Gender dysphoria and gifted children

by Lisa Marchiano

Lisa Marchiano, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and certified Jungian analyst. She blogs on parenting at Big Picture Parenting, and on Jungian topics at www.theJungSoul.com. You can also find her at PSYCHED Magazine and @LisaMarchiano on Twitter. Lisa has contributed previously to 4thWaveNow (see “The Stories We Tell,”  “Layers of Meaning” and “Suicidality in trans-identified youth”).

Lisa is available to interact in the comments section of this post.


Rates of gender dysphoria in children and young people have increased dramatically in a short period of time. There is some evidence that significant numbers of those who experience dysphoria are gifted.

Since 2016, I have been consulting with families with teens or young adults who identify as transgender. Nearly all of these parents report that their child is bright or advanced, and a significant majority have shared that their transgender-identifying child was formally assessed as gifted. Four of these families report children who tested in the profoundly gifted range (verbal and/or full scale scores >150).

An investigator who presented as-yet unpublished research at the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine conference this year described a population of adolescents and young adults presenting with a rapid onset of gender dysphoria (an abrupt onset of symptoms with no history of childhood gender dysphoria). Of the described population of 221 AYAs, nearly half (49.5%) had been formally diagnosed as academically gifted, 4.5% had a learning disability, 9.6% were both gifted and learning disabled, and 36.2% were neither.

This is a curious correlation. Could it be that gifted young people are more likely to experience dysphoria? Or is it rather that parents of gifted children are more likely to seek out my services or respond to surveys? My best guess is that it may be a little of both.

 

Possible Reasons for Increased Incidence of Gender Dysphoria Among the Gifted

  • Correlation with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Among those with Asperger’s, there is a higher proportion of giftedness than in the general population, and there are many overlapping traits between Asperger’s individuals and gifted individuals. This is especially true for the exceptionally or profoundly gifted. It has been suggested that as many as 7% of people with Asperger’s syndrome are gifted, compared with 2% of the general population who are gifted.

Those working with gender dysphoric youth have remarked on the significant proportion of those seeking treatment who carry a diagnosis of ASD. A 2010 Dutch study found that the incidence of ASD among children referred to a gender identity clinic was ten times higher than in the general population. At the UK’s only gender identity clinic for children, a full 50% of the children referred are on the autism spectrum.

A 2017 survey of 211 detransitioned women found that 15% were on the autism spectrum. This is 29 times higher than the rate of autism among females in the general population. Many of the survey responders felt that their autism contributed to their belief that they were transgender. For example:

I would absolutely not be trans if it were not for my autism spectrum features, which caused me to be grouped with boys in my youth because I was a “little professor” who lacked the ability to perform socially and emotionally in the way girls are supposed to.

And:

I think autism had something to do with my childhood difficulties relating to other girls and understanding/performing femininity. Traits like difficulty socialising, extreme focus on very specific interests etc seemed more acceptable once I framed myself as a boy.

  • Gender Atypical Preferences Among the Gifted

Research has shown that gifted children are more likely to exhibit gender atypical preferences. Gifted boys and girls may have wide and varying interests that do not conform to gender stereotypes. It is this author’s observation that most teens who self-diagnose as transgender do so on the basis of gender stereotypes. Liking video games rather than nail polish is interpreted as evidence that one is a boy, and so on.

  • Awareness of Difference; Bullying

Gifted children often have particular social needs and struggles. Even at a young age, gifted kids can have a sense of being different from everyone else without understanding the reasons for this difference. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can result. These feelings can be especially intense for profoundly gifted kids, or for kids who are both gifted and learning disabled (twice-exceptional). Because the experience of the gifted child can be so qualitatively different from those of his or her peers, gifted children may struggle with social isolation.

It seems plausible that some of the gifted transgender-identifying teens whose parents I have consulted with have come to understand themselves as trans, in part, as a way of explaining their pervasive sense of difference. “I was never like the other kids. I always knew I was different, I just didn’t know why.”

Being different can also bring with it negative social attention, including bullying. The blogger, detransitioner, and PhD psychology student ThirdWayTrans has shared his story on his blog. Diagnosed as profoundly gifted and radically accelerated in certain subjects, ThirdWayTrans found himself to be the victim of violent bullying throughout much of his childhood. He transitioned at 19 and lived as a woman for 20 years before coming to the realization that his gender dysphoria and desire to transition were linked to the traumatic bullying he experienced.

When I was a child I experienced trauma issues with bullying. When I was young I was physically the slowest boy but also very intellectually advanced like a child prodigy. By fourth grade I was going to the high school to take high school math, and on the other hand I was the weakest. So I was singled out for being a kind of super nerd. This didn’t make me popular at all. It made me popular with the adults actually but not my peers. So I suffered a lot of bullying and violence. It peaked in middle school where every day I would have some sort of violence directed at me.

When I was a child I started to have this fantasy of being a girl, because it meant I could be safe and not suffer from this violence due to being at the bottom of the male hierarchy. I could also be more soft. I used to cry a lot and that was also something that was not seen as good for a boy. I could be free of all of that and also still be intellectual because everyone was saying that girls can be smart too.

ThirdWayTrans notes that as an adult, he understood intellectually that it was okay for men to be vulnerable and “feminine,”  but that his internalized child perspective made it feel unsafe for him to let go of his trans identity.

