Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Childhood Gender Nonconformity: What Does it Mean?

Childhood gender non-conformity (CGN) behavioral patterns are found to correlate in higher incidence with adult homosexuality, but this does not always indicate adult sexual orientation and should not be used to predict someone’s sexual orientation. Various retrospective studies have found there to be significantly high self reports of gender nonconformity in the nonheterosexual population. Upon further examination of childhood home videos studies of self report measures of childhood gender nonconformity and prehomosexual children have substantiated that prehomosexual children tend to be more “gender nonconforming, on average, than preheterosexual children” in both men and women (Rieger, Gerulf; Linsenmeier, Gygax, Lorenz; Bailey, 2008). These studies simply indicate that gender non-conformity is found in higher prevalence in this population, but do not indicate in what prevalence they are found in non-heterosexuals, or how, why or they are found in higher prevalence etc. Other studies also indicate different pattern of in verbal and spatial skills between heterosexuals and homosexual (Rahman, 2010). Yet, this does not mean that all smart children are homosexuals and all prehomosexual children are smart. The true determinants of sexual orientation and gender identity has yet to be found but are arguably mediated by a complex sequence of experiences and psychosocial factors, in conjunction with our biological factors (Rogers, 2009).

The positive psychological aspect of childhood gender non conformity may be greater gender stability for the child in question i.e. a more stable sense of congruency between natural desires, thoughts and reality. However, when children were queried about cross-gender behavior in their peers the majority indicated that although it was not wrong that they prefer to segregate themselves from children who behave this way (Carter & McCloskey, 1984). In this way children and socialization play a unique role in the maintenance of gender roles from very early in development and gender nonconformity can lead to social isolation. In addition to this peer rejection, gender nonconformity has also been significantly associated with poorer relationship quality with parents in childhood which can lead to psychological consequences such increased risk for “attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance” (Landolt, Bartholomew, Saffrey, Oram, Perlman, 2004). In other childhood gender nonconformity studies parental variables, especially the acceptance and support of the father, in homosexual males was related to “feelings of impostorhood and self-esteem” (Beard & Bakeman, 2008). Studies indicate exposure to childhood physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, and probable Post Traumatic Stress Disorder risk factors were higher in childhood gender nonconformity children indicating an increased risk of abuse and PTSD in childhood gender nonconforming populations (Austin, Corliss, Koenen Roberts, Rosario, 2012). .
Some people have presumed to argue that childhood gender nonconformity is a reflection of early parahilias for cross dressing such as Transvestic fetishism/transvestism. Paraphilia means “abnormal love,” and refers to compulsive strange or abnormal acts done for the purpose of sexual gratification (Rogers, 2009). The diagnostic criteria maintains that to be considered a paraphilia a behavior must meet the three intrinsic qualities of paraphilia including: the behavior engaged in must be considered socially strange, deviant, or abnormal for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification and has the tendency to be compulsive or uncontrollable (Rogers, 2009). Whereas parahilias are thought to develop by a combination of behavioral, psychobiological components such as experiences, hormones and neurotransmitters, currently it is best speculated gender nonconforming children are thought to be motivated by natural desires and tendencies that simply arise from innate temperaments of personality or a person’s natural biology (Rogers, 2009). Therefore, even though children who engage in gender nonconforming behavior may be perceived as behaving as socially strange, deviant, or abnormal ways they are not exhibiting early signs of paraphilia because their gender non conformities are motivated by innate qualities of self rather than by compulsive behavior or sexual gratification.

In its most broad usage “transgender” refers to “anyone whose gender identity or gender behavior exceeds the stereotypical gender norms (Gender Diversity, 2014).  Gender variance and/or gender non-conformity describes the actual behavior seen in one gender that is more typical of the other gender (Gender Diversity, 2014). Although gender expression including gender non conforming behavior can reflect a child’s subjective internal and personal sense of gender this does not always match their assigned gender, their biological gender or sexual orientation. Similarly, gender nonconformity does not always indicate transgender or homosexuality (Gender Diversity, 2014). A person’s gender identity or innate internal personal sense of being male, female both or neither is their gender identity, not their sexual orientation (gay or straight) nor determined by their biological sex (male or female) or even their gender expression (play, clothes, hair and mannerism) (Gender Spectrum, 2014). You cannot change a child’s sense of self or gender identity as it is intrinsic to them. However, parental choices for support can profoundly impact a child self esteem and self image pertaining to their gender identity (Gender Spectrum, 2014).

Since gender non-conformity can have a host of psychological and social implications such as peer and parental rejection, abuse and PTSD inventions for children displaying gender non-conformity could include screening for psychological and social consequences of gender non-conformity and intervention provided for these issues as needed. The best intervention for these high risk factors will always be prevention through child, parental and peer education on gender diversity that brings awareness to the psychological and social implications of gender stereotyping, such as shame, fear, rejection and isolation. Intervention for the actual childhood gender non conformity behavior is not always needed nor should necessarily be aimed at stopping the gender non-conforming behavior. Treatment when needed largely depends on the individual’s actual behavior, the motivator for gender non conformity and subjective desires but should always be focused on finding safe and effective methods to achieving lasting subjective comfort within “their gendered selves, in order to maximize their overall health, psychological well-being, and self-fulfillment” (Up To Date, 2014).

Beard, A. J. & Bakeman, R. (2008). Reported Parental Behavior and the Development of Narcissistic Issues. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy Volume 4, Issue 2, p. 81-97. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J236v04n02_07#.U_K9HPldVr8
Carter, B and McCloskey, L.A. (1984). Peers and the Maintenance of Sex-Typed Behavior: The Development of Children's Conceptions of Cross-Gender Behavior in Their Peers. Social Cognition: Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 294-314. Retrieved from http://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/soco.1984.2.4.294
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Landolt, M. A. Bartholomew, K, Saffrey, C, Oram, D, & Perlman. D. (2004). Gender Nonconformity, Childhood Rejection, and Adult Attachment: A Study of Gay Men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, April 2004, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 117-128 Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/B:ASEB.0000014326.64934.50
Rahman, Q; Bhanot, S; Emrith-Small, H; Ghafoor, S; Roberts, S, (2010). Gender Nonconformity, Intelligence, and Sexual Orientation. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/724556/Gender_Nonconformity_Intelligence_and_Sexual_Orientation
Rieger, Gerulf; Linsenmeier, Joan A. W.; Gygax, Lorenz; Bailey, J. Michael. (2008). Sexual orientation and childhood gender nonconformity: Evidence from home videos. Developmental Psychology, Vol 44(1) p. 46-58. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/dev/44/1/46/
Roberts, A. L. Rosario, M, Corliss, H. L. Koenen, K. C. and Bryn. S. (2012). Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Childhood Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth. Austin Pediatrics 2012; 129:3 410-417 Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/410.short
Roger R. H. (2009) Paraphilias: The Extremes of Sexual Behavior. Human Sexuality, 2nd Edition. Retrieved from Pearson Learning Solutions. VitalBook file.
Up To Date. (2014). Treatment of transsexualism.Wolters Kluwer. Retrieved from http://www.uptodate.com/contents/treatment-of-transsexualism?source=see_link