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Transsexual child could be sent to mental ward

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Transsexual child could be sent to mental ward
Photo: DPA
11:00 CET+01:00
Transgender rights activists have taken up the cause of an 11-year-old transsexual child who wants hormone treatment to grow up as a girl but faces being sent to a psychiatric institution by Berlin authorities.

The child, identified as “Alex,” has male genitalia but considers herself a girl. She lives with her mother, who supports her wishes. But her father strongly disputes this gender identity and has lobbied the Berlin youth welfare office to have the child taken from its mother's care and put into a psychiatric institution. The two parents separated and divorced over the issue.

Daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung reported last month that a local district court upheld the youth office's request, but that the mother is appealing to the higher regional court. A spokesman for the higher court told The Local that because of the private nature of the case, this could not be discussed.

“For legal reasons, I cannot confirm or deny that such a case exists here,” the spokesman said in an email.

Alex's body will soon develop more masculine traits in puberty, but she told Die Tageszeitung that she has always felt she was a girl and wants to undergo oestrogen treatment. She officially changed her sex and her name, from Alexander to Alexandra, before entering primary school, where she was accepted as a girl.

The father reportedly wrote 170 pages of letters to the youth welfare office, describing his former wife as a psychologically disturbed woman who is pressuring their child to become a girl. Alex's mother, meanwhile, says that her former husband's judgement is affected by the fact that his family has a history of transsexualism.

The psychiatric experts are divided on how to deal with transgender children. Klaus Beier, professor of psychotherapy and sexual medicine at Berlin's Charité hospital, believes it is irresponsible to give a child medication to prevent puberty developing naturally.

“If we had criteria that could clearly tell us that a problem in gender identity in childhood is transferred into a transgender state later, then administering puberty-blocking medication would be possible,” he told the paper. “We don't have these criteria, so that we always have to work from the basic assumption that the child could lose its uncertainty over its biological gender in its further development.”

But Udo Rauchfleisch, psychotherapist and former professor at the University of Basel, Switzerland, is more open to hormone treatment. “If you are convinced that the child is transsexual, I think you can start hormone therapy,” he told The Local this week. “The integration into a female role is of course much easier if it happens early.”

But he underlined that the diagnosis needed to be much more thorough than has been carried out with Alex. “In this case I would see the child regularly – at least once a week - for at least six months,” he said. “And in parallel to that I would want to speak to each parent regularly. One possibility would be to do that in a home, so that you could observe the child all the time.”

“I don't really know what strategy the youth office is pursuing in this case,” he added. “I would recommend that they have a specialist see the child regularly, and make sure that the parents talk to her. I don't think the office need do anything beyond that. Taking the child away from the mother seems absurd to me.”

Organizations including the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organization (IGLYO) have taken up Alex's cause. “The Board of IGLYO declares our solidarity with the girl and her mother,” IGLYO said in a statement. “Moreover, we ask the authorities of Berlin to intervene with the actions of the Youth Welfare Office and stop the removal of the child from her mother.”

An online petition, addressed to Berlin's Mayor Klaus Wowereit, has also been set up in support of Alex's wishes to grow up as a girl.

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