  • Existential Questioning

Questioning one’s gender may go along with a predisposition to question one’s place in the world. Gifted children tend to question traditions critically, and to challenge things that others take for granted. Thinking about one’s identity may come more naturally to gifted kids.

  • Perfectionism and Anxiety

Gifted children may suffer from anxiety and perfectionism. Anxiety disorders were also well-represented among the comorbid issues reported in the detransitioners survey mentioned previously. It has been suggested by some that adopting a transgender identity may in some cases be an anxiety management strategy. I am familiar with one young man with dysphoria who is both gifted and learning disabled. His preoccupation with gender waxes and wanes, but is predictably worse during exam periods, when he tends to fall behind and become overwhelmed. The feelings of dysphoria seem to allow him to distract himself from his feelings of intense anxiety and insecurity, while alleviating some of the academic pressure. When he is suffering from increased distress over gender dysphoria, his teachers and parents are more focused on his mental well-being, and they place fewer demands on him.

Outcomes

Currently there is very little data on long-term outcomes for gender dysphoric youth. To date, there is only one study that examines outcomes for those who pursued medical transition as minors. The study followed 55 individuals who pursued medical transition as minors, and showed that at one year post operation, study subjects evidenced positive outcomes according to several measures of mental health. However, it is important to note that the individuals followed in this study were carefully chosen, screened, and followed according to a strict protocol. All of those in the study had histories of lifelong gender dysphoria. It is a big leap to generalize these findings to teens exhibiting sudden onset gender dysphoria, and who may receive minimal assessment and counseling before starting hormones or undertaking other interventions.

I am aware of young people transitioning whose families report a decrease in symptoms and an improvement in academic and vocational functioning post transition. However, in my experience, this is the exception rather than the rule. Of course, families seeking my assistance are doing so mostly because of poor outcomes, so I hardly see a representative sample. Nevertheless, certain patterns have emerged through my work with parents.

Most parents with whom I have consulted have teenage children with rapid onset gender dysphoria. (In other words, their child did not exhibit any dysphoria until adolescence.) Most parents supported a social transition, allowing their child to change names, pronouns, gender presentation, etc., but drew the line at medical intervention (hormones and surgery) until adulthood. Most of the parents I have worked with noted one or more of the following changes subsequent to their child’s social transition: worsening gender dysphoria as the child became increasingly preoccupied with passing; decreased academic or vocational functioning – declining grades, etc.; increased social isolation as child spent more time on transgender internet sites, or spent time exclusively with transgender friends; worsening overall mental health evidenced by increased anxiety, self-harming behaviors, and/or depression; constriction of interests as the young person ceased to pursue pastimes and activities that had once been important to him or her; and worsening family relationships, including increased tension and anger between parent and child.

I have also known of gifted young people who desisted from a transgender identity. These young people had parents who were loving, engaged, and supportive, but who assisted them in questioning their belief that they were the opposite sex. Though the sample size is small, those who desisted from identifying as trans appeared to benefit from improved family relationships, increased social and academic engagement, and overall better mental health than during the period of transgender identification.

Conclusion

Currently, there is very little research into long-term outcomes for gender dysphoric young people. My observations indicate that a disproportionate number of those families seeking consultation with me have a transgender-identifying teen who is also gifted. There are many possible reasons for this confluence. Assessment and treatment for gender dysphoria in teens should take into account the various motivations that might influence a young person to self-diagnose as transgender. Families should be encouraged to support their child in ways that feel most appropriate to them, taking into account that a one-size-fits-all treatment for gender dysphoria is likely not suitable at this time. Further research is needed into causes and treatments.

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52 thoughts on “Gender dysphoria and gifted children

  1. My son claimed to be trans suddenly & he has tested as gifted/genius. We are fighting this with everything we can in a world that pushes acceptance of trans identities.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Thank you so much for this. I know that long term research is lacking, but your clinical experience is helpful. I wish I knew what to do about therapists dealing with families in these situations who simply refuse to see any other path than immediate transition and refuse to acknowledge that there are truly negative outcomes. Of course, negative outcomes for grieving parents doesn’t even get on their radar once the kid has achieved her short term goal to force a medical transition.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. another random datapoint probably won’t be very helpful but: i’m trans, transition coincided with better outcomes socially, psychologically & academically, lifelong gender dysphoria but that intensified significantly at puberty, “profoundly” gifted (in the 160s), socially isolated due to moving schools very frequently, lacked numerous basic social skills due to being left alone by other students/supported primarily by adults, experienced minimal and non-traumatic bullying. No ASD, but due to being “read” as ASD by professionals (narrow interests, unusual speech patterns, difficulty with social interactions), 5 or 6 attempted diagnoses which all returned negative on preliminary assessments.

    Why I’m trans: no clue?? have had sex dysphoria for as long as i can remember (have scars from attempted “do it yourself” SRS as a child), gender dysphoria seems to have arisen in puberty when my body’s natural development made it no longer possible to present the way i wished & the way other people reacted to my body started to change. Also my “gifted” capabilities were “brought down to normal” by the onsets of major depression, anxiety w panic disorder & BPD which contributed to a sense of loss of identity. beyond that, no idea.

