Thursday, 13 September 2012

Transgender children time to stop ignoring them


 
 
 
Transgender Children

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?

 
Nationally the Tavistock Centre provides specialist support to trans children, their families and their local primary mental health teams. This support varies depending on the age of the child from support to explore themselves in a safe space, to family support and at puberty the opportunity for hormone blockers to be used to delay puberty until they are 16 when they can be prescribed cross sex hormones and eventually SRS (genital or other surgery). However that's it there is very little if any training provided to support local mental health teams initially identify and support trans children and they are expected to provide support surrounding over secondary mental health issues following a referral to the tavistock centre too. Safe guarding teams don't receive training to be able to identify when parent are not appropriate supporting children who may be trans and a culture of well its "parents choice" still exists despite gender dysphoria been a recognised medical condition for decades and the traumatic effect lack of support can have for a child such as the suicide and self harm rates I've discussed, for any other mental health condition staff are appropriately trained to identify and support families where children aren't receiving the care and support they need.

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.

Real world

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:

17 comments:

  1. Hi Tara
    Good article, thank you. Will post the link to our committee and members. Sadly, not all young people who attend the Tavistock will get early blockers and then hormones at 16 - only those who qualify for the early intervention programme. The rest still have to wait till 16 for the blockers.
    One of the biggest problems is the lack of awareness and understanding from many doctors and child psychiatrists etc. Far toomany dismiss it as 'just a phase' - well yes, for some it is, but it can be a long and painful one. Specialist support is essential.
    Regards,

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  2. Hello Tara,
    Good article, will post it to TransForum and Unique

    Thank You & Best Wishes
    Jenny-Anne

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  3. as much as i think you've so;ld your soul politically i think this is a great article

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  4. Hi Linda, have replied on facebook thanks for your kind comments and for sharing the article, as well as all of your hard work too!

    I completly agree with clinicians just rulling it out as a phase and often through lack of information, hard facts and training. How many NHS trusts and mental health teams provide training on transgender children? answer very few and so there isnt tht level of knowledge or skills to be able to support and engage with trans children and their families.

    There needs to be a big focus on safe guarding teams and identifying children who are not getting support at home too, at first this is so proper support and information can be provided to parents to be able to help support their child and secondly sadly to protect children where parents views and predjudices are having a serious impact on a childs mental health, welbeing and development simply because they are trans and dont fit gender norms.

    We all need to work together to try to get the message out more :)

    Tara xx

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  5. Hi Jenny-Anne

    Thanks soo much! glad you like it hope it can help a little!

    Tara x

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  6. Hi LittleMissAlexa,

    glad you like the article and im sorry you feel i have "sold my soul" but i geneuinely believe this topic is above party politics and is about how we can support some of the most vunerable and often forgotten about young people in society :) And I am working hard within the conservative party to ensure issues like this re not forgetton about under the sound of the misguided "discrimination doesnt really exist" brigade.

    Tara x

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  7. Hi.
    I was just wondering was there any reason you focused mostly on women and girls who transition rather than men and boys? You didn't seemed to mention any "trans"-men/boys.

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  8. Hi Tara,
    After reading this article I'm convinced that even though there's work to be done, Britain is far ahead of the US. Here in the US, I'm constantly reading stories where school administrators threaten to call protective services on the parent because the parent allows the child to express his/her true gender instead of insisting, "You're a boy (girl) and I won't hear anymore about it!" We have 50 states with 50 different rules for when and how you can transition...

    Anyway, I wanted to say thank you for doing this work. I am a trans man who first came out to himself and then to his family at the age of 33, after years of therapy for depression and anger issues and a childhood full of behaviour problems that nobody could find the answer to. All because as a child, I lacked the language to explain that I am a boy and not a girl, and though my parents loved me they had no clue what was going on with me. As a result, I grew up thinking that I was crazy to think I was a boy when I had a female body and repressed it pretty good by adolescence. The last year since I've come out has been a happy one for the most part and now I'm working to help future generations of trans kids avoid the 30+ years of pain I suffered.

