[This page seriously needs updating.]
One of the amazing discoveries over the last twenty years has been that gender diversity can be found in the very young. Even more impressive, various institutions in various countries are beginning to understand that it is a condition that may never change, and that the earlier there is supportive intervention, the easier the path will be. More and more, parents are beginning to feel that forcing a square peg into a round hole does nothing but destroy the peg. Insisting that a feminine boy abjure all things girlish, or that a masculine girl only wear dresses and play with dolls not only causes enormous pain, but does not succeed in creating any gender identification change.
These days some parents will approach a school board and ask that their child be enrolled in the gender they identify with, as opposed to the gender associated with their genitals. Some school boards see the virtue in this and are helpful, others seem to believe that the maintenance of a bigender system is more important than the mental health of children. Now we can see Barbara Walters air an episode of 20/20 entirely devoted to pre-adolescent children who are gender diverse.
Thing have certainly changed. I was seven years old in 1952 when the Christine Jorgensen story broke, and it was not until many, many years later that I was able to find a community, let alone support. Today, a gender diverse child can go onto Facebook and find an instant community; a place here she or he may find a sympathetic ear and peers in similar situations. Don’t be fooled, though. The word “sissy” is till very much in use, and its power to taunt, isolate and inflame is barely diminished. Gender conformity is still an essential ingredient to fitting in, having friends, and being safe. “Tomboys” may fare better, but that too will change down the line, and may even carry hateful aspects if the young female in question really sees herself as a boy.
If your child is gender diverse, or if you are a gender diverse youth, there are resources. PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, offers services to trans youth and their family. In Canada we have, Transparent Canada, an organization devoted to the support of trans youth and their families. You can watch the 20/20 special, you can rent the movie Ma Vie en Rose and watch one family’s struggle.
There also a number of books worth looking at. There’s the beautiful book by “Just Evelyn” entitled, Mom, I Need To Be A Girl, which is available free by clicking on the title. Here are some other books you will find useful.
Brown, Mildred L., and Rounsley, Chloe Ann. (2003). True selves : understanding transsexualism--for families, friends, coworkers, and helping professionals. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Girshick, Lori B. (2008). Transgender voices : beyond women and men. Hanover: University Press of New England.