    Why I had a good outcome so far: family support, in a long-term therapy programme (DBT) to deal with other mental health issues, can pass as opposite sex without effort, realistic idea of the outcomes of surgery, avoided most of the trans activist meshuggas

    good luck with your research.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for the additional data point! I am happy for you that your outcome so far has been good. I hope there can be research done in the future that can help us understand who will most likely benefit from transition, and what kind of support and assessment would be most likely to result in a positive outcome.

      Liked by 2 people

    • anomie, thank you for this comment. I could manage to give better family support if my transman “son” had been required to go thru diagnostics and a therapy program. These days that is no longer required, which is a terrible misjudgement of the importance of family acceptance and support. It is pretty tough for me to support this because it is entirely my gifted adult child’s own self diagnosis and treatment via an informed consent clinic. I absolutely never saw it coming because my daughter now son was not able to communicate her emotions with me. I’m glad for you that you are in a program. My kid said “I know what I want and therapy will only prove me right!”. Yep, a gifted kid who has it all planned out.

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  4. Well this all resonates with my experience. My relative is a teen girl who identifies as a boy .. sudden onset at 15 while attending private school for extremely gifted students. Socially awkward, has anxiety, history of eating disorders and self harm , very socially isolated, best friends are from internet chat rooms etc. Parents go along with all of it. Don’t dare question.

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  5. As a lesbian who as a child was diagnosed as both gifted and having dyslexia (I did not go to college until I was 30 – but graduated phi beta kappa) I completely relate to this post. I was a Tomboy and into sports but a Washington Debutante. Working my way through cultural stereotypes took many years – but bascially came down to accepting that an essential part of my feeling “other” – was due to how I thought – its intensity, it’s precision, its objectivity which culturally was defined as masculine – so it felt like there was “somthing about me that was essentially male” – this with my interest in competive sports gave rise to a feeling of dysphoria. In adolecence this can be painful because there are things about yourself that keep you from deeply fitting in, that are lonely making — and unfortunately Trans has stepped in to give simple answers to complex questions that with time are dealt with in more creative ways of integration and self acceptance.

    Liked by 7 people

    • “Simple answers to complex questions.” Bingo. This is what I observe with my daughter, who’s always been somewhat “nonconforming” but never exhibited overt gender dysphoria until feeling socially isolated and anxious at age 15. (So many of these ‘adolescent onset’ girls are 15 when this stuff arises. hard age.)

      This kid is plenty smart but never tested as “gifted”; she has some Aspie traits but not Dx’d as an Aspie, though for sure she has ADD. What I do know she feels, like most of the kids discussed here, is a big sense of being “atypical” or “different” from her female peers. It must be very tempting to find a simple answer for why that is.

      Lisa’s comments about the child whose dysphoria peaks around times of high stress is absolutely reflected in my kid. We are four years into this “thing” and honestly, the only time she brings it up is when she is stressed academically or otherwise. Somehow I think in her mind she believes that if she were a boy, she would be less vulnerable to all the vagaries of life, even those that don’t seem to be gender-related. (To be brutally honest, though, so much of life is “gender related” that I do feel where she’s coming from here.)

      At any rate — when she has stuff under control and life is perking along OK, she is really not focused on her gender. She’s got her head into other stuff. There have been many, many times when she could’ve taken herself to a clinic — she’s old enough, she has transit, she has some money — and has not chosen to do this.

      There are days when I’m sure the transition announcement is imminent and there are other days when I’m pretty sure she is going to mature further, figure out better tools for coping with anxiety, and put the trans self-identification aside. I just wish we did not live in a state where it’s going to be very, very hard to find a psych who will focus on the anxiety management and not aim her directly at transition as a solution.

      Liked by 8 people

  6. My 18-year-old would-be transman is both gifted and on the spectrum (although very high-functioning). I can’t thank 4thWaveNow enough for always pulling together the facts and making sure that gender dissenters have a space to speak. At some point, it is these very facts which will bring down the current trans narrative and the ongoing medical malpractice.

    Liked by 8 people

  7. When we look at the correlation between gender dysphoria and other factors such as autism, gifted, mental illnesses, homosexuality, etc, it becomes obvious that there are certain social factors that make gender dysphoria more likely. Gender dysphoria cannot be an innate condition if it strikes certain groups of people whose differences put them in certain social groups. If it was an innate condition, then it would strike more randomly around the general population. Thanks for the article Lisa.

    Liked by 8 people

    • I’m increasingly starting to feel like no one is born with sex/gender dysphoria. (This is actually something that puts me at odds with a lot of my trans friends.) People certainly can be strongly predisposed to have dysphoria the same way they can be predisposed to have any other illness, but it’s as a result of socialisation that it becomes such a significant and unbearable condition in my opinion—thus why it tends to cluster in certain groups. (eg I’ve met a surprisingly large number of trans engineering majors, both mtf and ftm, but almost no trans music majors despite a very strong LGB presence in every music faculty I’ve been in.) I would even say that trans people are “socialised trans” more than male or female, and that various forms of trauma, harassment and exclusion combined with some level of involuntary identification with the opposite sex—i.e. seeing them as one’s own sex-class, and the natal sex as a foreign sex-class—basically create the conditions for gender dysphoria. I could, of course, be totally wrong though.

