Boys will be girls

Parents support 5-year-old's decision to live as the opposite sex.

Published June 8, 2006 5:19PM (EDT)

It's common for a young boy to play in mommy's closet -- trying on her high heels and gamboling around in a ridiculously oversize dress. Even to paint his nails, or execute an unskilled lipstick application. But what if he wants to go to school dressed as a girl -- not for play or dress-up, but because he feels like a girl? That's the conundrum facing the parents of Nicole -- previously Nicholas -- a 5-year-old biological male who at age 2 told his parents: "I want the fairy princess to come and make my penis into a vagina." In a fascinating -- and lengthy -- article, the Village Voice profiles the Andersons, who have chosen to fully support Nicole's decision to live as a girl; it's a wish she's vocalized since she was first able to talk.

But with Nicole's first day of kindergarten in sight, the issue has taken on new significance. When asked by her mother what she would change about her looks if she could, she responded: "Mm ... my penis." When asked what she'd do with it, she responded: "Um ... cut it ... I would hammer it." Nicole's parents have encouraged her to live as "neutral" while in public, but as a girl at home. But Nicole wasn't having it: "Slowly, every day, a new article of clothing will come out of the closet," Nicole's mother told the Voice. "And we end up looking like a girl." The more Nicole was allowed to live as a girl, the greater her confidence became. "I don't want to take that child's soul and squash it," her mother said.

According to the Voice, the Andersons, who live in Florida, are the only parents in the U.S. to support their 5-year-old's decision to live as the opposite sex. Their choice to enroll Nicole at the local elementary school as a girl has garnered fierce criticism. While they've been encouraged by sympathizers in the transsexual community, their decision is strongly condemned -- even called "emotional neglect" -- by critics. What if, their critics point out, the child is only experiencing a phase? They have a point. Studies show that boys who dress up as girls often grow up to be gay men -- not transgendered. What damage could be done by a rash gender change? But the same could also be said for forcing a child to live as a boy when he feels like a girl. This one's ripe for reader response -- have at it.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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