Transgender is a broad term that generally refers to someone whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth and whose behaviours do not fit our culturally defined typical behaviours for a given sex/gender.
The terms Gender Variant or Gender Diversity indicate that there are a range of experiences that individuals have regarding their sex/gender. Gender variance is an accepted aspect of human expression, documented across cultures and recorded history. Non-binary gender diversity has always existed throughout the world.
Gender dysphoric means that one is distressed about their social and/or bodily sex/gender.
It is therefore possible that your gender atypical child or teen will not fall into a neat category and may not move into adulthood as transgender.
What we do know is that by the time children reach adolescence, if they have a gender identity that is different from their sex assigned at birth, that it is very likely that they will continue on to have that gender identity.
How Common are Transgender Children?
The true prevalence of transgender children is unknown as there are few population-based research studies, but given the numbers now coming forward, figures as high as one in 500 are being suggested.
Dr Michelle Telfer, a leading specialist in the area of gender diversity at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, says that there has been a two hundred fold increase in the number of transgender patients presenting over the past 12 years.
Paediatricians, endocronologists, psychiatrists and psychologists across Australia are reporting a rapid rise in child and adolescent gender identity referrals.
Primary and secondary schools are receiving increasing requests to assist transgender students.
The federal Education Department has funded a national program called the Safe Schools Coalition aimed at creating inclusive learning environments. This program is an international initiative in support of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth.
The Equal Opportunity Commission of Western Australia has produced Guidelines for supporting Sexual and Gender Diversity in Schools as well as a Resource Manual for Principals, School Leaders and Teachers.
These are all strong indications of cultural change within our society and the responses by government and the broader community to these cultural changes.
If you are questioning whether your child is transgender then it is likely that you are observing some behaviours that are raising these thoughts in your mind.
Your child might be interested only in toys that are generally the preference of the opposite sex. They might prefer the clothes of the opposite sex and insist on wearing them. Your child might exhibit opposite sex bathroom behaviour – ie your girl child may insist on standing up to pee. Your child might be insisting that they are a girl or a boy when their sex indicates that they are not. Your child might be distressed about what they experience as a mismatch between their assigned sex and their gender.
It can be the case that such behaviours are a passing phase, but if these behaviours don’t end, then they are not a phase.
Why is Your Child Transgender?
If your child is transgender, you did not cause them to be so. Sometimes parents worry that if they acknowledge their child’s gender variance that they will somehow encourage their child to be transgender. You can’t talk someone into being transgender in the same way that you can’t talk them out of being transgender. Talking with your child and letting them know that you accept them as they are is the single most important thing you can do as a parent.
Parents can play a pivotal role in providing a safe and supportive environment for their transgender children to be themselves and to reduce the detrimental effects of any societal discrimination. They can be powerful allies and advocates.
Cottesloe Counselling Centre provides comprehensive counselling and support services to the transgender/gender diverse community.
We provide services to children, adolescents, and their parents as well as to the adult transgender community.
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