      Liked by 6 people

    • I think it can definitely be innate, or at least an innate (with biological factors) tendency (possibly gender/sex dysphoria represents only one possible manifestation, though). Co-morbidity is common enough with neurological conditions/mental illness, with evidence for genetic factors. With autism and the concept of ‘gifted’ there’s significant overlap already, as Lisa discusses. To me the lack of randomness points towards it being innate/down to innate factors in some cases (autism is of course itself an innate factor), rather than the opposite.

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      • If you’re referencing gender dysphoria/transgenderism, no, it doesn’t have a strong genetic background.

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  8. Thank you for this. There will be more and more studies coming out as the years and trans movement increase. Careful examination of the authors, participants, and goals of these studies must be done (as the author in the above posting so rightly points out to us)…
    As for my daughter, I am the only one who has advised caution and counseling and it’s easy for her to dismiss me when she’s completely surrounded physically and virtually by encouragers and fellow trans.

    When will more like Jane above speak out with self insight and reason and care? And wisdom which comes with experience.
    Meanwhile, many mothers like myself are in deep pain as we are cut off bc we dare to question our child. I feel my skepticism is interpreted as rejection and a lack of love and education.
    So
    Sorrow still reigns…

    Liked by 9 people

  9. I was gifted as a child too, overthinking literally everything and feeling too different/weird to be around others is a potent combo for cult type recruiting. I ended up with problems more common to the time I grew up in, I am glad I wasn’t sterilized by it though.

    Liked by 4 people

    • A lot of people here have probably read Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults (James T. Webb et al), which came out in 2005. The authors don’t mention “trans” as one of the common misdiagnoses, because transing children was still relatively rare in the early 2000s. They do make an extremely important point about gifted children who are LGB — they may feel especially worn down than from “deviance fatigue,” that is, from being seen as different all the time in a social environment where different = bad. As a result, they can feel either external or internal pressure to deny either their abilities or their sexual orientation.

      Adopting a trans identity can, I suspect, be a way of finding relief from “deviance fatigue” for some of these kids. Instead of being seen as weirdos who insist on looking or acting in non-sex-stereotypical ways, they can be seen as normal kids who just happen to have an interesting medical condition.

      Things have gotten somewhat better for gifted children in recent years, (largely thanks to the advocacy groups formed in the nineties), but there still isn’t much acceptance or understanding of their specific vulnerabilities in most public or even private schools. Profoundly gifted children are often bullied to the point of abuse in a regular school setting because they’re different in ways they can’t hide (asynchronous development, certain kinds of intensity, etc. — all non-pathological, but still conspicuously different and hard for other kids, and even many adults, to understand). However, it’s still taboo to point out that it’s these kids’ intelligence that makes them a target — they or their parents will be dismissed and called arrogant, elitist jerks. Being trans, in contrast, isn’t seen as elitist. It’s also probably easier for the kids’ peers and teachers to understand — “I get it now, you were born in the wrong body. I saw a documentary about that.” Some gifted kids, consciously or not, may be drawn to the idea of being trans because it’s actually socially safer for them than being the freak who’s been reading on the college level since second grade.

      Liked by 5 people

      • @genderskeptics — the long comment above got posted so that it looks like an off-topic reply to yours. That was not intentional.

        On topic — you’re still gifted.

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      • The US (with my country, the UK, worryingly following suit) seems to have become so anti-intellectual, that I wonder if that isn’t making things even worse. If kids around them are underachieving and this is treated as though it’s just normal, then those who are more successful will stand out more and be left even more isolated. I think ‘weirdness fatigue’ can go the other way, too – if a child is already ‘different’ in some way, perhaps innately so, then the costs/benefits of also not conforming in other ways differ, compared to those of a kid who ‘fits in’ easier (after all, if you’re going to get picked on no matter what, might as well do as you please, rather than only try to fit in). A straight teen boy may have more to gain (and he’s certainly given the message he has more to gain – that this is what girls like, etc) from attempting to conform to the current US/UK social construct of masculinity, which itself includes anti-intellectualism, than a gay teen boy, who already can’t win the masculinity ‘game’ by default. They also have to do more thinking simply to figure out where they’re at in this culture, compared to those treated as the default. ‘Otherness’ might also help lead to thought, rather than thought leading to a sense of otherness. Recent research does suggest trans-identifying kids aren’t always able to resolve issues with peers by identifying as trans, though the ‘easy answer’ may still be somewhat comforting for them themselves (and may at least lead to affirmation being given to them in some communities online):
        https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/27/trans-teen-lgbt-bullying-schools-report
        Depends who their peers are, I guess.

