Support for Parents of Trans Children
Support for parents if your child is showing gender variant behaviour
Support for Parents of Trans Children and Youth:
It can be very difficult at first for parents to accept their transgender child. It can be difficult to distinguish between children exploring gender, which most children do at some stage of their development, and children who identify as being of the wrong gender (or an intermediate gender). Where do you draw the line and start to seek medical help?
If you want to talk to somebody then our helpline is open nationally or if you prefer, you can contact me via our contact form. I can also arrange to meet you for a chat over coffee if you live more locally in the South Devon area. We also have a secret Facebook group where you can chat to other parents. These services have been temporarily put on hold because of my cancer treatments.
One of the first rules is not to try to coerce or bully your child into conforming with the stereotypical behaviour of their birth sex. If your child is transgender that can induce shame and humiliation and lead to them bottling everything up inside themselves and afraid to confide in you. This can lead to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or worse. If your child is not transgender, they will quickly move on and try something else to explore, like being a lion or a cat or some other creature. Read the story of Ryan/Rylie here – but remember, although many of our stories have a common theme, each one of them is unique to each individual.
However, if this expression of believing that they should have been born a girl (or a boy for children assigned female at birth) – or just wishing that they had been born in the opposite gender to their birth sex persists and if, when given the opportunity to express this gender, appear happier and more content and at ease with themselves, then this could be an indication that they are transgender. If this lasts more than a few months (i.e. is persistent) and your child becomes visibly upset when asked to present in their birth assigned sex, then maybe this is the clue that you need to start talking to your doctor about it.
Many parents will blame themselves if their child is showing signs of being transgender – but relax and stop it. It is not your fault, it is nobody’s fault – it is just one of those things – a natural variation that has occurred throughout recorded history and present in all cultures around the world. Medical science has yet to come up with a definitive reason why a small percentage of children feel this way. There have been many research studies done which suggest potential reasons, including differences in certain parts of the brain which are thought to be gender specific. All of these are speculations at present though.
Parents who blame themselves often reject their child’s behaviour and try and force them into stereotypical behaviour associated with their birth sex. This is especially true for children who were assigned male at birth as “sissy” behaviour is regarded extremely negatively (blame the patriarchal society that we live in for that) whereas being “tomboyish” is often regarded by some parents as a positive or ‘cute’.
Some parents reject their child’s behaviour because of societal expectations and fear of “what the neighbours or family might think”, often assuming that they will be labelled as bad or abusive parents for allowing their child to express this belief in who they are. Other outsiders will even consider it to be child abuse. However, I would ask you to consider which is more abusive – trying to force your child to conform to a gender that they do not identify as, which often results in depression and (when they approach puberty) suicide ideation or self harming – or being happy individuals who have been shown through many studies to be better adjusted and achieve slightly higher than their peer group of cisgender children educationally. As one mother so eloquently explained, “I would much prefer to have a happy, vibrant daughter than a dead son” and it could come to that in a worst case scenario for as as many as 50% of transgender children who do not receive parental support have attempted suicide. Our aim is to provide support for parents of trans children and adolescents so that you can avoid this type of scenario. If you have worries about your child being bullied and feeling depressed, please read this article here for more support
What Should I Do:
Learn more about the condition – which you are doing as you have come to this website and are reading this page, so thank you for that and for opening your mind about any concerns you have for your child. We do realise that for some people it can be difficult which is why we offer support for parents as well as their child. This is done via our online forums and by meeting up with parents in either a one to one situation or at our parents meetings. There are other support organisations which are national (Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence spring to mind) and also local organisations which might be able to offer support. Transwiki is also a valuable resource provided by GIRES in finding local groups who offer support for parents and their child. Here one mother talks about what it means to her and some of the well meaning (and not so well meaning) comments directed at the parents of trans children. Other stories[1,2] can be found on our sister blog.
Consider allowing your child to be who they wish to be, initially at home. If this results in a happier child then you might also wish to consider allowing them to express who they are on a more permanent basis – e.g. at school as well. Some schools can be obstructive but under the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty they are obliged not to discriminate in any way with a person who identifies as a gender different to their birth assigned sex.
There are also many organisations who will assist in planning with the school for this if they have not encountered transgender pupils previously – there is no excuse for them not complying with the law and with best practice. See also this Transgender Guidance for Schools.
What To Do Next:
- Approach your GP for a referral to the GIDS service at the Tavistock and Portman Institute. Although they are London based, they have satellite clinics in Exeter and Leeds (and more planned for elsewhere hopefully). This is even more important if your child is approaching puberty and you think that the mental health of your child is at risk of deterioration at puberty. Hormone blockers can be prescribed which will halt the puberty and will allow your child time to evaluate if this is really what they wish to do. They can stop the blockers at any time and proceed through the puberty of their assigned sex at birth if they decide not to proceed. If they decide that this is the right course of action for them, then cross sex hormones can be administered at an appropriate age at which time they will go through the puberty of the gender of how they identify. All blockers do is temporarily halt puberty giving the child time to consider if this is what they wish to do.
- If the GP tries to send you to CAMHS, politely refuse, point out the current referral protocol and then insist on a referral to the Tavistock. Please see this document about referral here. Waiting lists to see a CAMHS specialist can be two years and if you are fortunate in that they know what they are doing, they will simply refer you onto the Tavistock – so two years wasted at a very crucial stage of your child’s life. However, the Tavistock do like the child to be on CAMHS books for local support if it is needed, so it is wise if your GP will give you a referral to both.
As puberty looms, this will become terrifying for many transgender children as the spectre of developing the wrong secondary sexual characteristics comes closer – so it is important to act in a timely manner to alleviate any distress which can arise at this point in time.
- If your GP is obstructive, change to a GP who will treat your child knowledgeably and compassionately. We are creating a register of trans friendly doctors and GP’s specifically for this purpose (and those to avoid if possible). See our website here for further details.
Also see section 5 if your GP refuses or is reluctant to refer your child to the Tavistock.
- Allow your child to meet up with other transgender children. The GIDS service at the Tavistock recommend this as it helps reduce the feeling of isolation and being “the only one in the world who feels like this”. They have shown that transgender children who are able to do this are far better adjusted than those that do not have this opportunity and for this purpose organise family days where children can meet other children who feel the same way as they do. Mermaids also puts on four such events each year, based in the north of England, the others in the South. We (Transfigurations) are also hoping to put on a similar long weekend in Torbay this year – and should it be successful will be carried on in future years.
- Other people who can refer your child to the Tavistock include certain transgender groups (eg Transfigurations, Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence), your child’s school teacher or school counsellor (but not all schools will do this). All bodies who can refer will need to know your child personally and not simply by contacting the group and asking them for a referral. However, please be aware that the Tavistock will contact your GP to let them know that your child is being seen by them – so it is always best to have a GP who understands the needs of transgender children or adolescents.
Thank you for taking your time to read through all of this, it shows that you want to do the best you can for your child. If we (or any of the other organisations listed on this page) can help in any way, please do not hesitate to contact us, we are here to offer support for parents and their transgender child.
Click on the ‘Play’ button on the audio file below to listen to parents discussing mutual support of their transgender children on BBC Radio Gloucester :-
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