Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rob and Jonathan

When Rob came to us, he was extremely aggressive. He assaulted staff, got arrested, broke things, and repeatedly lost control. We were not at all sure we could continue to treat him. Rob’s mother had placed him at Klingberg and said she did not want to see him again. His dad was initially involved, but then got caught up in his own life difficulties and became less available to Rob. His mother, however, gradually started limited visiting and contact, and then began participating in therapy.

After much time, Rob told his therapist that he had always felt he wanted to be a girl. He stated that he prefers women’s clothes and that he wanted to get an operation to become female.

Rob entered a period of experimenting with women’s dress, a little at a time. He would try something such as a female blouse, and then stay with male clothes for a while. He spoke in group and in family therapy of these feelings. At times he felt great urgency and demanded to have an operation that afternoon. At other times, he was not so sure.

As Rob became more blatant in his female dressing, and started wearing a female wig at times, many staff reacted. Some felt we should forbid this, that it was wrong. Others felt compassion for the struggle this young person was experiencing.

The kids by in large were supportive to him. He had shared his feelings with them, and he is well liked. The kids can be amazingly kind and tolerant to each other when it comes to important issues.

Jonathan, however, was back from the hospital. Jonathan has always been mean to others, especially anyone he sees as vulnerable or anyone who makes him uneasy about himself. He does not know another way. So he started saying nasty things to Rob, and tried to rile the other kids up against him. They weren’t buying it. So Jon went over and pulled Rob’s wig off. Rob hit him.

In the old days, punishment would set in. Rob would receive restrictions for assault, Jon for instigating. Both would be in their rooms for long periods of time. The restrictions would eventually be over, and both would emerge angrier than ever and more sure than ever that the other was alien, and evil.

Yet what a learning opportunity for both boys! Jon has to develop ways to handle people who make him uneasy without such meanness. Rob may face hazing and even people touching him throughout his days if he continues in this path.

So, Jon sat down with his therapist and wrote up a list of questions to help him understand Rob better. They included: why do you want to dress like a girl, have you always felt this way, why did you react as you did, etc. Rob answered the questions very seriously in writing. At the end of his answers Rob wrote: “Please feel free to ask me anything else you want to know about this. I will answer any questions if you ask them respectfully.”

Jon is still uneasy about Rob dressing as a girl, and thinks he is weird. But he can see Rob as a person with a struggle. Rob doesn’t exactly like Jon, and he also knows that many people will react to the choices he is making. And he can understand their confusion.

Both boys have emerged from this event wiser, and with just a little more skill in handling the many difficulties life will give them.

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