gender-bathroomI saw this bathroom sign in my sons’ school a week ago. Talk about inclusion. I’m not only pleased that my boys are being exposed to open inclusion, I’m delighted they are getting the message that they can be whoever they are at home and at school. NO question in my mind the data proves if a child, teen or adult has questions about their gender their life is at risk for being harder. This is manifest in the high rates of anxiety and depression, bullying and ridicule, and feelings of isolation in those who are gender non-conforming and transgender. This is only estimated to be about 1% of the population (numbers are imprecise as many people hide this challenge) but how we all support those who question their gender matters for us all, the 99% of us who don’t have this challenge.

We must have compassion and empathy for children and teens who are transgender and gender non-conforming. We must accept children and teens and their families, and we can connect children and families who struggle with resources (below).

Children Are Born With Gender, Parenting Has Little To Do With It

  • Research shows that gender is established at birth. That means children are often born knowing if they are a boy or a girl irregardless of their sex (the chromosomes/genes that determine their body’s appearance and sexual characteristics). Sometimes children know this early, sometimes later in life.
  • Research shows that there is no evidence that parenting is responsible for a child having a different gender than their sex. Meaning — parents don’t have control, with their actions, over their child’s gender. They can’t change a child’s gender.
  • Research shows that children are less likely to end their life when they have challenges with their gender identity if they are accepted by their families. This means children who grow up in homes who accept them are less likely to suffer. Maybe a no-duh, but it’s something all parents should know.

This is complicated stuff, of course, and isn’t the same for all children and teens. Some children question their gender early in life (as early as preschool years) and will traverse childhood knowing they are transgender while other teens may find out at the onset of puberty that something isn’t quite right. Some children or teens just don’t identify with one gender or another (gender non-conforming). When they question this, we want to make sure they get what they need.

The most important message is that we must be open to what children express, connect children, teens and families with resources they need, and be aware of the risks for suffering in children who question their gender. Thankfully, there are lots of people to help and resources. Seattle Children’s Hospital now offers a specific clinic to support transgender and gender non-conforming children and teens (age 8-21 years). Experts and staff provide support for puberty blocking (stopping onset of pubertal development) or hormone therapy (hormones to have body characteristics match gender). They can also support conversations and planning for those who want to transition.

Statistics & Risks For Transgender Children And Teens

  • Transgender population is hard to define, probably less than 1% of adolescents
  • All gender non-conforming are at increased risk for bullying, anxiety, depression & suicide
  • 71% of transgender people said they hid their gender or gender transition to try to avoid discrimination

2014 Williams Institute Study On Transgender Issues:

  • 41% of transgender people attempt suicide
  • 57% report family choosing to not speak to them
  • Nearly 55% report being bullied and harassed
  • Nearly 70% experienced homelessness

What Communities & Parents Can Do & Teach:

  • If your teen has identified as a different gender since early childhood, it’s unlikely he or she will change their mind. Parenting won’t change this. Work on changing expectations, not your child.
  • When your child discloses his or her identity to you, respond in an affirming, supportive way.
  • Accept and love your child as they are. They will need your support and validation to develop into healthy teens and adults.
  • Stand up for your child when he or she is mistreated.
  • Be on the look out for signs of anxiety, insecurity, depression, and low self-esteem.
  • Connect your child with LGBTQ organizations, resources, communities and events. It is important for them to know they are not alone.

Online Resources For Children, Teens And Families

This list is from resources I found myself and from advocates for trans health. Any feedback on links included here is welcome — please comment!

  • National Center For Transgender Equality consider watching this video on Facebook where children, teens and families share stories about being transgender. Parents talk about fear, challenges with acceptance and discuss their safety. “The easiest way to support transgender people is to follow their lead” and “this is who I am” really do stand out.
  • Healthy Children article on transgender and gender non-conforming from American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Seattle Children’s Gender Clinic This has information on services and ways to see experts
  • Centers for Disease Control LGBTQ Resources overview information
  • The Trevor Project works to reduce severe depression and suicide in those questioning or struggling with their gender identity. They have a helpline (1-866-488-7386) and a chatline that you can connect with live.
  • My Trans Health – trans-friendly healthcare providers in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, NYC, San Francisco and Seattle
  • RAD Remedy (Referral Aggregator Database) described to me as a site, “dedicated to connecting trans, gender non-conforming, intersex, and queer folks to accurate, safe, respectful, and comprehensive care. Patients can review and rate providers on competencies and services provided.”
  • Seattle Children’s Gender Diversity Support Groups
  • Gender Diversity Family Support Groups
  • Social media: The trans community has an established presence on Instagram under certain hashtags, but has recently started cropping up more and more on Twitter with the hashtags #TransTakeover #ThisIsTrans #MomentsInTransition and #IamTransButAlso.