At a court hearing this week in Dallas, a jury listened to witness after witness testify in a trial between two parents arguing whether or not their seven-year-old son is transgender and what their response to the situation should be.
Although only scheduled through Thursday, lawyers spent so long questioning witnesses that the judge will resume the trial on Monday.
The father, Jeff Younger, contends that his son, James, identifies with his biological sex. The mother, Anne Georgulas, contends that James is a girl and calls him Luna.
Younger and Georgulas were married in 2010 and later decided to have children through in vitro fertilization (IVF). They requested male children through the IVF process that was successful, and their twin boys were born in 2012.
Because of a family tradition to name the male children with the initials “J.D.Y.,” and because of the biblical reference to the brothers of Jesus, Younger and Georgulas decided to name the children James and Jude. At the time, both parents were members of the Orthodox Church.
Conflict arose in the next few years and their marriage was eventually annulled. While the court made the parents joint managing conservators, Georgulas was given exclusive rights and duties, while Younger’s were limited.
Georgulas said that James first wanted a girls’ toy from McDonald’s and soon after started imitating the female characters from Disney’s Frozen and asking to wear dresses.
She said she contacted the GENecis clinic at Children’s Hospital Center, and they referred her to Rebekka Ouer for counseling. Ouer recommended a process of “affirmation” and thought that a “social transition” for James to begin going to school dressed as a girl named “Luna” would be in his best interest.
When the father learned that Georgulas was “socially transitioning” James, it wasn’t long before their disputes escalated.
Younger is being represented by Logan Odeneal, while Georgulas has a legal team consisting of at least five people, with lawyers Jessica Janicek and Laura Hayes leading the questioning of witnesses.
In this case, the court also appointed an amicus attorney, Stacy Dunlop, to represent the best interests of the child from a more neutral perspective.
Presiding over the hearing is Judge Kim Cooks of the 255th Family District Court.
Although all parties have personally interacted with one another in a civil and professional manner, tensions have been noticeably high throughout the proceedings.
The intensity of the case was made clear on the onset by Janicek’s opening statement on behalf of the mother.
She began with a PowerPoint slide stating there were “two paths of parenting.” One, she argued, was Georgulas’ parenting characterized as loving, following recommendations of mental health professionals, actively trying to co-parent, and valuing privacy.
As the second path, she characterized Younger as insensitive, refusing to follow all recommendations, having no desire to co-parent, and exploiting the situation to use it as a political platform.
While Janicek’s characterizations were clearly biased, she was not wrong to assert that the case is about “two paths of parenting.”
But from the witnesses that have testified, those two paths are not about which parent loves their children, but are ultimately about the conflicting worldview behind their professed love.
Georgulas and Younger have responded quite differently to James’ instances of expressed femininity.
Georgulas wants to take steps of “affirmation” to his alleged female identity. Younger wants to take an approach of “watchful waiting” by not prompting a “social transition” for James to present himself as a girl.
The mother argues that James is transgender and has “gender dysphoria,” a condition that he has been diagnosed with by three mental health professionals, while the father suggests that his son is experiencing some confusion about his gender that will be resolved with time if left alone.
For his part, Dunlop has taken a somewhat atypical ground that James is simply “gender fluid,” and that he should continue to be treated as both a boy and a girl depending on how he feels.
Janicek and Hayes have argued that because he has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, James is probably a girl — “trapped inside a boy’s body,” as transgender activists would explain — who should be called “Luna.”
The witnesses called to testify by the mother’s lawyers who knew James — except for Younger — all stated that at some point, independent of his mother, James told them that he wanted to be called “Luna” and referred to as a girl.
Dr. Benjamin Albritton was one of the first witnesses to speak. Being paid to testify by the mother, Albritton was the custody evaluator who spent over half a year writing a report that diagnosed James with gender dysphoria and recommended Georgulas’ approach of “affirmation” and initiating a social transition.
Albritton said that James expressed anxiety about “having to be a boy” when around his father and that he prefers his mother’s home because she lets him “be whatever he wants to be.”
Rebekka Ouer, James’ therapist and the founder of Dallas Rainbow Counseling, also diagnosed James with gender dysphoria and argued for the “affirmation” approach.
She claimed that during therapy sessions with James, she would write the names “James” and “Luna” on sticky notes and let him pick what he wanted to be each time he met with her. Ouer said that he chose “Luna” for every session except once when Younger brought him to it.
Janicek and Hayes have also made a point to emphasize that the mother is not seeking a medical transition, including puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones — a treatment that Younger is concerned will be given in the near future.
Puberty blockers are used to block the production of testosterone or estrogen to delay or prevent the development of secondary sex characteristics (e.g. facial hair, voice, breasts, etc.).
Cross-sex hormone therapy is used next to administer testosterone to females or estrogen to males in an attempt to induce the development of secondary sex characteristics of their opposite biological sex. Transgender individuals must continue this treatment for life.
Dr. Daniel Shumer, an endocrinologist (a doctor specializing in hormones) called by the mother’s lawyers to testify, said that puberty blockers are used “to buy some time” for those at the start of puberty so that they and their parents can decide if a full medical transition should be made.
Shumer said that puberty blockers are only ever first used at the beginning of puberty, which for boys is marked by the “Tanner stages of sexual development” and not age. He said that on average, this occurs around age 11 ½ for boys.
Although Janicek and Hayes argued that the mother did not intend to use puberty blockers prior to puberty, no one has stated that she would not be open to using them when James begins puberty.
When Georgulas testified on Friday, she said that she understood a “social transition” is usually followed by a “medical transition” using puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.