    I did wonder why your article focused only on trans girls and women. I find that sometimes people think trans guys have no problems or that transgender means male to female only. I don't know what the FTM community is like in the UK, but here in the US it seems hard to find resources and support because many things are designed for trans women only.

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  9. Hi Jack,
    Thanks for taking time to read and comment on my article and great to hear like me your working to improve the lives of young trans people too.

    USA seems to be so polarised on the one hand it has some of the best example of best practice for working with trans children, but on the other it has some of the worse.

    I think the biggest issue in the UK is ignorance and lack of information so many people when i deliver training to them actually just get it especially once they hear the words of trans children themselves.

    The reason as you noticed the article focused on trans girls is simply part of sharing my own experiences and context in writing the article being a trans women my self. I didn't mean to seem to exclude trans boys just obviously some of my personal experiences and feelings spilled over into my writing which lead to its focus.

    I think there is a big issue of community often been focused towards "one or the other" in regards to trans men and women and actually when people think of trans people they often think transvestite who are quite different to transsexual people but who often share similar discrimination in society and tend to get lumped together by social "group think".

    Hope you'll follow me on twitter and stay in touch with future articles diversity work is what i spend a lot of my time doing.

    Thanks

    Tara x

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  10. Hello Tara,
    Good positive article, I will post it to Gender Matters facebook page
    Regards
    Jenny Williams

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  11. Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for taking time to leave a comment and great that your able to share it too! :)

    Such an important topic that we need more NHS Trusts schools and councils to take seriously hope as a community we can make a small difference to help support all trans children out there :)

    Tara x

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  12. I discovered your web site via Google while looking for a related subject, lucky for me your web site came up, its a great website. I have bookmarked it in my Google bookmarks. You really are a phenomenal person with a brilliant mind!


    transgender

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  13. A lovely article, thanks Tara. I have two children, aged 9 and 10 years old and I used to go into the school and read with them, and their friends during "guided reading" - as did my partner. We're both very LGBT aware and what is very obvious is that parents and teachers at our school have very little - to absolutely no idea about LGBT issues. They have no "out" teachers. They have no forums. They have no idea about the local support groups. There is no discussion about it. I think this places young LGBT children in a very vulnerable position and I think there are very real safeguarding issues. My partner describes a mother shouting at her child not to hold hands with her best friend. She refuses to wear dresses. She seems to have a girlfriend. There is a boy who is very feminine. He's big but he flounces. He has a lovely joy in life. He's obviously different. But in a school production, his obvious differences are laughed at by the adults in the audience. I'm not sure he's even aware why they laugh. I was pretty worried for him. I know his route to adulthood is going to be peppered with hurt and trauma if no-one is going to be there to support him. I'm not saying either of these children are trans*. What I am saying is that they need special support to explore their identity safely as vulnerable members of society.

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  14. I read you're document and found it a great read but it lacked information about how some trans kids as young as seven go suisidle at the age of seven years because they don't feel loved.

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  15. Well I, am a post op Transexaual and I, find it wonderful the parrents are saportive
    Transexaulisium was'nt a very good thing at all in my day rejection and fear was always very over poweringly painfull
    Some religions are in the dark on this subject But not all
    And god for me is very real and he does love us
    He told me in my heart for this issue
    To let it be done unto me as of my heart
    And I, am a women and a usher of my church
    I dont make a thing of my issue there I, just be me.
    And I, Try to be a light in this world fuled by the holly spirt
    I, am now 50 years old And all this comes down to is I, wont to be loved
    clean of heart and for who I am realy inside

    ReplyDelete
  16. Well I, am a post op Transexaual and I, find it wonderful the parrents are saportive
    Transexaulisium was'nt a very good thing at all in my day rejection and fear was always very over poweringly painfull
    Some religions are in the dark on this subject But not all
    And god for me is very real and he does love us
    He told me in my heart for this issue
    To let it be done unto me as of my heart
    And I, am a women and a usher of my church
    I dont make a thing of my issue there I, just be me.
    And I, Try to be a light in this world fuled by the holly spirt
    I, am now 50 years old And all this comes down to is I, wont to be loved
    clean of heart and for who I am realy inside Victoria, vicmills94@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete