How Young Should We Recognize Transgender Kids?
In southern France, a family asked the local elementary school to call their child a new name.
The storyline is foundational for many in the LGBT+ community: An internal struggle to come to terms with one's own identity is followed by an external battle with societal institutions that eventually leads to that identity being recognized and respected. This time, however, the protagonist is eight years old.
In the southern French town of Aubignan, a child and her parents have won a months-long fight with the country's bureaucracy and obtained official recognition from the local school of her transgender identity. No longer will the male name she was born with, Baptiste, be used, reports French public radio: teachers and classmates will call her "Lilie."
The landmark case in France comes as countries, families and researchers around the world debate what age is appropriate to transition from one gender to another.
She's known for a while: Lilie understood her transgender identity in kindergarten, but it was only last winter that she told her family.
• Lilie's mother Chrystelle Vincent told the local paper, La Provence, that her then son had been depressed for months and said she "felt like a little girl, trapped in a boy's body."
• The parents were initially shocked, then skeptical, then supportive. But above all, they were relieved when they saw that Lilie's depression had gone away after the announcement.
What to do about school: When the family asked school authorities to recognize the child's new identity, they started a long struggle with the French bureaucracy.
• The French public education does not allow children to change identity unless their officially registered name changes, so teachers were initially barred from using the feminine name.
• The principal at Lilie's school, Christian Patoz, says institutions moved slowly because the child's young age raised many questions: "It was about not rushing, and looking after the interests of the student," he said. "We had to verify that this was indeed the child's will and not that of those around him."
• The green light came after months of meetings and discussions with the school board, an academy inspector, doctors and child psychologists. The child comfortably returned to school last week as Lilie.
Evolving social science: By now, transgender children is a topic societies must face. There have been plenty of cases of children who began not to conform with gender rules at a very early age.
• In France, members of the transgender support association Transat who supported Lilie's family say it's common for children to understand their gender nonconformity in their early school years.
• But because of a lack of social acceptance, people can still take a very long time to come to terms with their identity.
• In neighboring Britain, there have been reported cases of boys as young as three years old asking to grow up as girls.
• The Seattle Times reports on a study last year by the University of Washington confirmed that children can start feeling part of a different gender as early as age 3 to 5.
What to do: This all can pose a problem for parents and institutions such as schools: Should you be encouraging social transitioning among young children?
• The University of Washington study said when parents transition their children, it does not make the children create a stronger transgender identity. It's the other way around: the children who eventually transition do so because they already had a strong sense of identity. Still, the study warns that data around the subject is scarce.
• Standing policy in schools in most Western countries, do not allow children to switch identity unless this is formally attested in a name change.
• An Italian family chose to escape the country's strict rules around gender by migrating to Spain, where their 10 year old child, born Lorenzo, would be allowed to identify as a female — Lori.