Life Stage Issues

Gender identity issues for pre-pubescent children and adolescents - Introduction

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  1. Identify key issues in relation to gender variance/non-conformity in children and/or trans adolescents
  2. Identify how best to respond to these key issues
  3. Identify where to access additional support

Part 1. Gender identity and expression in pre-pubescent children

Part 1. Personal stories

In this part, take some time to read stories from families about their experience with having a child in their family who is/was gender variant/non-conforming.

My daughter was what we now know to be called 'gender non-conforming' since age three. We got positive supportive advice from a local psychologist and always offered gender options re: clothes styles and colours, toys, party themes. As she got older she became more and more frustrated and upset at being called a 'tomboy’, ‘cos that's a type of girl, not a type of boy'. More and more often she'd have a meltdown/tantrum for what seemed like a minor issue and cry and say she was a 'freak, a weirdo, there's no one else in the world like me'. One [evening] she told me she had the answer, and she knew what she needed me to do…She asked me to [contact people] to tell them 'she' was now 'he'… I, of course, should have been a step ahead of him, but I was not. I said, ‘Absolutely, why not? Let's go for it,” just let's maybe try it at home for a while first to make sure he likes the name etc. That was me buying time…As a trans-parent, I believe I more often follow and support, than lead. I'm learning from him. I love him. I'll go wherever that takes me.
Mother of an 8-year old trans child
At time of childhood, I just thought my child was a little eccentric. I didn’t think this was a problem.
Father of a 24-year old trans young person
Looking back over the years, we realised…Oh, that’s why she hated dolls. That’s why she hated getting her Communion Dress. Confirmation clothes was a nightmare! We totally support her and she knows that and feels happy in her own space…
Mother of an 16-year old trans young person

Key Messages Summary

Diverse gender expression in children and pre-pubescents is common. It is recommended that the family explore ways to allow children to express their gender.

Part 2. Gender identity and expression in adolescents

Adolescence is a potentially turmoil time for some young people. In the next video, we’ll hear about some of the issues that may be going on in the lives of trans adolescents and how to respond to these issues.

Sources: 1Edwards-Leeper et al. (2016); 2Olson et al. 2016

Part 2. Personal stories

In this part, take some time to read stories from other families about their experience with having a transgender adolescent in their family.

I suppose all teenagers have challenging times but for a trans teen the journey to self-acceptance is an enormous struggle. It is emotionally draining at times to share that journey and to stay strong for your child.
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person
My daughter was 18 when she told us that she was trans…so she kind of fell through the loop a bit. She felt that she was too old to go to BeLonG To. If was left to us as her family to try and find support for her and for us. TENI and TransparenCI were a great help. Even our GP was at a loss of where to go and which routes to follow…It was a huge learning curve for the whole family.
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person
Teenage years are not pleasant for most of us, so trying to separate how much distress is due to adolescence and how much is due to being trans is very difficult. Very often it felt like transgender was intertwined with everything we did and spoke about as a family and it can be exhausting. We tried very hard as a family to support my son without letting trans issues take over.
Mother of a 20-year old trans young person
This was more difficult as my child was struggling to come to terms with being trans. After presenting as trans this was a very difficult time for me as I was seeing the change for the first time, i.e. clothes, hair, make-up. Having to go to the school principal to explain [and] also to family and friends.
Father of a 24-year old trans young person
It is a race against time, isn't it, when you have a teenager who is trans. The constant urgency that surrounds your life all of a sudden to get treatment…It does take over your family’s life for the first two years at least.
Mother of an 18-year old trans young person

Key Message

Adolescence may be a difficult time for many young people. Trans adolescents may have particular challenges that can cause stress for the whole family. It is recommended that you seek support for yourself and your family if you require it.

Activity

Based on the life stage of your trans family member, what might be key issues in their life as relates to their gender identity and expression? Identify any challenges you think they might be facing. Think about how these might make them feel and how they make you feel. If you’d like, write down your reflections in a journal. These reflections can serve as the basis for opening a discussion with your family member or for talking with others in a support group.

Further resources related to this module

**RECOMMENDED: Brill, S.A. and Pepper, R. (2008). The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals. Berkley, CA, USA: Cleis Press. Available from Amazon.co.uk or other booksellers.

Ryan, C. (2009). Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children. San Francisco, CA: Family Acceptance Project, Marian Wright Edelman Institute, San Francisco State University. Available at: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu

Sources used in developing this module:

Brill, S.A. and Pepper, R. (2008). The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals. Berkley, CA, USA: Cleis Press. Available from Amazon.co.uk or other booksellers.

Edwards-Leeper, L., Leibowitz, S., and Sangganjanavanich, V.F. (2016). Affirmative practice with transgender and gender nonconforming youth: Expanding the model. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 3(2), 165-172.

Olson, K.R., Durwood, L., DeMeules, M., and McLaughlin, K.A. (2016) Mental health of transgender children who are supported in their identities. Pediatrics, 137(3), e20153223.

Ryan, C. (2009). Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children. San Francisco, CA: Family Acceptance Project, Marian Wright Edelman Institute, San Francisco State University. Available at: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu.

Subject Matters Experts (SMEs) in Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI).