DOYLESTOWN, Pa. -- A judge on Wednesday cleared the way for a 48-year-old transgender woman to undergo gender-reassignment surgery, rejecting her parents' effort to block the operation because they say she's mentally incompetent.
Christine Kitzler, testifying at an emergency hearing, showed a clear understanding of the three-hour procedure and its risks, Judge C. Theodore Fritsch Jr. said. He dismissed her parents' demand that he appoint a legal guardian and subject her to an independent medical exam.
"I'm so happy," Kitzler whispered when the judge ruled.
Kitzler's lawyers and Philadelphia-area surgeon were trying to schedule the operation for this week. The surgeon, Dr. Christine McGinn, said she would cover the cost. The operation had been set for Tuesday before Klaus and Ingrid Kitzler won a temporary injunction.
Christine Kitzler said having her body match the gender she has identified with since growing up outside Cleveland, Ohio, would save her from backsliding into alcohol and drug addiction.
"It's barbaric to keep me this way, not to take this risk," she said. "Then I suffer and I go back to drinking, and that's barbaric. I can't maintain being a sober man, being happy, because it hasn't happened. It can't happen. I don't have a choice."
Her parents argued that a childhood learning disorder and depression had compromised her judgment and that her HIV and hepatitis C diagnoses would make the surgery far riskier.
Their lawyer, Julia Morrow, suggested Christine Kitzler was easily overborne and was submitting to her surgeon's wishes - just as she had when allowing drug dealers to grow marijuana in her home during college and drifters to crash at a mobile home where she lived.
Transgender legal activist Michael Silverman couldn't recall another case in which competency was challenged to halt a gender-reassignment surgery.
Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, called the tactic extreme and applauded the judge's ruling as clearing another hurdle in the way of transgender people finding their true selves.
"This is another court recognizing that transgender health care is health care," Silverman said. "A court would not interfere with medically necessary care for any other issue. Here a court has refused to interfere with medically necessary care for gender dysphoria."
In ruling for Christine Kitzler, the judge said he recognized she had suffered from depression and substance abuse but noted she had testified to being sober for three years and had demonstrated an ability to understand her decisions. Kitzler earned a liberal arts degree from Ohio University and has a deep knowledge and keen understanding of politics, her father testified.
Christine Kitzler, who lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, already has been through 16 months of pre-operative preparation and has received clearances from mental health professionals that she is knowingly and willingly undergoing gender reassignment, her doctor said.
Kitzler said the surgery would complete a transition rooted in nights as a child spent locked in the bathroom trying on her mother's makeup and wearing women's clothing to college classes. Beyond her emotional well-being, she said, surgery would enable her to compete as a woman in running events and use the women's locker room at her gym.
On the witness stand, Klaus Kitzler underscored his concern for his child's health. He said he would accept her surgery if an independent psychiatrist deemed her fit to make the decision.
"I accept it, but I want to stop it," Klaus Kitzler told the judge. "I would love to have a son back who goes to church with us on Sunday mornings."
He repeatedly referred to Christine Kitzler, born in 1967 as Christopher Klaus Kitzler, as "he" and "son" in his testimony. After a judge told him to use feminine or gender-neutral pronouns, he settled on "that person" before occasionally slipping back into masculine phrasing.
Klaus Kitzler, an auto technician who emigrated from Germany in the 1960s, watched from the gallery as Christine Kitzler testified. When she said she hoped her parents would call her by that name someday, he snickered and whispered "never."
"They have a daughter. They don't have a son," Christine Kitzler said. "I'll have the parts. I am a woman."