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Anna Quindlen and Andrew Solomon Join Discussion About Media and Transgender Children

by Margaret Sullivan

My blog post last week – about Coy Mathis, the 6-year-old transgender Colorado child – drew some strong responses from readers. On Twitter, I immediately heard from those who sharply questioned my suggestion that “the willingness of the child” be considered, along with parental approval, in deciding to name her and use photographs of her. As many of these critics (some of whom were parents) noted, young children are willing to do many things they might regret later; they don’t have the maturity to know how their actions will play out.

More thoughtful reasoning than mine came from Anna Quindlen, the author and former Times columnist whose work I have long admired. She wrote in an e-mail:

I was intrigued by your journal entry today because it raises a question that is so beautifully and intelligently explored in the new book “Far From the Tree,” by Andrew Solomon. If you haven’t read it, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is about children who are essentially different than their parents — there is a chapter on transsexual children and their families–but an overarching question he raises is when and whether parents have a moral right to make certain choices for their minor children. Can hearing parents really make a dispassionate decision for a toddler about a cochlear implant? What about the average-sized parents of a dwarf, who, if she is to receive painful and extensive limb-lengthening surgery, must begin at 7 or 8? And do parents make such decisions based on what is best for their child or what is best for their self-image?

It’s a fascinating question, and I thought of it when you noted that Coy’s parents had agreed to let her be photographed and interviewed. They have the legal right to do that, I’m sure–but do they have the moral right to do so? I don’t know the answer. I only know that, as Solomon suggests over and over again in his exceptional book, parents frequently make decisions based on a complex calculus that has as much to do with them as their kids. I know I did that even as I tried not to do so.

(To read the full article, please visit the New York Times.