Fresh Controversy Surrounds 8-Year-Old’s Gender Identification

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Oct 19, 2009

Josie Romero thinks of herself as a little girl, and exhibits the gender traits typically associated with girls. But her physical anatomy is that of a boy.

Such a dichotomy between body and mind is not unusual for transgendered people. Indeed, many transgendered adults say that they have early memories of feeling that they were in the wrong body; in such cases, the feelings aren't transient and do not proceed from instances in which children might play dress up or pretend to belong to the other gender.

Rather, the conviction that the person inside a make body is actually female--or vice versa--endures, and only with a change in the body's apparent physical gender is there a sense of rightness and peace.

For many people, such changes must wait until adulthood. But in recent years, medical professionals have questioned the wisdom of requiring transgendered individuals to go through their childhoods and adolescence in the "wrong" body. The mental health consequences are only part of the picture; it's far easier to help a transgendered individual transition to the gender of his or her inner identity before the physical changes of adolescence.

But skeptics ask how a child can be certain that she will still want to be a women when she's grown up.

Such controversy has greeted the news that Josie, 8, is dressing and living as a little girl even though she was born with a male anatomy.

Josie's parents thought at first that she might be gay, but transgendered people are distinct from gays and lesbians. At issue is not a question of whom a transgendered person is attracted to, but rather who he or she innately knows him or herself to be.

In Josie's case, an Oct. 15 Daily Mail article reported, Josie told her parents as a young child that, her physical appearance notwithstanding, she was "really a girl."

The article said that Josie was so certain of her gender that at age five she began to insist on wearing certain colors and not having her hair cut short.

Her diagnosis as a transgendered individual was made at age six, the article said.

Her mother, Venessia, was quoted as saying, "When she was a toddler, she was always trying to turn her boy toys into girl toys.

"She used to take her army figures, wrap them up and rock them like a baby.

"As she grew older and started to talk, she always said: 'I'm a girl,'" Venessia continued.

"We used to correct her and say: 'No you're a boy.'

"But by the time she was four, she was insisting: 'No I really am a girl,'" Venessia recollected.

"We started to realize she wasn't just playing. She would always correct anyone who called her a boy."

When she was born, Josie's parents named her after her father, Joseph, an airforce engineer. The family made a transition together with Josie after a pediatrician, and then a specialist, made the diagnosis that Josie was transgendered.

The family gave Josie the choice of wearing girls' clothes or boys' clothing, and Josie chose from her girls' wardrobe. Joseph, said Venessia, took the revelation hard at first.

Joseph agreed, saying, "At first I denied it. Then, after reality kicked in, I deeply mourned the loss of my son."

But eventually, Joseph reconciled himself to his child--and celebrated her identity. "We had a family photo shoot where Josie dressed up like a princess, with a butterfly in her hair and gloss on her lips," he was quoted as saying.

"I forced a smile onto my face hoping she'd be content with my effort," Joseph went on.

"Josie's own face lit up in response, and a sparkle I hadn't seen in so many months was back in her eyes.

"I made the connection with her then, for the first time, knowing I had gained a daughter."

The family also found that they weren't alone when they went online. "We discovered a site called Transgender Youth Family Allies where there were 100 children who were all going through the same thing as Josie,' Venessia said.

That support was important for the family; Joseph is in the Air Force, and when word got around the military base in Japan where the family was stationed, other American servicemember and their families reacted in a hostile manner, going so far as to picket Josie's school.

Said Venessia, 'It was horrible for Josie and for all of us."

Now back in the U.S., the family is looking into starting a program of puberty blockers to prevent the physical changes that would make physical transitioning harder for Josie.

At age 12, the article said, Josie may begin to take estrogen treatments to enhance her feminine aspects.

Though she's only 8, the article said, Josie already has an understanding of the medical procedures that lie ahead should she choose to transition physically.

For the moment, her challenge is to live with discrimination; the article said that when the the family returned to Arizona, Josie was not allowed to enroll in a local school. Vanessia now home schools both Josie and her sister, whom the family adopted while in Japan.

There have been instances in which schools have had to decide how to accommodate their transgendered students, including concerns about which restroom a transgendered youth ought to use.

Earlier this year, a school in Maine was found to have violated a transgendered student's rights by not allowing her to avail herself of the girls' lavatory.

Other examples of American attitudes that the family must endure were visible at the conservative chat site, where chat participants postes comments such as, "WHAT IN HELL IS WRONG WITH THESE FREAKS???????????" and "They cant [sic] fool God".

Another commentator theorized the Josie was "made" to think that she was a girl by being encouraged to dress and act in a feminine manner.

"I can see how it may be possible for someone to be born with a "Female" brain (hormones messed up during pregnancy). However, that does not mean that all the CULTURAL driven traits would be present.... unless the child was being encouraged to be female by an adult well versed in stereotypical female interests.

"So I suspect that mommy wanted a girl..."

Another suggested that transgendered people are the victims of a form of mental illness.

"This little boy obviously has a mental health disorder," wrote the chat participant.

"So sad that the parents, doctor and so many of those making comments about the article feel that the little boy should be hormonally altered and surgically mutilated in response to his disorder," the participant continued.

Another proposed the idea that transgendered individuals may indeed be deeply convinced that they belong to the other gender despite their anatomy.

"Medical-wise, couldn't there be a possibility though, that this child was really meant to be a girl, perhaps somehow while forming in the womb some signals got crossed somehow.

"So while the rest of him/her was in agreement that she would be a she, the lower part didn't get the message right and developed male genitalia?"

Added the author of the post, "I'm not advocating a sex change at 8, just wondering about the possibility of something like that happening. (runs for cover now!)"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2009-10-20 02:14:28

    I believe we’re nearing a collective mindset that may finally marginalize the naysayers for the yahoos that they are. Thank you for reproducing their hateful comments. Reasonable people who are not knowledgeable about ts kids read things like that and get a real distaste of the narrow-mindedness and mean-spiritedness they exemplify. It just just jumps off the page.

  • , 2009-10-20 12:20:05

    As a life long "IT" (Intersex/Transsexual)I have had to suffer the effects of hate, bigotry, and discrimination by an ignorant and Godless society. When I was born, I represented 1/30,000 born with a Bioneurological/Chromosomal Anomally. Today 1/84 children are born such, and 1/200 births the doctor cannot determine sex or gender. It is not so simple a matter and not one that can be attributed to social or external influences as a cause. Ignorance and hate however can! ER LeCLaire

  • , 2009-10-20 12:21:39

    Correction on ambiguous births it is 1/2000 children who are faced with an indeterminate future. ER LeClaire

  • ZoeB, 2009-10-20 19:02:02

    I used to be a member of Free Republic - I am after all, a Conservative. When they found out I was Intersex myself, my posting privileges were revoked. Certain segments of both Left and Right prefer to suppress facts they find inconvenient. That is bipartisan.

  • , 2009-10-24 02:55:45

    I am transgender. I told my mother that I was supposed to be a girl when I was six years old. That was in 1971. Her reaction was to physcally and emotionally abuse me for the next 20 years. Including putting me in the path of pedophile after pedophile. Josie Romero thankfully will not have to endure that and for that I am grateful. Her parents are to be commended for their love and devotion for their daughter. I count them as true heroes in my book. I hope that Josie Romero has a long and happy life :)

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