‘Nothing’s going to stop me defending my son,’ says father of boy who’s set to undergo sex change
Transgender therapy for children of all ages is gaining popularity at a cosmic speed all over the world. Are efforts to fix what nature apparently got wrong justified – especially at such a tender age – or are we putting our young in danger? We talked about that with Jeff Younger, the father of a boy assigned for sex change therapy, and sociologist Frank Furedi.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Jeffrey Younger is the father of the seven-year old James. Jeff, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us. Thanks for agreeing to talk to us.
Jeffrey Younger: Thank you. You're welcome. Thank you for having me.
SS: So, your story has sparked huge debate all around the world. At the very beginning, when your son James has told you that he was a girl, what was your reaction? I mean, were you taken aback, did you take it seriously?
JY: I took it very seriously, because I had some information when I was still living with Anne Georgulas, my ex-wife.. She had been putting him into timeouts, and saying things like the monster's only eat boys and some odd things like that. So, when I heard this I took it very seriously. He said: “Mommy tells me I'm a girl”. And I would ask him: “Do you look like a girl?” And he'd say: “No, but mommy tells me I'm a girl”. You know he's never presented himself as a girl to me ever. And in fact, with me, he violently rejects any female identity. He won't wear female clothes. He won't even wear boys’ brief underwear because he says it's too much like girls’ underwear.
SS:So he's basically living, like, bipolar life right now. He's a boy when he's with you, and he's forced to dress like a girl, or does he dress like a girl by his own will when he's with a mom?
JY: I believe he dresses by his own will when he's with his mother. I just don't think he believes that she'll love him if he's a boy. But he dresses as a boy at her house as well.
SS:Did she somehow tell him not to dress as a boy if he wants to dress as a boy?
JY: I've only been in public with him as a girl twice, and on both cases when I brought boys’ clothes, his mother was extremely disapproving and in one case pulled him out of my arms and I had to let him go, so that he wouldn't get hurt. So, he wouldn't be allowed to put on boys’ clothes. But I know that she disapproves it strongly.
SS: James told you that his mother puts him in dresses, puts hair clips and nail polish on him. My immediate reaction would be getting in touch with her and ask her why she would be doing this. Did you do that? What was Anne’s explanation?
JY: Well, first of all, I just wanted to verify it and I sent her a text and said: “Are you actually telling James that he's a girl?”, and she has just replied simply “Yes”, and then refused to talk to me about it. The next time, that it became an issue was when he had his sort of coming out party. She took him to his fifth birthday party in a dress. She just essentially wouldn't speak to me about it.
SS: But is it normal? Because you're just as much of a parent as she is. Is it normal that a “yes” is an answer, enough for your son to be heading towards a gender change?
JY: No, it's absolutely not normal. I'm a joint managing conservator in Texas, and that means that we share parental rights. But there was one key parental right that the court did not give me, and it was the right to consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment. And that's kind of how she has gotten around. She was saying that this is psychiatric treatment, so I have no rights regarding this issue with my son.
SS:James is being dressed in girls clothes, his name was changed to Luna, he attends girls bathroom at school… If everything goes ahead like James’ mother wants, your seven-year-old boy will be given puberty-blocking hormones and in a couple of years will undergo a sex-changing surgery. It's kind of hard to ask but how does it make you feel?
JY: I consider this to be child abuse and the sexual mutilation of children on an industrial scale. So, it makes me feel terrible. I can't believe that a mother would do this to her son. And I cannot believe that the state of Texas would allow it and sanction it. But we have clinics right here in Texas that do sex changes on children all the time.
SS: Your wife is accusing you of child abuse towards James. What exactly does she imply under “child abuse”?
JY: She's saying that it's psychologically abusive to James that I will not affirm his fake female identity. And she has gone to court and filed what's called a motion to modify. It's a thinly veiled parental termination request, saying that I have to go to a transgender education class. If I don't attend the class or achieve satisfactory marks, then I could be jailed for contempt. I can be jailed if I use male pronouns for James or show him in public as a boy or if I cut his hair in a boy's hairstyle. If I do any of those things she wants them to essentially allow no overnight stays and only a few days a month seeing my son. She wants to remove all my influence from his life.
