there wasn’t that big of difference between boys and girls jeans and T-shirts. As Stephen grew up his choice in clothing became more feminine; a stranger would assume he was a girl.

Harry said that he wanted to talk to Stephen and Elizabeth about his concerns, but could not find the right moment. When the doctor started talking about the possibility that Stephen was transgender, it was the last straw. The bottom line for Harry was that Stephen is a boy and he was going to dress like a boy and act like a boy. Any talk of changing his gender was going to stop.

Harry strongly believed if Stephen would just start acting like a boy, he would be happier, he would make friends and do better socially.

Elizabeth saw the situation from a different point of view. She claims to have known that Stephen was either gay or transgender before he started school. She believed that Stephen should be free to be who he is. Since meeting with Stephen’s pediatrician, Elizabeth researched the use of puberty blockers and believed it would be a good course of action for Stephen.

The puberty blocker is temporary and at any time Stephen could choose not to receive the shot and proceed into puberty. Elizabeth also thought Stephen would benefit from seeing a therapist and intended to join a support group. Elizabeth would not enforce Harry’s position that Stephen had to dress like a boy.

I relayed Elizabeth’s position to Harry and to see if he would agree that Stephen could see a therapist. Harry would not move from his position and in fact became more determined in his position that Stephen was a boy and would dress and act like a boy. Mediation ended without an agreement.

The rest of the story

Harry talked to Stephen about dressing like a boy and acting like a boy. Stephen told his dad that he couldn’t do that because he is really a girl.

Harry decided to give up his parental rights to both of his children. Elizabeth’s husband adopted them and they moved to Oregon.

If you have a dispute you would like me to consider in this column contact me at: 801-994-6000 or [email protected].