Transgender Young People
The number of children and young people who are ‘coming out’ ie telling someone about their feelings of discomfort with their gender is doubling year on year. That doesn’t mean the actual numbers of Transgender young people is growing but there are significantly more reaching out for help. The actual number of children and young people who are Transgender is unknown as only adults show up in any current research. However a cautious estimate is that 6 in 1000 people are Transgender and 60 in 1000 pre pubertal children will experience atypical sexual orientation which is often difficult at this stage to differentiate from atypical gender orientation.
What is the experience of Transgender young people?
People who are Transgender experience an overwhelming feeling of being at odds with their bodies and also the social roles associated with their birth gender. The young people with whom we have worked describe ‘hating’ their own bodies and feeling angry and confused by other people relating to them as a person of their birth gender. Some young Transgender people will even attempt to remove or destroy primary & secondary sexual characteristics. Many self harm and at least half will make at least one determined attempt at suicide.
Being Transgender can be lonely, confusing and painful but it doesn’t have to be that way. By accepting a young Trans person and helping them get the right support and treatment you can make a life altering difference.
How do I recognise a young person with gender discomfort?
A younger child might say quite openly that they want to grow up to be the other gender. An older child will be more difficult to identify as they will already have learned to hide their feelings and maybe trying to hide the behaviours they think identify them as ‘in the wrong gender’.
Trans children may be mistakenly identified as gay. Some come to attention because they are school refusers (PE is often a particularly difficult subject for Trans children because of fears about changing in public and because ‘sports’ are gendered.) Some Trans young people are unaccountably shy. They may be popular and intelligent but still unconfident, withdrawn or prone to angry outbursts.
Trans young people may come to your attention with body dysmorphia issues, depression or anxiety. Their parents may look to you for help when their male child is found to be secretly wearing female clothing and although it is not yet known why a disproportionate number of Trans people have Autistic traits.
What can I do to help?
More than anything else, a Transgender young person wants people around them who accept and affirm them in their preferred gender but unlike young people who have difficulties around their sexuality, Transgender young people also need medical help. However not all GPs have a good understanding of Transgenderism, particularly in rural practices where the GP may not previously have had a Transgender patient therefore a young Trans person may value your support when explaining things to their GP for the first time. If the young person is under 18 then they may wish to seek a referral to the Tavistock clinic in London which is the National gender identity clinic for children and adolescents.
• Don’t dismiss it as a phase.
• Offer reassurance & let them know you’re glad they chose you to tell.
• Listen & help the young person explore their feelings of gender.
• Explore whether other difficulties, poor mental health etc are symptoms of being Transgender and having not yet receiving the appropriate help.
• Use the pronouns associated with their preferred gender and use their new name if they have chosen one.
• Help them explain ‘being Trans’ to others if required.
• Never insist they tell others unless they want to & have considered the possible consequences.
• Help them get a referral to the Tavistock gender clinic for children and young people.
• Challenge young people and adults who use Transphobic language or exclude the Trans young person.
• Look for practical solutions to the difficulties our gendered society creates (Do people really care about the ‘birth’ gender of the person in the next toilet cubicle?).
• Help the young person make friends and perhaps meet other Trans young people.
• Don’t confuse it with sexual orientation. Transgender people may be straight or gay and some may change their sexual orientation after transitioning.
The Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) Association, has published guidance for schools on teaching about body image.
The Association states that:
“The PSHE curriculum has a valuable role to play in helping young people to improve their personal resilience to body image pressures, and in doing so to become more confident and effective learners. This guidance offers teachers practical advice on how to do so safely and confidently.”
The guidance includes a section on pupils who are LGBT (page 31) and another on caring for gender nonconforming young people (page 45).
It may be accessed HERE! or by clicking on the cover image on the right.
For more information
Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES)
(particularly the publication, ‘Transphobic Bullying – Could you handle it in your School?’ Published in assoc with Home Office.)
Trans Young People
Caring for gender non-conforming young people, a resource to raise awareness about gender variance in young people co produced by the Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SABP) and the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES). This website offers a host of useful resources, an e-learning section and information.
Family and individual support for teenagers and children with gender identity issues.
Mermaids Information Line 0208 1234819.
For Medical Support
Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic for Children and Young People
Call: 020 7435 7111
Debs Walker & BJ Summerbell 01670-531843 // 07415 104559 01325-731160 // 07826 872756
Ian Addison MESMAC NE 0191 2331333
Also check the ‘Trans & Gender‘ section for groups.