SS: But you're saying that when he's with you, he never ever wants to dress like a girl or act like a girl. Could it be that when he's with you he's afraid to be a girl, like you're saying he's afraid to be a boy with his mom?
JY: I've had a lot of people asking me this. But here's a good way to understand how that couldn't be true. James dresses as a boy at his mother's house. When I go to pick him up from his mother's house, he comes out of the house in boys’ clothing. So, he's comfortable wearing boys’ clothes at his mother's house, and at my house he's just uncomfortable being a girl in front of his father, and I would just say that red-blooded Texan boy wouldn't be uncomfortable doing that.
SS: James has a twin brother. Did it ever occur to you why Anne, who’s a pediatrician by the way, started treating only one of the boys like a girl?
JY: She has a certain parenting pattern which I probably can't go into. We'll talk about it at trial. But she tends to pick a loser child and a winner child, and James is the one who got the attention. I mean she was reading him books on transgender kids when he was really young and setting them up as heroes for him as young as two.
SS:But how are the boys communicating with each other?
JY: They become extremely adept at knowing what pronouns to use at what home. Although, I have had interesting problems. We're Orthodox Christians. And my son Jude has a lot of trouble understanding why he has to lie at his mother's home. Because we're commanded not to lie. And we were out. I'm teaching my sons how to track animals like I learned when I was a boy. So, we’re tracking rabbits and we get pretty dirty out by the creek. We were taking a shower and the boys are getting in, and Jude just points down at James and says: “Look! He's not a girl, he's a boy. Why do we have to call him a girl?” And under the current orders of the court I actually can't answer that question. I’m legally prohibited from trying to convince James that he's a boy. I couldn't answer the question.
SS: Have you ever asked him to: “Do you want to be a girl?” Have you ever posed a question to him?
JY: Yeah. And he says: “No, he likes being a boy”. And all of his best friends are boys. Their favorite activity is wrestling.
SS: So if that's what he says in court why is court so adamantsiding the mom?
JY: It's a great question. What he’s actually told the court... So, the court asked us to take them to social services and let the boys express their preferences. And what James said was: he wants to be a girl at his mom's home and a boy at his dad's home. He basically wants both his parents to love him.
SS: You are battling in court for full custody over James. But as of now you can’t call James by his name, can’t address him with male pronouns, can’t share your thoughts with him - how do you two communicate?
JY: The temporary orders, before we go to the final trial, actually do allow me to address him as James and use male pronouns, but I cannot do that in front of third parties who know him as a girl. So, basically I can't go to a school. I keep him away from any friends he might have at school that know him as a girl, and at my home he's known as James and I use male pronouns. What I'm prohibited from doing right now is trying to convince him that he's actually a boy. That has prohibited me from teaching him traditional Orthodox Christian teachings on sexuality and gender. I can't let him go to Sunday school at my church St. John the Baptist church in Euless, Texas. I'm even a little trepidatious about reading the Book of Genesis as we go through our Bible readings after Pascha. So, I've had a lot of trouble communicating with him on religious issues and on basic things that you'd have to teach boys, issues around self-control: how they should deal with women, older women, being respectful to females of their peer group. It's very difficult for me to figure out how to do this without violating that order.
SS:But you’re able to do that with your other son, right?
JY: Yes. Thank goodness, James models a lot of his brother.
SS: They're very close, right?
JY: Oh, very close. Very-very close.
SS: From what I understand, your ex-spouse Anne has got the school and doctors on her side. Whose support do you have?
JY: So, one of the issues is that many of the Christian foundations we talked to - Alliance Defending Freedom, for example, they're the ones who defended in Baker, Colorado - they really don't get involved in family law cases, because family courts are basically lawless. They just don't follow statutes. They're willing to help us when we get to the appeals level. What we've done is we have found experts: endocrinologists, pediatrical technologists, psychologists who have a deep understanding of what the actual transgender research shows, and they're prepared to testify that the basic claims that Anne Georgulas is making about my son are false.
SS: How far are you ready to go to fight for James being a boy?
JY: There are no limits to which I will go to protect my son. One of the big problems that I'm going to face eventually is that in the state of Texas right now the court's position is that all of this is medical child support. So, I have to pay for him to go to gay therapist who's teaching him that he's a girl. I have to pay for the hormone suppression of puberty which actually chemically castrates boys and prevents the growth of their sexual organs. And if he goes on to a surgical transition that would be medical child support as well and I'd have to pay for that. The simple fact of the matter is that parents owe their children at a very minimum not to harm them, and I'm not paying for any of this. I'm not going to participate in abuse of my son in any way.
