This is a topic that is all too often avoided or when it is discussed it is done through dramatic over exaggerations by articles in newspapers like the Daily Mail. The truth is this is a topic dealing with some of the most vulnerable members of society who need our support and care not political disdain and avoidance.
In the UK based on official estimates there are around 10 000 Transsexual people with referrals increasing between 20%-50% a yr. The Tavistock centre which is a specialist NHS service for gender variant children receives over 150 admissions a yr and referrals are rising at a rate well above 50% a yr.
Gender Dysphoria is a recognised medical Condition that has been treated and supported for decades with an established academic library of research and expert consultants working in the field around the world. Self harm is common amongst all transsexual people with suicide rates ranging between 40-50%. The emotional distress can begin very early on with feelings of isolation, not understanding why your different, feeling alone and frustrated with the environment your gender places you in. Around Puberty these feelings become increasingly intense and is often the trigger for many self harm or suicide attempts as a child's body begins to develop more gendered features and they feel more and more disconnected to the body they are in. Its at this point they can often feel further isolated by being unable to get support off friends or family due to fear and stigma that's still associated around gender and may feel lost with inability to explore themselves to understand their own gender role. Its also at this age that their peer groups will often become more gender polarised and feel peer pressure to fit into the environment their gender places them in. This can lead to social isolation or internal repression with a child trying to fit into a persona or stereotype they are not to hide who they really are. All of this has a traumatic effect on both the child's normal social development and their personal well being.
These are the reasons we need to properly support trans children not because of some PC brigade campaign or some political motive to rid society of gender or other barmy idea that gets rolled out, but to support and protect the children who are going through this traumatic experience which can continue for decades into their adult life and may ultimately lead to their death through suicide or self injury.
If your little boy came up to you and told you mummy I'm not a boy I'm a girl what would you say?
The answer is many of us don't know what we would say we simply haven't thought about it or had it cross our minds. From the moment a child is born we ask "is it a boy or a girl?" and from that moment on their gender is set we buy them blue for boys pink for girls and their gender no longer crosses our minds. In reality if a child did say to their mum I'm not really a boy the response would be more of where did he get this silly idea from or a response of fact "oh dear of course your a boy your mummy's little boy". Now its true that most trans children wont be so matter of fact about their gender and come out with a clear statement but the point remains that very few parents would even consider that their child may be transgender. Most trans children are often very confused may become depressed have social and behavioural issues at school and be on occasions not fitting into gendered stereotypes. These are the signs that a child may need time to explore themselves and might indeed be transgender. But how many of these children are being referred onto people who can help them explore themselves their gender and get the support they need, how many teachers recognise these factors, how many parents would join up the dots, how many GPs would see it as an appropriate referral and how many primary mental health teams have the skills to be able to assess the child as needing a referral to the tavistock centre to help explore their gender? Answer is very few to all of the above and for a trans child to receive the care and support they need the answer has to be yes to all are they wont get anywhere near an appropriate care pathway.
The consequence for this is only very supportive parents who happen to be knowledgeable about trans issues and have a GP or medical team where the child is referred to have the same level of knowledge will a child get the support they need. This means if your from a more deprived background, a background where religion may not be supportive of trans people and have a medical team or GP that don't have the appropriate knowledge based around transgender children then the likelihood is the child will "drop through the net" and their mental distress will continue.
What support is there now?
when a child has transitioned all too often schools don't understand their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 in terms of supporting a trans child and simply don't understand the medical nature and traumatic experience the child may have gone or is going through and schools as a result can often be very defensive, don't provide appropriate support or may even refuse to allow the child to present in the gender role they feel comfortable in. This is often caused through again lack of training and information for teachers and governing bodies on transgender people and they often rely on adhoc links to people from other areas such as the NHS or social services to gain patchy information around how to support a trans child.
What do we need to do?
The current support that is available for transchildren is not enough, the gaps it leaves are both damaging for all trans children and discriminating by the lack of access for families and children that don't "hold all the cards" to start with ie information they need to navigate the system. Primary Healthcare teams need proper support and training to understand trans identities, trans children and the support they need including the current care pathways that exist within the NHS. Teachers need to be given information and guidance about what support they should be giving to trans pupils and the legal obligations schools are under to do that. They also need to know when to flag up that a child may need support and may be wanting to explore their gender more. Positive examples of trans people within school resources can help create a more supportive environment for any child who is trans or exploring their gender and is no more radical than the idea that we don't just show white British people on school resources because we live in a diverse world that children need to understand and be able to engage with successfully. Safeguarding teams need to be given the confidence, information and guidance to be able to identify when a trans child is not being appropriately supported by their parents, they need to be given the tools to properly support the childs parents who may simply need more information and guidance themselves, but where appropriate deal with a case the same way one would deal with a parent refusing to allow medical staff support a child with any other mental health issue. Finally we need support for parents often lack of support is not due to prejudice or discrimination but simply ignorance and lack of information we need to empower parents to see how they can properly support their own children and share life stories so they can see the trauma and isolation their child may be going through. When any good parent sees the distress their own child is in they will want to engage and support them as best they can, so this information is vital to helping ensure all trans children are properly supported both at home and throughout their childhood.
What we as humans all find hard to accept is change and difference. when we walk down the street if we see someone with a large facial disfigurement we may glance across, that's simply us noticing something difference its involuntary and often cant help it, however we can choice whether we stand and stare or if we keep on walking thats the voluntary action we decided based on our own prejudices and empathy.
The idea that a women standing in front of you "used to be a man" is what many people find hard to get their heads round, gender is so fundamentally fixed from birth and part of everyday society that when its seen to change it shatters how we perceive and interact with the world. However the reality is the women standing in front of you hasn't "changed her gender" she has always been a women she simply changed her presentation and other peoples perception of her gender she as a person has never changed.
This becomes so much clearer with trans children the little girl you see in front of you didn't "used to be anything else" ok was assigned a different gender when she came out of her mummy's womb but she hasn't really had chance to grow up to change she is just being the little girl she knows she is and letting her own personality come out. She hasn't had a big transition having socialised as one gender for half her life etc she is just living, playing and interacting like all little girls and the reason for this is she is simply a little girl that happens to be trans the same way some little girls happen to have asthma or some another medical issue and that is something alot easier for the human mind to understand.
When trans children are supported to be the gender they truly are they aren't so complex they don't go through the traumatic experience of puberty of the opposite sex to who they are as a person, they don't feel as isolated and they can develop socially in the same way as every other child and go on to lead successful happy lives free from the trauma they would have experienced if they hadn't received the support during their childhood to be who they truly are.
If you want to truly understand trans children thou you need to listen to a child themselves and i challenge anyone to not support and emphasise with trans children after watching a little girl called jazz share here experiences of being a trans child (listen to her sing at the end of part 2)
Part 1:Transgender Children - Jazz (1)
Part 2:Transgender Children - Jazz (2)
For further information please look at:
GIRES - Gender Intelligence Research and Education Society:
Mermaids - Charity that support transgender children & families: