F amilies find it particularly frightening when a child openly declares that it has no wish to accept its anatomical gender. Sometimes the child says so openly; more often such denial does not become apparent until the child is in treatment. Either way, it is an upsetting occurrence to all concerned. But before one decides that one is in the presence of deviant development,1 it is appropriate to ask, Why does this child find it necessary to act like this? More often than not there are experiential forces at work that force the child to
stay in the so-called undifferentiated phase postulated by Fast (1984). She proposes a gender-differentiation process during which both sexes wish for, and think they possess, the attributes of the other. Infantile omnipotence allows the little girl to assume that she too will grow a penis, and the little boy assumes that he can bear babies. While this is a charming phase in young children, it is frowned upon in our society later on. Whether such disapproval is appropriate or not is not the question; to help a child sift out what is right for him or her is the issue.