        I do think this is where elitism can sometimes come in, though – some kids are just *way* below where they should be at, and this is down to the education system, which is then not providing any kind of fair comparison to children identified as ‘gifted’. I didn’t do better at A-level than some of my peers who’d been placed in gifted programs by magic or because I’m secretly ‘gifted’, it’s because the identification method for this specific program wasn’t that meaningful in the first place (A-level only means so much, too), it was wrong to treat it so very simplistically as a fixed innate quality, and the education system let all of us down, perhaps especially the neurodivergent children (for some of whom, the inflexibility of their approach, and issues with their judgement/critical thinking, can become limiting at higher levels. For some transadults, who may well be on the autistic spectrum, I think we see how this can be the case, because they are not seeking out or grappling with new information that might lead them to come up with different answers, or to accept more nuance. Some genuinely seem to struggle to understand when a differing narrative is gently presented for their consideration. It’s understandable for a bright child or teen not to do this as it is not especially encouraged at school level). Testing methods can really be very limited and misleading, with sometimes basically no resemblance between, say, a high school English test and University level. At least, I’m not really comfortable with an approach that uncritically and straightforwardly identifies some children as ‘gifted’, when there’s so much horribly wrong with the education system, which is probably not helping bright kids either. We’ve had the grammar school debate again recently here in the UK, and that system does now seem to have been accepted as a misguided approach, for the time being at least.

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      • Leo, I agree with your gifted skepticism. A lot of children identified as gifted have parents who are college-educated, read a lot of books, talk to their kids a lot, etc., and so they come out educationally ahead. It’s at least partly environment. And a lot of those parents are white, middle class, suburbanites, another thing that seems to correlate with being trans.

        ‘Gifted’ also isn’t a well defined concept and it heavily varies from district to district. And there is, as has been mentioned here before, often confusion between autism and giftedness.

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      • It’s becoming more clear that my daughter is either transgender or going to be a very manly woman. She’s also been reading at above a 12th grade level since 8 years old. I’m not going to treat it medically, because I don’t feel right doing that yet, but I’m aware that life as a male could very well be easier for her. I just don’t think its a decision for me to make. It would be easier for me, at this point, to treat her and have the support of the community but I just can’t do it. I understand the need to fit in somewhere, for the kids and parents.

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      • @Barbara. I was a kid in the 70s, but if I were growing up today, the school counselors would probably be urging my parents to trans me ASAP. Luckily for me, that wasn’t a thing then, and I am now a “very manly” fiftyish woman. Of course, I have to deal from time to time with people who have a problem with that, and sometimes those encounters can be alarming. But the point is, I have myself, and I would not trade that for the world. Your daughter has a right to have herself, too, when she grows up; she should not have to change her body or even her pronouns just so other people will be more comfortable with her and “nicer” to her.

        Some things would certainly have been easier for me if I’d been perceived by others as male. (There’s this myth out there that only boys get beaten up for not conforming to sex role stereotypes, but I promise you, it happens to girls, too. And it even happened in the 70s, which were not quite the androgynous golden age people seem to remember them to be.) The only catch is, I’m not male, and no amount of synthetic testosterone or surgery would change that. I’d still be a woman, just one able to pass as male most of the time when fully dressed. I’d also be dealing with the health complications that go along with trans procedures, and my dating pool would be probably consist of three people I’ve never met, two of whom don’t even live on the same continent as me.

        Your daughter’s real support system (not to mention her future dating pool) is mostly going to consist of people who “get” her — including her intelligence. The traits that cause people to drag home college textbooks from the library when they’re eight (without anyone prompting them to) aren’t separate from the part of their brain that deals with things like emotions and interpersonal relationships. Her intellectual and emotional development are intertwined, and they’ll be that way all her life (not that I’m telling you anything you don’t know.) The more opportunities she has to be around people who get excited about the same kinds of things, the more comfortable she’s likely to be with herself in general, and it will be easier for her to weather the disapproval she may from some quarters, whether it’s from the people who think she’s too “masculine,” or ones who say things like “Why the fuck is that kid reading Schopenhauer?” She’ll probably also have a much easier time getting along with peers who don’t find the same things interesting if she has a few like-minded people in her life.

        What kind of ongoing support can the trans kid community offer? Support for trans-related stuff — blockers, hormones, surgery. Where does that support go when she’s done transitioning? What happens in 20-30 years, when the trans movement may have faded or morphed into something else? The world may not the friendliest place for “manly” girls or women (or for anyone who gets over their Schopenhauer phase before they get their driver’s license), but it’s still navigable. There are people who will like and love your daughter just the way she is. There are employers who will want to hire her. There are shirts in the men’s section that will fit her with minimal or no alterations, as long as she checks the hem measurement as well as the chest and shoulders.

        I’ve seen comments by female transitioners who say that they transitioned because they dreaded the thought of becoming an older “masculine” woman, that they think there’s no future for such women. They’re mistaken about that. Your daughter’s fine they way she is. Let her make it to adulthood that way.

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      • @loup

        I totally agree. I hope she doesn’t transition but I can’t control what she does after 18. I was just saying that I see where she’s coming from. I’m not going to be outwardly upset with her if she chooses to as an adult even though I don’t agree, and she knows that, because I see the temptation of fitting in. And the reality is that once she’s grown she has the right. I’m not going to let her do it as a minor. I wish it wasn’t an option yet but it is.

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      • I think some of the doubt about giftedness is to do with definitions. A common number is that 2% of the population is gifted but the needs of a child who is 1 in 50 are a world away from the 1 in 50,000 or rarer child. Most people have never seen the most extreme forms of gifted, so it is understandable they may think it is a misdiagnosis of autism or ADHD, or a middle class status marker (just to be clear, giftedness is belligerently egalitarian and any disparity in gifted programs is due to prejudice).

