Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician with 30 years of experience in pediatric and adolescent medicine and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics discusses transgenderism, transgender bathroom policy, and how the growing acceptance of this form of identity among some is putting the rights, development and wellbeing of some of our children and families at risk.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Today, we’ll be discussing a topic that has been at the forefront of policy and political discussions here in North Carolina and across our nation. And that is the growing trend toward the identification and acceptance of “transgenderism,” especially as it relates to children and families.
Our guest today is Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician with 30 years of experience in pediatric and adolescent medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
We will be talking with Dr. Meeker about transgenderism, transgender bathroom policy, and how the growing acceptance of this form of identity among some is putting the rights, development and wellbeing of some of our children and families at risk.
Dr. Meeker, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you back on the show.
MEG MEEKER: Thanks so much for having me!
JOHN RUSTIN: It’s always a pleasure. You recently wrote an article entitled, “Transgender Bathroom Policy: What the Government Can’t Tell You, But a Pediatrician Can.” As a pediatrician, you clearly have a vested interest in the development and wellbeing of children. How does your perspective on this issue differ from what we have seen being pushed more and more by many areas of our government, including public schools and some in the health care arena?
MEG MEEKER: I’m so glad you brought this up because it’s a topic that is really concerning to a lot of parents and I’m sorry they have to be dealing with it. There’s an agenda going on here. It’s not a medical agenda. It’s not a psychological agenda. It’s a political agenda. And here’s why I say that: If you look at the medical research and the medical evidence for “transgenderism” in children, the reality is the children who are born who have a sense that they’re living in the body of the wrong person—i.e. outwardly I’m a girl but I feel very much like a boy, or vice versa, from early on in childhood, say four, five, six or seven years of age—these children are very, very rare. And I will tell you: I’ve worked in some major hospitals in the country; I’ve been practicing pediatrics for over 30 years; I work with my husband who’s also a pediatrician; I’m on Medical Boards; I’m on the Board of a medical school; and I have never seen a true transgender child in my years of work. And people say well, that doesn’t matter, and it really doesn’t matter, but the truth is what does matter is the real incidence of a number of people out there who are really struggling with gender identity is very, very small. But what we’re seeing cropping up now is a lot of kids who are it’s a monkey see, monkey do. “Oh yeh, I think I want to be a girl and I’m really a boy” and so on and so forth. But if we just take the kids who are really disturbed on any emotional level and they live with this angst that something is deeply wrong with me, these are kids that have been followed for many, many years, decades actually, in the medical literature and what we have found is that amongst those kids who really truly identify as transgender, those who undergo gender reassignment surgery, those who are given medical intervention by medication, hormone change and so forth, when those young kids end up in their twenties and thirties the kids who have completed a transformation to the identity that they feel they are rather than the way they genetically are, don’t do better than kids who have not had gender reassignment. In fact, they show that they’re at a much higher risk of suicide. So this whole idea that, “Gee whiz, now gender is really up for grabs. We need to figure out what you feel like you are and we’ll accommodate you,” is really malpractice. And the sad thing is there are physicians across the country who say, “Yes okay, I will help these kids and I will intervene at an early age with these kids, before puberty, to help them change gender and reassign their gender.” To me this is a travesty! It’s an ethical issue; it’s a moral issue; and it’s a medical liability issue. I really believe it’s wrong.
JOHN RUSTIN: Dr. Meeker, with your experience and from your perspective, what is “transgenderism”? It seems to be an issue or a word or a term that we’re hearing more and more batted around every day, but there is a good bit of complexity wrapped up in that, is there not?
MEG MEEKER: That’s one of my real pet peeves with all this bathroom legislation, because our culture—or the political social higher-ups who are trying to push an agenda here—are trying to make… trying to use this term “transgender” as though it really isn’t complex, it’s simply a matter of feeling: “The reason they are having problems is because we are not—we on the outside—are not attending to them well; we’re not approaching them well; we’re not treating them well.” And therein lies their problem: That’s not true. The truth is, the problem with the transgender person is this: Genetically, they are fully male or fully female, but psychologically they do not feel that way. There’s an enormous disconnect there. It’s a psychological disconnect. It’s a painful reality for someone who lives with that disconnect. These children need to be treated very carefully. They need a lot of TLC. And simply slapping a simple answer onto a complex illness is an incredible disservice to them. And that’s where I really believe it’s malpractice to say, “Oh, you think you’re transgender? There you are! Call yourself transgender, use this bathroom, and life will be well.” How dare you do that to somebody who is in this amount of pain.
JOHN RUSTIN: We have seen stories of individuals really as young as four, five and six years old, who themselves and their parents have come out and said, “Well, I may biologically appear as a boy but I choose to identify as a girl” or vice versa. Do children as young as four, five and six have the physical and emotional and psychological capacity to even make a choice to identify as transgender and then to understand the complexities that you’re referring to surrounding this claim of identity?
