FIRST-PERSON: This boy is a girl?

DALLAS (BP)--An elementary school in Broward County, Fla., will welcome its first transgendered kindergartner this fall. School administrators and the 5-year-old’s parents have agreed that it’s in the little boy’s best interest to operate as a female. He’s been diagnosed with “gender dysphoria,” a condition in which the person behaves like the opposite sex and exhibits discomfort with his or her external body parts.

Carole Benowitz, the Florida state coordinator for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), is thrilled with Broward County schools’ policies regarding such children, whom she describes as having been “born into the wrong body.”

Indeed, "transgendered" is the term used to describe people who are in some way not satisfied with being male or female. TIME magazine, in 1998, called it "mental gender," one's deepest awareness of their identity, which "doesn't correspond to the parts she was born with." Some people pass through this stage; others are able to change; many hide it; and, now, in greater numbers and to varying degrees, transgenders manifest their tendencies to the point where their proclivity no longer passes unnoticed.

Authorities in Broward County are hoping the other kids don’t notice that 5-year-old Pat (not his real name) is really a boy. Otherwise, they might face a situation like the one PFLAG’s Benowitz had to deal with two years ago at a Broward high school. A group of boys beat up another student, whom they believed to be an effeminate boy. It turns out “he” was a “she.” Benowitz came to the rescue. She counseled the administrators, students and the victim. The bottom line, she says, is that when it becomes apparent “that a person is genetically one gender, but lives as another gender, that threatens a number of people because they don’t understand what that means....And that misunderstanding can make life difficult for transgendered children and their parents.”

Then why are the parents of little “Pat” and the Broward school officials letting him go to kindergarten as a girl? They may or may not succeed in protecting him from bullying. But do they think his new unisex name, gender-neutral clothing and the special bathroom facilities they’ll provide will protect him from the heartache ahead?

Pat’s attorney-father and counselor-mother say he likes to play with dolls and refuses to wear boys’ clothing. He acts like a girl. The American Psychological Association calls this “gender identity disorder.” And it’s considered treatable. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, author of “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality,” says there is much parents, who observe those tendencies in a child, can do to help them. In fact, he says, parents should intervene. Many children will require professional help, and the earlier the better. The idea is to show love and acceptance of the child but never to reward or encourage the abnormal behavior.

But Broward County and Miami-Dade schools provide a different route for families of children exhibiting confusion about their gender. Each Miami-Dade high school has a “Sexual Minority Network.” “Educational specialist” Tony Valido helps these kids “come out” and live openly transgendered lives. He hopes the program expands to middle school so younger students can “understand who they are.”

This self-awareness likely will lead the student to one or more of a broad spectrum of lifestyles, from cross-dressing to varying degrees of sex change. Jonathan Last, writing for the Independent Women's Forum, in a 2002 article, “She Ain't Necessarily So,” in its former quarterly, explained:

"Transsexuals who are born male often go through an agonizing process to reassign their sex. It begins with hormone therapy and then electrolysis. A tracheal shave helps raise the pitch of the voice. Breast implants are common. So are cheek implants and rhinoplasty. Often the transformation process is completed with radical surgeries.... Transsexuals who are females will frequently take high doses of testosterone, which lowers the voice, adds facial and body hair, and muscle bulk, particularly to the shoulders and arms. Some female-to-male transsexuals will undergo double mastectomies."

The final step for those most committed is surgery to change the genitalia. Tremendous pain and expense go into making these changes. The compulsion that allows people to do these things to their bodies is obviously not normal and is, unlike homosexuality, widely recognized as a disorder. But that compulsion, or disorder, or orientation -- or simply a desire to be different -- has now become a movement and it’s alive and well in Broward County and other places.

Noted Miami gender specialist and sexologist Marilyn Volker, Ph.D., says “gender dysphoria” can develop in the womb. Other experts see a mixture of biological and environmental causes for “gender identity disorder.” But to assume that these problems are hardwired into 5-year-olds does them a disservice that could result in a lifetime of unhappiness.

Rather that emulate the “progressive” policies in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, school officials, counselors and parents should look for ways to help little boys and little girls learn to live the way God made them (Proverbs 22:6).

Penna Dexter is a board of trustee member with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, a conservative activist and an announcer on the new syndicated radio program "Life on the Line" (information available at She currently serves as a consultant for KMA Direct Communications in Plano, Texas, and as a producer for "Washington Watch Weekly," a broadcast of the Family Research Council. She formerly was a co-host of Marlin Maddoux's "Point of View" syndicated radio program.

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