        But everyone who has seen the extreme end have their stories – like the above eight-year-old reading philosophy, or the time the kid became obsessed with submarines and the parents had to learn everything there was to know about hydrogen peroxide torpedoes just to keep up. Once people experience this level it becomes impossible to deny giftedness exists.

        Leo, I’ve never heard of there being any gifted programs in Britain (at least officially within schools). What did it involve and what were the selection criteria?

        Loup-loup garou, the concept of ‘deviance fatigue’ spoke to me – finding like-minded friends is a life-long problem. Also, I love your name!

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      • I think ‘weirdness fatigue’ can go the other way, too – if a child is already ‘different’ in some way, perhaps innately so, then the costs/benefits of also not conforming in other ways differ, compared to those of a kid who ‘fits in’ easier (after all, if you’re going to get picked on no matter what, might as well do as you please, rather than only try to fit in). A straight teen boy may have more to gain (and he’s certainly given the message he has more to gain – that this is what girls like, etc) from attempting to conform to the current US/UK social construct of masculinity, which itself includes anti-intellectualism, than a gay teen boy, who already can’t win the masculinity ‘game’ by default. — Leo

        I agree with Leo completely. As for girls and young women, the intellectual ‘blue-stocking’, typically characterised as ‘dowdy’ and ‘unfeminine’, has been a stereotype for a couple of centuries. Here is a quotation from 1832: ‘The term “blue stocking” brings before the mind’s eye some unaimable [sic], unfeminine, ungraceful attributes.’

        Traditionally, the pursuit of intellectual activities has provided girls and women with a degree of cover for eccentricity, indifference to appearance and generally ‘unfeminine’ behaviour; meanwhile, a tomboy or ‘mannish’ girl or woman may have little or nothing to fear in terms of loss of status by going all out for academic achievement or pursuing art or music to a high degree of excellence.

        I intend no offence to anyone, but I am sceptical about ‘giftedness’ as an innate, measurable capacity that sets certain children apart from the rest. At the very least, the child who is reading Schopenhauer at eight pretty certainly has well-educated relatives or family friends with very well stocked bookshelves.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. My daughter, now 20, had rapid onset gender dysphoria about 2 years ago. She tested as twice exceptional in high school (high IQ, learning disability and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder which is similar to Aspberger’s). She’s been on testosterone for almost a year now and I still can’t call her by her preferred name and male pronouns. It’s still so hard and I just keep waiting for her to realize it’s all been a horrible misake.

    Liked by 6 people

    • loveandgracealways, I love your name but am finding it increasingly difficult to keep those sentiments front of mind these days…my 20YO daughter also had rapid onset dysphoria (roughly a year ago), and while without any learning disabilities, she does have bipolar disorder and is also highly intelligent. She hasn’t started testosterone–yet–but recently gave my husband and me the ultimatum that if we wouldn’t use masculine pronouns and her new name, she would consider our relationship basically at an end. She asked for my feelings and thoughts, so I wrote her a long, honest letter, with my honestly expressed fears and concerns tempered throughout with assurances of my undying love for her…and now she wants nothing to do with us. It’s doubly tricky because she’s living essentially rent-free in a nearby property we own and doesn’t earn much money from her parttime job. It seems, on one level, punitive to demand that she either pay market-rate rent or move out, as that would surely be the door of our relationship not only slammed shut but nailed too. Then again, a taste of the real world might be bracing enough to get her thinking a bit more clearly. She does want to return to college, but there’s no way at the moment that we’ll pay for it unless she agrees to hold off on the hormones, etc., and we’ll exercise veto power over her choice this time. (Really, I can think of only a handful of colleges that we’d be comfortable paying for in the current climate–why pour money into an organization that will only alienate her further from us?) Is your daughter living at home, and if so, how do you handle the daily interaction? It is so easy to despair, but at least we can all find some small solace here. All the best to you.

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      • Hi worriedmomtoo,

        I’m new here. Just wanted to say my husband and I are preparing to have the same conversation with our son (18). History of anxiety and depression. Rapid onset, ZERO warning, a year and a half ago. Ready for uni in his mind, but nowhere close to ready in ours. Isn’t critical thinking necessary for post secondary? He absolutely refuses to entertain any opinions but those that reinforce his own.

        I’m interested to hear how and when you plan to introduce that conversation with your daughter. Our son wants to start on estrogen in the fall, so our reasoning is the same as yours. I’m fearful of the fallout from this, but what else can we do? He will hate us more than he already does (as the only people in his life who are not cheerleading this plan of his) but at least he will be forced to face reality. And facing the painful reality is the thing he is desperately trying to avoid.

        This age is so difficult. The law says he’s an adult, but he’s emotionally years younger than that. I’m glad he is out of his supportive high school and away from his unquestioningly supportive friends, but if he starts uni as “female”, he will be making new friends of the same ilk. He will have more freedom and responsibility away at university, which is what he needs, but in the state of mind he is in, he will use it to dig this hole deeper. All reasons to slow this down so that he can have time to mature and consider his options.

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      • EverHopeful, I would ordinarily think that timing is everything with rational people, but am starting to second-guess that when it comes to my daughter. 🙂 Is your son wanting to start college this fall? I don’t know how it works outside the U.S. (I’m inferring from your vernacular that you’re British?) I’m also new to this site and can’t offer much beyond the same sad stories that so many of us seem to share.

