See Tom Be Jane

The country's youngest transgender child is ready for school. But is school ready for her?

Until 1973, homosexuality was listed in the DSM as a mental disorder; then it was removed after intense debate in the psychiatric community. And many transsexuals believe GID should have been tossed out at the same time. For some, however, GID continues to be a useful diagnosis that helps determine whether a person is a good candidate for sex reassignment surgery.

Politics about transsexualism permeates any discussion of GID. The only long-range scientific study conducted by psychologists, harshly criticized by transsexual activists, shows that many boys diagnosed with GID as children grow up to be gay males and that only a few continue to identify as female. Studies by endocrinologists, on the other hand, have uncovered some biological similarities in the brains of transsexuals, a finding that suggests that transgenderism is not something one can merely "grow out of."

All of which means that there's little anyone can agree on when it comes to treating five-year-old boys who want to be girls.

Nicole has been insisting she's female since she could talk.
photo: Colby Katz
Nicole has been insisting she's female since she could talk.

"There are three basic types of attitudes about this," says Heino F.L. Meyer-Bahlburg, director of the Program of Developmental Psychoendocrinology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. "There are people who are strictly anti-trans kids who always try to modify the behavior. There are people who are strongly supportive, who from the outset would strongly encourage a transgender identity. Then there are the people sitting on the fence."

Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist who has treated hundreds of young Gender Identity Disorder children at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto, is a well-known proponent of modifying behavior. He advises that children with GID undergo therapy to work through their hatred of their bodies before being accepted as transsexuals. His clinical research shows that he has an 80 to 90 percent success rate of steering young GID children away from living as trans adults. Gay and transsexual groups are harshly critical of Zucker, saying that his work encourages religious-right organizations that seek to "cure" gays of their homosexuality. But Zucker himself has taken pains to separate himself and his work from those organizations.

Told of the Andersons and their plans to enroll Nicole in school as a girl, Zucker says he's concerned that the Andersons have been swayed by an activist transsexual agenda and are ignoring the possibility that Nicole might simply be a troubled child. "Let's see if there are ways to try and help this child work this through," he says. "Instead, they're going to cement this in more and more." He says that what the Andersons are doing could be considered "some type of emotional neglect."

Meyer-Bahlburg is more ambivalent. "Force doesn't really work very well. On the other hand, I don't feel clear about strong encouragement in the transgender direction, because the vast majority of kids fall out of it," he says. When he treats GID boys, he advises his patients to beef up boyish activities and play with carefully selected male playmates.

The Andersons, however, side with experts who consider children like Nicole transsexuals. Lauren attended the annual Philadelphia Trans-health Conference this January, where gender-variant children was a main topic and the subject of panels such as one titled "How Young Is Too Young?" Most parents at the conference seemed to agree that it's never too early to support a child as a transsexual, even at age five.

"I would never want to force any person to be something they're not," says Tom Anderson, Nicole's father. "This is different from 'It's time to stop drinking chocolate milk from a baba' or taking away a blanket. This is the essence of the person."

Mark Angelo Cummings's transsexual essence is so overwhelming, he's had Maury Povich eating out of his hand.

"I even tried marrying a man," his introductory voice-over intoned, and the studio audience yelled "Ewwww!"

"I had my breasts removed."


Then Cummings, a female-to-male transsexual from Hollywood, Florida, walked onto The Maury Povich Show's set with a swagger, wearing a jean jacket, a cowboy hat, and a generous crop of stubble.

Maury's first question cut to the chase: "What's going on below the belt," he asked in a jokey tone, waggling his finger in the direction of Mark's crotch. Without skipping a beat, Mark quipped back: "I could ask you what's going on below your belt."

Zing! The audience laughed, and then Mark really took control. He explained the biological basis of what he prefers to call "gender dysphoria." (As for the answer to Povich's question: Mark is still waiting to raise enough money for the genital surgery that would complete his transformation.) When Cummings's wife, Violet, joined him onstage, his statement that "love has no color or gender" was followed by raucous applause. At the end of the segment, the talk show host was breathless.

"Well, I'll tell ya, I've learned a lot," Maury said. "You're a great spokesman for this. I mean, this is quite remarkable."

He turned toward the audience: "I'm tellin' ya, I do this all the time, and I mean I'm sitting inches from this guy, and I'm looking for one little, just a fraction of Maritza, and I can't see a thing!"

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