SS: I don't know how it works in America exactly, but can you theoretically take it to the Supreme Court?
JY: Well, everyone I've talked to fully expects that this case will go to the Texas Supreme Court. I would not be surprised if after that it goes into the Federal Court and could make its way up there. Everyone I've talked to, including people at the attorney general's office, says that they fully expect it will go to the Texas Supreme Court. I can assure you that whoever wins on October 15th, whoever wins that trial it will be appealed and whoever wins the appeal it'll be appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas. There's no question about it. One of the reasons this case is so interesting to a lot of the legal authorities is my son does not present exclusively as one gender. He has a normal gender self identity with me and he has an abnormal gender self identity with his mother. And the question here is how do the courts decide, how should the law decide, what should be the role of the courts in deciding, how the parents work through a disagreement about that?
SS:Well, Jeff, I wish you courage. And from the bottom of my heart I wish for the outcome to be the best possible for your kid. Thank you for sharing your story. Well we were talking to Jeff younger who is struggling to keep his seven year old son James a boy.
Sophie Shevardnadze: And we're back in the studio discussing gender reassignment therapy for children. Before the break we were talking to Jeff Younger who is fighting to keep his seven-year-old son a boy. And now we're joined by sociologist Frank Furedi to discuss the ongoing debate on whether young children should be subject to sex change treatment. Frank Furedi, welcome to the show. Really, really great to have you with us. I've just interviewed a man whose 7-year old son identifies as a girl when he’s with his mother, and a boy when with his father. How often do children get confused by their own parents when it comes to the issue of gender identity?
Frank Furedi: Kids are always confused about who they are. Even at the best of times. I think what has happened, is because of a very powerful culture of gender identification which encourages people, I think, to be confused about who they are. It has meant that children very often react very differently between who they are. For example, if you think your mother is so open-minded that doesn't care whether as a boy you remain a boy, then you might play up to that and you kind of play the role of somebody who is very confused about their identity. If you've got a father who's fairly clear that his son, who is born biologically as a boy, is a boy, then the boy will behave differently with him, because a lot of the time they pick up on the signals that parents give them.
SS: You have been saying that parents who avoid assigning a biological gender to their children are irresponsible, because they make it even more difficult for their kids to identify themselves with a certain gender. What exactly should parents do? Where’s the balance between guiding children in developing their gender identification and imposing gender roles on them?
FF: I think, that there's a very big difference between children’s sex. Children are born either boys or girls in almost every single instance. I think that parents at that point need to bring them up as either boys or as girls. And see how things evolve. I think it's wrong for parents to become preoccupied by gender identity. It's not something that the vast majority of children ever think about very much. It's not something that they experiment with, to begin with. I think that the danger today is that we have a very strong political and cultural pressure on the part of parents to be much more relaxed about the boundaries that used to exist between boys and girls, and as the boundaries are questioned so a lot of parents get confused. And I think the job of parents is to wait and see. And if it is the case that when a girl or a boy decide at the age of 14 or 15 that maybe there is something other than the biology dictates, then the parents can make a judgment call. It's a different judgment call in every case, and there's no formulaic way of dealing with this.
SS: Parents of transgender children often explain that at the age of two or three their children clearly say that they are the opposite sex. Can you really take what a 3-year-old kid tells you for proclamation of gender identity?
FF: Not if you're sensible. I think as adults we know that children see a lot of things that are just momentarily illusions at the age of two or three. We obviously have to listen to them. But we don't let 2-3-year-olds dictate to us how their child is going to evolve, how they should be treated by adults. I think, very often what a lot of parents get confused by is that both boys and girls very often want to play a different kind of roles. For example, I know, my own son when he was 3-4 loved ballets and dressed up in pink and even insisted that we get him a doll. But these days if a teacher or an adult sees that, they might draw the conclusion that my son was actually genderising a girl, a potential woman, whereas in fact he was just merely experimenting, pretty much in the way that a lot of young girls are tomboys and they like playing and pretending that they're boys. That's the normal way that children evolve. And it's very important that we don't rush and make premature judgments about those things.