        My daughter took a gap year after high school in a different city in order to work–which I thought might help her to mature to a point where she could deal thoughtfully with her anxieties etc.–before starting college, but it was in a part of the country in which the transgender ideology is as natural as breathing. (If only we’d had a crystal ball.) She dropped out after a semester and moved back to our area where she’s now working a parttime job. If she returns to school it won’t be until the fall of 2018, for all practical purposes, so we do have some time to deal with the delicacy of the who-pays-and-on-what-terms conversation, mercifully.

        She sees a psychiatrist and has just started to see a non-gender-specialist counselor, both of whom I believe to be good enough at their jobs to understand and question the “social contagion” aspect of all this. Whether they can lead my poor daughter to conclude that there’s another way for her to deal with her identity/anxiety/depression issues remains to be seen. Right now she’s shockingly entrenched, when I’d raised her to be constantly inquisitive and skeptical of every “-ism.” My fear is that if we tell her too soon that college will be paid for only under our conditions–which shouldn’t be at all controversial, really–she’ll decide to forgo higher education altogether. Sometimes, though, I wonder if that’s a bad thing, in the current climate!

        I do think that it would be good for her–and maybe for your son?–to get a fuller understanding of how much it costs to live even a basic life, and how much being openly transgender costs one in terms of job opportunities and salaries. The bottom line is that we’re still struggling with that line between being supportive and enabling.

        To the extent any of us can “slow play” everything, so much the better. It’s just so easy for kids to slip into a niche that becomes a straitjacket without their even realizing it, though. Sorry to be going on in this vein; I’m having a down day today. All the best to you and your son.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. Thank you Lisa– this is very interesting. My daughter was also identified as gifted at a young age and attended special programs. I never saw her as unusual, simply herself. She had no official gender dysphoria until she reached the college years. She was addicted to her phone and tumblr during the high school years and became increasingly hostile. I think this trans identity seemed to come out of feeling different and wanting to be seen as different. I hope more research will be done to identify the vulnerable kids and factors which lead them towards a trans identity.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Very good point about the dumbing down. Also gifted children have a natural curiosity and desire to seek intellectual stimulus. Educating to suit exam result, ‘teaching to tests’ starves these kids of that. Their online explorations often then lead them to Trans activism. A rebel cause and an analytic sliding adventure.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. The DSM – defines dysphoria as “distress.” Wikipedia defines it as “discontent” – Gender Ideology doesn’t refer to it all as being a required element for either transitioning or being Trans. The DSM definition is required for “insurance” purposes – and it is the distress that is considered the disorder not the desire or preference to be be a different gender than one biologically indicated. Right now, the Trans Movement has the best of both worlds – massive amounts of sympathy for those who are distressed and massive amounts of adherents who are merely discontent and enjoy the sympathy, attention, self involvement and luxery of thinking there is no medical down side. Eventually, the public will wake-up to the notion that most Trans are merely discontents, and eventually the medical downside will become apparent. When these things start to happen – and they maybe already for it is hard to see the beginning of the end of something when you are in the middle of it – society’s openess and toleration will shift. It is incredibly painful to be caught and feel powerless, and watch this unfold. But I am also confident that we are still at the beginning of the pushback.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. It could just be that the gifted kids are the ones more likely to be socially awkward and feel they don’t “fit in,” making them more susceptible to trans ideology, especially if they are spending a lot of time online and encountering this stuff a lot.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I was a very gifted kid, and I really suffered from a lack of basic affection. I think the instinct in dealing with gifted kids, from both parents and teachers, is to focus solely on the brain/mind. Adults take great care to nurture the intellectual side of gifted kids, but that can lead to neglecting the side of the kid which is just a seven-year-old who needs a hug. If a kid needs acceptance of themselves aside from their brain, if they need affection for the non-intellectual sides of themselves, and the kids see the outpouring of support for trans children, it could seem a natural fit.

    Again, this is the danger of placing so much emphasis on identities and labels. An individual’s identity as trans or non-trans or gifted or disabled or black or white or whatever is not the be-all, end-all of that person. Individuals are complex, and they’re becoming more complex every day. Putting individuals, and especially children, into neat little boxes will never work and will only produce bad results. A child is not just trans or non-trans. A child is a unique human being who has many needs and oddities and abilities and disabilities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My gifted teen needed affection…but wouldn’t accept it. She stopped letting me hug her. It was like a push-pull relationship with her. She was in gifted programs, and I would really have benefited from some parent education from the gifted program teachers about the oversensitivities and intensitivies of gifted kids. I could have really used a coach, I might have managed to see her needs earlier that she was not able to communicate to me.

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  15. As someone who was…a socially awkward and perhaps academically advanced 13 year old who thought she was maybe trans, and then woke up one day and realized she wasn’t, here are my thoughts on further reasons for this connection:
    It was common amongst my immediate peer group to denigrate the ‘popular girls’, the ones who wore lots of makeup and went to the dances held in the Catholic school gymnasium where they were definitely not leaving room for the Holy Ghost. They were, how do you say, not academically inclined. I suspect this anger/dislike still exists and now seen as…well…I’m not like that (because I’m better) so I’m trans. I could be wrong, though.

