The Show

Gender-Confused Kids

Dr. Phil tackles the sensitive topic of children who identify more with the opposite sex. What do you do if your son wants to wear dresses and play with dolls? Or if your daughter tells you she wants to be a boy?

The Experts Weigh In


Joining the discussion is Dr. Dan Siegel, professor and clinical psychiatrist at UCLA School of Medicine and director for the Center for Human Development. Dr. Siegel says he works with many families going through what Melissa and Tim are experiencing.

"The basic thing we need to realize is there is something called a gender identity, which isn't the same as the genitals you have," Dr. Siegel says. "So your genes determine whether you have male genitals or female genitals, but the exposure to the fetus' brain as it develops in the womb, we think, determines the identity. And it's on a spectrum, so you could be feeling fully male or fully female, or somewhere in between, and in your case, the child we're talking about, she feels that her brain " she even said it on the video " got an identity as a female even though her genitals are male, and that makes total sense when you understand the biology of how it develops."

"So you're saying how you're born is defined on different levels," Dr. Phil says.

"Exactly, because how you're born with your genitals doesn't necessarily correspond with your brain's development," he says. "You should accept the child for how they are born, I totally agree with that, but in the inside, when you look at the brain, it isn't as black and white as are you a female or male as the genitals would show."

"But if it's a brain identity, why does such a small percentage actually become transgender adults as were children?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Here's my thought about that: Our society makes roles that are so black and white because that's what our genitals are, but our brains are on a wide spectrum," Dr. Siegel says. "So that 80 percent of the people who are cross-gendered that you're referring to, those are probably people who were somewhere in the middle, and they said, ‘Hey, I may have feminine desires in classical senses, like I enjoy being sensitive, and I enjoy thinking about the internal world, not just being aggressive,' but those are the people who say, ‘I can stay a male, and I am a male, and I'll find my identity that way.'"

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