SS: If a kid announces that it’s a lizard, a cat or a Pokemon does that mean that its parents will have to support their child’s freedom of expression and will have to treat it accordingly? It’s absurd.
FF: It is absurd. Obviously, I think that parents should have the freedom to make judgment calls as to what they do very often. You don't necessarily want to thwart a child's aspiration if that's at all possible. But if we think that a particular demand that they put upon you, if they want to play in a particular kind of way is not something you think is good for them, then you as a parent are totally entitled just to say no. Because you, as an adult, are ultimately responsible for the well-being of that child. It's your duty to make sure that they go in the right kind of direction and at the moment, unfortunately, a lot of parents are encouraged to avoid taking responsibility. Avoid assuming a duty for the welfare of their children handed over to all kinds of professionals. And this is, I think, one of the reasons why trans-culture is flourishing so much in the western world.
SS: Being different has always been cool among young people. Some want attention, for other kids it’s just a form of protest against any authority, let it be school or family… And as trans-culture is increasingly gaining ground during the recent years, has questioning their gender just become a new way of, so to speak, breaking the system for some kids?
FF: Yeah, I think, you're right. I remember when I was doing some lectures in the United States, I met parents who were very proud of the fact that their children were transgender. And what they were really proud about was that they thought this was really cool. This is very edgy. The children weren't being conformist. They made their own way. They decided who they wanted to be and for them this was a really wonderful development, and I think in many respects they were complicit in creating a context and a situation where a child is almost incentivized to identify in this particular way in order to gain attention and validation and recognition.
SS: So, you've been critical of schools in Scotland for keeping parents out of the loop if their child was hinted a willingness to change sex. However, there are some families where children are suppressed by their parents for a multitude of reasons. Can you really blame any school for stepping in if they fear for the child?
FF: Well, I think this is a very important question because mothers and fathers have got some very difficult judgments to make. Very often they do things with their children that they think it's in the kid's best interests that other people might not approve of. And one of the problems that we have is at the moment parents are being continually surveyed, they're being judged and people overlook the fact that most of the time, 99 times out of 100, the mother and the father knows far better what's in the real interest of a child than anybody else. I think that to understand a child after a relationship with that child you got to live with that child. And that's what parents do, and what I'm really worried about is that this intimate important relationship between two generations gets to some extent undermined and destroyed when teachers or other professionals assume authority that somebody imagine that they know better than the parent what the kid needs. And I think if we go down that road then the very fabric of our family will be seriously weakened and diminished.
SS:In some schools children are obliged to wear gender neutral uniform, in France they can’t call their parents ‘mom’ and ‘dad’, but rather ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’ so that their peers who have same-sex parents wouldn’t feel discriminated against… So modern society is promoting freedom of expression all over the place, but is this freedom ending up suppressed at the behest of political correctness and gender equality?
FF: It's very paradoxical because despite all the claims that we support the freedom of expression what we are really saying that some forms of expression are supported freely others are closed down and, for example, there are many people with religious convictions whose ability to express their religion freely is thwarted when they try to bring up their children in accordance with their religious beliefs are prevented from doing so. So, for example, in England Jewish people and Muslim people are being told that they're not allowed to segregate girls from boys or keep them in a different part of class. So that's not allowed. But other forms of expression are. And to me, what we are really doing here, is kind of creating a double standard whereby it's perfectly OK for you to sort of be gender neutral and to celebrate gender neutrality. But if you actually believe that there is a fundamental difference between boys and girls or at least an important difference between boys and girls, when you want your boy to be a boy, and a girl to be a girl and not neutral, then that's frowned upon and that's kind of criticized and in some cases it is criminalized. So, I think there is a double standard here and I am of the belief that at the end of the day gender neutrality can be a very dangerous ideology, because it basically destroys the particularity of human beings. The differences between you and me are important, and to eradicate that and just to say “well, it's the same thing, let's have this neutral approach to human life”, actually destroys the wonderful element of difference that's part and parcel of our humanity.
SS: Thank you so much for this wonderful insight. We were talking about the ongoing debate whether young kids should be subject to gender reassignment therapy with sociologists Frank Furedi and Jeff Younger who knows the problem firsthand with his seven-year old son facing such therapy.