There is a lot of information (and misinformation) out there about what it means to be trans or gender expansive. For kids and young people receiving the right support from family and health practitioners makes all the difference to their long term outcomes. The Trans Pathways Study showed the reality of how difficult life can be; Almost three-quarters (74.6%) of participants had at some time been diagnosed with depression. 72.2% had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, 79.7% had self-harmed, and 48.1% had attempted suicide at some point in their life.
There is good news though. We all have a really important role to play in improving mental health outcomes. Protective factors were supportive families and friends, school environments that actively work to create inclusion, and health practitioners who are knowledgable and non-judgmental.
I had the opportunity to speak with Chantal at MIND123 to talk about what gender dysphoria means, how it relates to being trans, and what we can do to make life better.
Chantal: Can you help us understand the term 'gender dysphoria'?
Kerrin: Gender dysphoria is a clinical term and it's used to describe the discomfort or the negative feelings a person experiences when their assigned gender doesn't match the gender identity they have.
Gender is quite often coupled with the types of genitals people have. When a baby is born with a penis the doctor will hold it up and declare it's gender boy/male. But we actually know that gender is largely social and its something that we experience internally, separate from the kind of genitals that we have.
For some people, the label that that doctor who had never met them gave them, doesn't match the way that they feel about themselves.
If young people are experiencing dysphoria they may identify as trans. People may be more familiar with the term transgender.
Chantal: So Kerrin, if a young person is identifying as trans, what advice would you give to their parents?
Kerrin: The first thing is support. We really know from the statistics that trans young people have really high rates of self harm and suicide. That's not because they're trans it's because they live in an environment that doesn't support the fact that they are trans. That would be the first part. The second is to acknowledge that there are lots of different ways a young person can realise their identity and transition.
Socially transitioning means letting the child wear the clothes that match the gender that they are rather than the one that they were labeled with at birth. So that might mean that you are allowing the child to go off to school in a dress. We have just seen in Australia school uniform policies changing to allow anyone to wear shorts so there is a lot more freedom for young people.
It's also important to be aware of the timing of puberty for that young person because once puberty has begun and a lot of those secondary sex characteristics such as penis development and periods and breast development begin, it can be quite upsetting for that young person.
A puberty blocker given at the right time can delay that development and give the young person a bit more time to work out who they are and what they want to do.
The next stages would then occur in adulthood. Everything up until that point is reversible and is allowing the young person to explore their identity.
You can view the interview in the following video. Dont forget to come and join the conversation over on the Facebook page.