    It also seemed like other girls suddenly woke up one day and decided to wear makeup and do their hair and so on. I did not. I had been a fairly girly girl, and then suddenly I wasn’t, even though I was still doing the same things as before. I didn’t understand this. If you’re in this situation and suddenly ‘doing it wrong’, and also you don’t seem to have that intrinsic desire to wear makeup/etc., maybe you’ll assume you must be a boy. (And I do think being less feminine, although not on the level of ‘butch’, is associated with…idk, giftedness, or whatever you want to call it.)

    Lastly…this is very current culturally specific, but the main place you go when you’re a girl and you wanna talk about nerdy stuff is… Tumblr.

    Liked by 5 people

  16. Important information and I hope this article is widely circulated. I’m also seeing gifted teens (mostly girls) with anxiety who deeply immerse themselves in online worlds through YouTube, Tumblr, etc. and have sudden desire to transition despite no previous gender dysphoria. Any parent/therapist who doesn’t get how this happens should go to YouTube type in FTM and spend a few hours watching. It is easy to see how reassuring and appealing it would be to a teen girl who is feeling uncomfortable in her changing body and with this culture heavily fueled by porn that sees her as a sexual object. Believing you have a mismatch between biology and brain is explanation for difference. It offers a cure for anxiety. It offers an escape from a sexist and homophobic culture. Sadly, these are all false promises as the author observes anxiety often goes up after transition and as this blog documents medical treatments lead to a host of complications including a loss of fertility in most cases.

    I am wondering about any possible relationship with eating disorders. Are eating disorders more common in gifted teens? It seems similar to me in some ways in that the belief is that doing something to the body will focus and control anxiety. There is one big difference though. When the 90 pound teen says they are obese and will eat 300 calories a day no parent or therapist tells them this is an accurate assessment of their situation or that changing their body will control their anxiety.

    Please continue your research!

    Liked by 3 people

    • She reminds me of transgender youtuber Gigi Gorgeous, who also does makeup tutorials and clothing hauls and so on. But Gigi Gorgeous made an adult choice to transition, and Emma did not.

      And there’s plenty of guys on youtube who also make similar videos. But they’re just having fun. She could have been a normal gay teenage boy who spends all his money at Sephora, but she’s not.

      Like

  17. Lisa, have you thought of presenting at a conference to help inform others and broaden the conversation? This would be great at a conference for therapists and/or counselors or gifted educators. Maybe even USPath.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. I was very intrigued to come across your blog post, Lisa. I am a gifted teenager who went through a period of intense gender dysphoria as a preteen, and while I emerged with a deeper appreciation for my birth sex, I know many gifted youth who still struggle with gender identity issues. I’m sure you’ve seen it, but I thought I’d share this article from Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG) for others: sengifted.org/androgyny-and-gifted-youth

    I would love to see more research on this issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I reached out to a “Coach for Gifted Adults” thinking my gifted trans-id female student could benefit from some professional guidance from one who understands the over-sensitivities and over-intensities of gifted persons. Afterall, my young adult college student had explained embracing the trans-id due to distress with gender stereotypes for “living like a woman” and instead wanting to fit in as “one of the guys”, including needing to start HRT to deepen the voice to “pass”…not the reasoning this parent sees as justifying transsexual medical treatment, but certainly ripe for counseling.

    Nope, the Orwellian born-in-the-wrong-body newspeak is pervasive even in the Gifted community. The coach’s reply was: “there is a possibility that being misidentified as female has added an additional complication for your son”. Oh, never mind. My young adult “kid” successfully accessed testosterone through an informed consent gender clinic, and “his” voice is now deeper than “his” boyfriend’s. Yet at last check, “he” still has few friends, probably fitting in even less now, and despite use of hormones is not under any therapist’s care. My poor kid is learning tough lessons on her/his own….no professional in that state attempts to help young adults (or anyone) consider their alternatives to medical treatment.

    Anyone care to take a trip to the Wild Wild West? it isn’t hard to do now via informed consent clinics that seem to have popped up overnight.

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  20. Lisa, I am seeking a therapist in the south LA County, north Orange County area of California that has experience working with teens like this. This article as well as your piece in the Jungian blog ring so true for us and our 16 year old. Please make a recommendation if you can. Thank you.

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    • Mom and Dad, I suggest looking into skype sessions with Lisa Marchaino, Sasha Ayad out of Texas, or David Schwartz in Ossining, NY. Visit the forum as Lisa recommended for the possibility of securing additional names. I believe you will have a hard time finding anyone in California, because as I understand it, state anti-conversion laws make it difficult for professionals to do anything other than affirm the child’s self diagnosis. Best wishes.

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  21. Hi Lisa,
    Your article is extremely interesting as my son, a profoundly gifted and high functioning young adult, had a rapid onset of gender dysphoria last year during his junior year of college. This change among young people is seemingly epidemic and very much challenging our traditional gender specific expectations. While we, as parents, strive to provide for and protect our children, we conflict with our innate desire to “make them happy.” Perhaps it is our own internal conflict and fear that drives us to challenge our children’s choices as we wander down this virtually unexplored path. My relationship with my son is strained as I have challenged him and pushed the envelope regarding his thought process and choices. Your article has given me insight which is relevant to my situation and much appreciated. I would be happy to provide you with more information for your research if your are interested. Thanks again and have a great day!

    Like

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