Transgender representation makes it easier for gender non-conforming youth to self-identify.
Transgender media has hit a new all time high. With breakout stars like Laverne Cox, Jamie Clayton, and Brian Michael Smith taking on never before seen roles and portraying transgender people authentically.
As such, transgender youth have become the focal point of controversial headlines and stories over the past couple of years.
For many transgender adults, they lacked the language and representation needed to know who they were and how their life could be. Representation plays a critical role in how we view ourselves, our place in the world, and how we learn to behave and engage with our peers and communities.
Due to increased visibility of the transgender community in the United States in the last decade, there are now countless children who have access to this vital language of self-expression.
This representation has had the obvious effect of allowing transgender youth to figure out their identities sooner and potentially take transition steps earlier.
Unfortunately, this has also led to some common misunderstandings about the process of medically transitioning and the ability for a child to identify their trans status.
We've compiled here the most common myths about transgender youth. If some of these concepts are unfamiliar to you, take a look at our comprehensive list of terms and concepts here.
Myth #1: Children are too young to have a concept of their gender identity.
Numerous studies have shown that children have a strong concept of their gender identity starting as early as 18 months. Gender non-conforming(GNC) and transgender youth are no different. Transgender children’s gender identities were found to be as deeply rooted as those of their non-trans peers.
While it is possible for GNC youth to later on identify as cisgender - the biggest predictor of a future transgender identity is gender dysphoria.
You might be worried that supporting gender non-conforming youth will push them to take transition steps that they aren't ready for or lead to more psychological distress later on.
The truth is, not only does family and friend support lead to a significantly higher quality of life, but also that early transition virtually eliminates higher rates of depression and low self worth.
Myth #2: Trans children are often the result of parents pushing their own agenda on their kids.
This is another pernicious, commonly stated myth that holds no weight. Many alarmist commentators paint a world that is rushing transgender children to make permanent, irreversible changes to their bodies and lives.
The reality, however, is much less exciting.
To start, there’s no scientific or empirical evidence linking a parents’ influences to their child’s gender identity. In fact, a 2013 study specifically found that transgender children have a strong sense of their own gender identity and pushed back against this idea.
In fact, one of the biggest risks to transgender children is suicide. With 41% of transgender youth attempting suicide, it is more than double the rate of their cis (non-trans) peers.
Transgender children are not only the source of online controversy, but have a world of other challenges that they have to face. Bullying, lack of support from family and friends, facing stigma, or assault - among other factors - are the main contributors of this higher risk.
For transgender children, the most effective way to improve their quality of life and mitigate the rates of suicide attempts is simply social support. Being given the opportunity and autonomy to express themselves and be seen for who they are.
Myth #3: Hormone blockers are dangerous and have permanent effects.
At the heart of the issue, many cisgender people do not understand the criteria for medical transition nor the steps or effects of hormone blockers.
The physical changes that happen during puberty can cause intense distress for many GNC or trans children, called gender dysphoria.
Gender dysphoria is best described as the psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one's gender assigned at birth and one's gender identity. Put simply, gender dysphoria happens when there is a mismatch between how someone identifies and how the world identifies them.
People who are transgender may pursue multiple avenues of gender affirmation. Every transgender person has a unique relationship with the steps they feel would decrease or eliminate the gender dysphoria they experience.
For some, medical affirmation is a necessary course of action. For transgender children, this is most commonly done using puberty blockers. In order to attain treatment they must experience specific symptoms for at least 6 months.
When taken regularly, hormone blockers suppress the body's release of sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen, during puberty.
These hormones affect the primary sex characteristics and the secondary sex characteristics. More specifically, hormone blockers will prevent the secondary sex characteristics from manifesting - such as breast development, menstruation, facial hair, etc.
Use of hormone blockers doesn't cause permanent changes in an adolescent's body. Instead, it pauses puberty, providing time to determine if the child's gender identity is long lasting. It also gives children and their families time to think about and plan for the psychological, medical, developmental, and social issues ahead.
If puberty blockers are discontinued, puberty will resume as normal.
So, what do you do if your child comes out to you as transgender?
While this may all be new to you, the best possible thing you can do for your child is support them.
Here are some of the easiest ways to support your child:
- Always use the name and pronouns that they have picked out
- Be their advocate - call out transphobia and ask others to respect their gender identity
- Encourage them to stand up for themselves when it's safe to do so
- Let them know that no matter what they have your unconditional love and support
Henry Aceves, writer & theatre artist