MEG MEEKER: No. They have feelings—A four- or five-year-old has very elementary feelings. They do not have fully developed complex cognitive abilities to think clearly and thoroughly. They have feelings and yes those feelings can be very strong: “I’m a girl wearing a dress but I don’t feel like a girl.” Now at an early age, these are just very these are strong feelings. Can there be something deeper, which is hormonal or physiologic that is causing them to believe they are the other gender? Perhaps, but we don’t know. What is true—is exactly what you’re saying—is that this is a very complex issue. It could involve hormones; it could involve brain chemistry; it could involve situations; life experience; it could involve a relationship issue. It’s multi-faceted and it’s very complex. But what the child knows is, “I feel this way” or “I don’t feel this way.” So we as adults say, “Well, let’s help unpack that over time. Let’s not rush to something and say, ‘Okay, five-year-old, OK seven-year-old, you feel like you’re this. We’ll make you this.'” I am so intrigued by many letters that I get from parents of a 15, 16 year old who say, “My daughter really feels she’s a boy, she wants to be a boy. I’m scared. What should I do?” And I respond back to that mother, “What else does she know for sure?” Nothing. She doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up; she doesn’t know what classes she wants to take; she doesn’t know what she wants for dinner. But how can you be so sure about this one area? We can’t be. We’re talking about children’s psychology here.
JOHN RUSTIN: What kind of impact does puberty have on gender perception and things of that nature, from your experience?
MEG MEEKER: An enormous amount, enormous amount. Again, on an emotional level, I see pre-puberty girls who are moving into puberty become very emotional. They feel feelings that they feel are beyond their control. For instance, they’ll begin to cry for no reason and they’ll say, “I don’t understand.” They’ll be angry for no reason. And so we do see the physiology at work manifested in the behavior and the feelings of a child. Boys as well, you know they have hormonal changes that are going to change their moods; they’re going to change their perception of things; they’re going to change their perception of other people. And in addition to that, hormones alone will shift a child’s perception of who they are. It’s going to shift the perception of their feelings. In addition to that, they get bodily changes that are going to change their perception of themselves and life around them. So, on so many different levels, their bodies are changing; their feelings are changing; their thinking is changing; their body chemistry is changing. And all of this culminates in a shifting of perspective of who they are and who and what the world around them is all about. Again, it’s very complicated. And nobody would look at puberty and say, “Well, that’s a pretty straightforward, simple process. We’ll just interrupt that.” You can’t do that. It’s sort of like saying we’re a one-dimensional person; we’re just genes; we’re just body. No we’re, not even a child knows that.
JOHN RUSTIN: Dr. Meeker, what have we seen as the byproducts or results of introducing children to gender dysphoria and these kinds of confusing questions about sexuality at such a young age?
MEG MEEKER: First of all, I think that what we’re seeing is a tremendous—and this isn’t a strong enough word—“confusion” in kids. But here’s where I think the real danger is for the child who’s not struggling with gender dysphoria—and this is 99.9 percent of kids in America. Let’s just say, Sally is in the third grade and Sally has her little friend Betty, who is introduced in her class. And Sally and all of her friends see Betty, they see a girl, she looks like girl. But the teacher says she’s not a girl. Call her Bill today because Betty doesn’t feel like Betty. So, the child being a child goes, “Well, the teacher must be right because the teacher’s bigger and smarter than I am. So clearly Betty that I see in front of me, I must be wrong in what I’m assessing. If I see a girl and my mind assesses a girl but my teacher says it’s a boy, I’m wrong.” So now you have a third grade child who doesn’t believe he or she can adequately assess their surroundings. And they realize, “If I can’t even tell if a girl is a girl and a boy is a boy and believe what I’m seeing, what else can I not get right? Is the grass green? Is my mother my mother? Is the sun the sun?” They call into question every judgment they make.
JOHN RUSTIN: And we’re seeing that in many different areas, particularly in public schools, with stories that are being told, books that are being read or presented. How can we accomplish these goals of treating children and families who may be promoting these issues with appropriate levels of acceptance and respect, but also understanding that we’re operating in a culture these days where parents who stand up for privacy and safety of children and what they believe to be right and true, are often vilified by others who are pushing an aggressive and controversial agenda?
MEG MEEKER: I think one of the cruelest things you can do to a child—a transgender child, who already feels confused, who already has poor self-esteem, who is already struggling on so many different levels—the cruelest thing you can do to that child is shine a spotlight on them and say, “Go now to the bathroom you want.” I think the most compassionate thing that any of us can do is to protect all children. What we should be advocating for, if you really want to help a transgender child, have them have a bathroom that is separate. That is like we have in airports that says “Family Bathroom.” Anybody can use it. Do not force a child who feels like a girl but really is a boy to use a girls’ bathroom, and vice versa. That makes a mockery out of that child. It puts a spotlight and it’s cruel.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s great advice. Dr. Meeker. This has been a fascinating discussion. Thanks so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters and for your great work on behalf of children and families across our nation.
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