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Doctor Promotes Medical View of Transgenderism

Clinic founder decries labeling transgenderism as a psychological issue

By Alice E. M. Underwood, Contributing Writer

Norman P. Spack, a pediatric endocrinologist who works with transgendered youth, promoted the treatment of transgenderism as a medical condition, as opposed to a psychiatric disorder, during a talk hosted by the Harvard Transgender Task Force yesterday evening.

During the event, which was held to kick off Transgender Awareness Week, Spack said that looking at transgenderism from a medical perspective will change the public perception that it is a psychological problem.

Spack, the senior associate in the endocrine division at Boston Children’s Hospital, co-founded the Gender Management Services Program, a clinic that provides treatments to delay the onset of puberty in children questioning their gender.

“People ask me, how do people know at age eight or nine?” he said of children’s self-awareness of gender. “And I look at them and say, well how old were you when you knew?”

Spack said that stalling the start of puberty delays the development of physical characteristics that do not correspond to a person’s psychological self-perception.

According to Lily J. Durwood ’10, who works as one of Spack’s research assistants, the clinic is currently working with approximately 100 patients between the ages of 6 and 21.

“Dr. Spack’s help has made such a huge difference in the patients’ lives,” Durwood said.

About 35 percent of the patients served by the clinic have physically harmed themselves or contemplated suicide prior to seeking medical attention, Spack said.

“Post-medication, the patients give testimonies of better interactions in school, a better environment at home, and functioning a whole lot better,” said Stanley R. Vance, a student at Harvard Medical School who also works in Spack’s clinic. “Dr. Spack is a trailblazer in an area of medicine that hasn’t gotten adequate attention.”

Transgenderism is currently classified as the psychiatric condition “Gender Identity Disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

However, Spack said that he and other members of the medical community recognize transgenderism as a medical condition and are pushing to have it viewed the same way by psychiatrists, insurance companies, and the general public.

“These people aren’t crazy,” Spack said. “It’s a medical condition.”

Members of TTF said they were pleased to hear a different angle on transgender issues.

“I think this event is a great opportunity to see trans issues intersect with the medical sciences,” said TTF member Jia Hui Lee ’12. “Trans issues have always been looked at from a social and legal perspective but never medical, and we’re excited to explore this intersection with the event tonight.”

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