Youngest-Ever Sex-Change Patient

Two years ago, a 12-year-old German boy became perhaps the youngest-ever patient to embark upon a sex change.

Since then, the child, known only as Kim -- and formerly known as Tim -- has begun a course of hormone treatments designed to stop puberty in its tracks, preventing facial hair growth and other secondary sex characteristics experienced by boys of that age.

The hormone treatment will also give Kim breasts. And once Kim turns 18, Kim will likely have the surgery that will complete Kim's transformation into a young woman.

The treatments have sparked debate among many who worry that Kim may be too young to fully understand the ramifications of this unusual decision.

However, Dr. Achim Wüsthof, the pediatric endocrinologist who oversees Kim's treatment, says the child's case was very clear-cut from a young age, suggesting that Kim had been a little girl trapped in a little boy's body for as long as she could remember.

"She started when she was 3 or 4 thinking that she was a girl," says Wüsthof, who is affiliated with the Endokrinologikum Center in Hamburg.

"It was always very clear that from her point of view she was a girl. So when she turned 12 and puberty started, there was some anxiety and panic at the prospect of the male puberty process continuing. That was the moment that the family came to see me."

But not all experts in the field agree that beginning the transition from male to female is appropriate at such an early age.

"Frankly, I find this troubling news," says Dr. Neera Ghaziuddin, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. Ghaziuddin works with preteens and teens with psychological problems, and she says that although she is not intimately familiar with all the details of Kim's case, the fact that the treatment has started causes her concern.

"Most 12-year-olds are still struggling with many aspects of their identity, so a permanent or a semi-permanent procedure to change gender would be undesirable, in my opinion," Ghaziuddin says.

Separating Confusion from Conviction

Kim's therapy, which entails using potent hormones to arrest the changes associated with male puberty, is reversible -- for now.

"The breast development, after a certain point, will not be completely reversible unless there is an operation," Wüsthof says. "But if we stop now, within a few months Kim will be a young man."

Regardless, Wüsthof says the decision to allow Kim to go forward with the treatment was not made lightly. In accordance with German law, two independent psychiatrists were consulted on the case -- and they considered Kim's situation so profound that both recommended that treatment should proceed.

Psychological experts say that Kim's conviction could be seen as confirmation that going forward with the treatment was the proper course of action in this case.

"Two things would need to be seen here: longevity of female identification -- in other words, the individual in question should have identified as a girl since age 5 or 6 without ambiguity -- and no other signs of psychological disturbance," says Jay Reeve, assistant professor at Florida State University's department of psychology.

"It sounds as if both conditions were met in this case."

"If the kid is starting from very early in saying that he or she feels like a boy or a girl, then that's a very decisive moment," Wüsthof says. "Then it becomes very convincing that they do not belong to their biological sex."

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