The mother’s legal team also consistently argued that the “affirmation” approach is in the best interest of the child.
Hayes has argued that being transgender is not a choice, but is as pre-determined by birth as a child with Down syndrome.
Ouer echoed this sentiment when she stated, “Gender is in the brain,” and, “it’s not that you [a male] think you’re a girl, you are one.”
Assuming that James’ transgender identity is not something that he can choose, Georgulas wants to take steps to encourage him to express that he “is a girl” so that his discomfort in “being trapped in a boy’s body” is minimalized.
Of course, this assumption is logically inconsistent with the statement from another one of Geogrulas’ witnesses, Dr. Abel Tomatis, who said that “gender is a social construct.” Such a view makes it possible that there are factors in James’ environment influencing whether he is transgender or not and that those factors could potentially be controlled.
Interestingly, Dunlop revealed that Georgulas told him that “Luna” was not the first female name that James picked out. The first was “Starfire,” a female character from the superhero cartoon Teen Titans Go! Georgulas, however, encouraged him to pick a different name.
Ouer said that Georgulas’ decision was wise, because even though affirmation is good, there were still some reasonable limits. No clear method of determining those reasonable efforts was suggested.
Odeneal has countered his opponent’s argument that James is a girl with two important points: first, that James is happy to be a boy when he is with his father; and second, that James does not meet the criteria to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria and therefore should not be treated as such.
On the first point, two family friends called to the stand by Odeneal have testified that James is happy to be a boy and always refers to himself as “James.”
One friend who testified has several grandchildren and said that James enjoys playing with those boys. When they go swimming, she said that they all wear boys’ swimming suits — even when a girl’s swimming suit is available.
She said that in multiple craft projects, James willingly and without hesitation signed his name as “James.” When he created a statue out of foil, he gave it male characteristics even after she suggested some female characteristics that he could add to it.
Another friend, a deacon at Younger’s church, also confirmed that James always presents himself as a boy when he is with his father.
Both witnesses — as well as all of the mother’s witnesses who know James — testified that James has not displayed any signs of distress. Everyone described him as a bright, happy, outgoing child.
As Odeneal repeatedly pointed out, this contradicts one of the two requirements for gender dysphoria according to the DSM-V, the current manual used by the American Psychiatric Association.
According to the DSM-V, a child with gender dysphoria must display six of eight certain characteristics relating to their gender expression or feelings (e.g. what clothes they like to wear, if they insist that they are the opposite gender, etc.) and they must display distress associated with those characteristics.
Those who testified — and even those who diagnosed James with gender dysphoria — said that he has not displayed any such distress.
Odeneal has also repeatedly contended that Georgulas does intend to pursue a medical gender transition for James, citing medical records that note James would be referred to doctors at the GENecis clinic for puberty suppression once he reached eight or nine years old.
When these notes were presented to Albritton, he said that he had seen them before but did not include them in his final report for the court because he did not think it seemed relevant.
Dr. Stephen Levine, a psychiatrist who specializes in human sexuality and has been working in the field for several decades, was called to the stand by Odeneal.
He testified that eleven studies had been completed showing that when an approach of “watchful waiting” is taken without any affirmation or social transition, “desistance” (identifying with the gender of one’s biological sex) occurred in around 80 to 90 percent of cases after children thought to be transgender continue developing throughout adolescence.
Although the scientific evidence is lacking because the method is so new, Levine also said that “affirmation” could quite likely have a significant contribution to “persistence” (continuing to identify with the opposite gender of one’s biological sex).
Levine said that unlike transgender activists who argue that gender dysphoria is biologically caused and something you are born with, there is no evidence for that position. Instead, he said it could be partly caused by biology, but that research suggests there are also psychological, cultural, and interpersonal relationship factors.
He also noted that a study in Sweden found that the suicide rate in the transgender population of those who had a medical transition was 19 times higher than the rest of the population.
Furthermore, he said that transgender individuals receiving hormone treatment have a life expectancy twenty years shorter than the average person.
Because of these long term risks associated with persistence, Levine said desistance was preferable, even if it means that a child will not receive the immediate benefit of feeling loved by affirmation.
As a result, “watchful waiting” would be the prudent approach, since it leads to desistance in the majority of cases. Taking an “affirmation” approach is experimental, he said, and has a strong possibility of leading to the negative outcomes he mentioned.
Paul Hruz, an endocrinologist who was Odeneal’s witness, reinforced Levine’s testimony, saying that there are some studies — though few, since the approach is fairly new — that suggest “affirmation” makes persistence more likely.
Hruz directly contradicted Shumer’s claim that puberty blockers are meant to “buy some time,” saying the argument had no scientific backing, but that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones present more dangers than simply delaying development.
For boys given estrogen, he said high risks include sterility, an increased likelihood of strokes, and undeveloped bone density that would probably lead to osteoporosis.
Like Levine, Hruz said that because of the long term risks with persistence and the harms caused by medical transition, desistance is the preferable outcome.
He argued that “watchful waiting” was the best way to treat any child experiencing gender identity problems, since the rate of desistance was so high with that careful approach.
The jury’s decision next week will be made in large part based on their view of which approach to any confusion of gender that James has displayed is best: is it wiser to “affirm” him as a girl to make him feel love despite the long term dangers that approach could have, or is it wiser to practice “watchful waiting,” which in the overwhelming majority of cases leads to desistance and avoids the dangers of transitioning?
Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. While recently finishing his degree in Political Science from Azusa Pacific University, he also interned in the U.S. Senate and co-authored a book on C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. In his spare time, he might be reading up on Dostoevsky or attempting to write a novel.