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Family Support

Gender Variant Youth

Transgender people are arguably the least understood and most maligned of all minority groups. A fixed concept of gender is perhaps the most basic assumption in our culture and contradictions to that assumption are often extremely confronting. Sigmund Freud, observed in his writings in "Femininity":

When you meet a human being, the first distinction you make is male or female - and you are accustomed to make the distinction with unhesitating certainty."

Perhaps everyone will have at some time asked the question, "is that a boy or a girl", when they have been unable to make the distinction. Even when there is no direct interaction with the individual concerned there is often an irrational need to know the answer. Certainly it is the common first question asked of parents of a newborn baby.

Culturally then, there is enormous pressure for all individuals to adopt the expected gender behaviours associated with being male or female. What then are the implications for individuals whose sense of gender is contrary to their physical maleness or femaleness? Sadly there are many.

Before addressing these it might be useful to give some background on transgender-identity. A transgender person, according to the definition adopted by the N.S.W. Anti-Discrimination Board, is:

"anyone who lives, has lived, or wants to live as a member of the opposite gender (sex) to their birth sex."

According to medical models, in children, it is someone who:

  • repeatedly states a desire to be, or insistence that s / he is, the other sex;
  • preference for the clothing of the other sex;
  • strong and persistent preferences for cross-sex roles in make believe play;
  • intense desire to participate in the stereotypical games and pastimes of being the other sex;
  • strong preference for playmates of the other sex.

Both definitions carry limitations.

The transgender community itself allows for a far more multi coloured umbrella definition that is inclusive of anyone who transgresses gender norms. However the "feminine" boy or the "masculine" girl are not providing guaranteed clues of transgenderism. A transgender child cannot always be readily identified by their behaviour. Indeed, it could well be the most masculine behaving, least likely boy on the block, is actually transgender. Because transgender children carry the same gender conditioning as others, their true feelings, and their own fear of them, will often be hidden under outwardly appropriate birth gender behaviour.

Transgender Children Understanding the Basics

One of the most important and difficult tasks that parents face is how to best support their children while also setting the kind of boundaries and structure that help them grow up to become responsible and successful adults.

Gender identity and expression are central to the way we see ourselves and engage in the world around us. This is certainly true of transgender and gender- expansive children and teens, for whom fammily support is absolutly critical.

Studies show  that familial rejection can:

  • lead transgender youth to engage in behaviors that put their health at risk,

  • trigger depression and other mental health problems,

  • and – in the worst of cases – result in homelessness or suicide.

Moreover, familial support can act as a buffer against bullying and bias outside the home. “It also protects against depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and behaviors,” issues for which transgender youth are at disproportionate risk.

In other words, for some transgender youth, family support can be the difference between life and death.

Support offered to families and parents with transgender children from the Gender Centre .

Finding out your child is transgender is often an experience that leaves you as a parent wondering “where do I go to find out how to support my child”.

The Gender Centre has a case work support program to work with families. This involves access to a counsellor for the family and also a case worker. The model that we offer is flexible. Sometimes families identify that they need individual support and in this instance a case worker is allocated to parents and a separate case worker is available to support your child. At other times families identify they prefer to work collaboratively and want to see only one case worker together. Either option is available and is one which is discussed in the initial meeting you would have at the Gender Centre.

On your first visit you would meet with a senior case worker as to discuss how the Centre can support you. Information and a list of services that would also be helpful to you will also be provided. At this time case workers will be allocated to your family based on how you identify you would like to receive support and the senior worker will make sure that you are aware of who your worker(S) are and their rostered days in the office.

Counselling is available also in the same way as the case work. Parents may access a counsellor and the child may access the centres second counsellor. However this model is only applicable if your child is over 16 years of age. If your child is under 16 counselling can only be provided at the centre with parental or care givers consent . Links to other individual counsellors and specialists for young people under the age of 16 can be provided at the original intake case work meeting.

Simple Ways to Start Supporting Your Transgender Child

  • Always use the child’s preferred gender pronouns and preferred names.

  • Be your child’s advocate – call out transphobia when you see it and ask that others respect your child’s identity.

  • Educate yourself about the concerns facing transgender youth and adults.

  • Encourage your child to stand up for themselves when it is safe to do so.

  • Assure your child that they have your unconditional love and support.

Source material for the above http://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-children-and-youth-understanding-the-basics

If you live in regional NSW some support is still available to you.

Call the Gender Centre to discuss your needs and support options.

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The Gender Centre Inc. is funded by Sydney Local Area Health District through the AIDS and Infectious Diseases Branch and the N.S.W. Government Department of Human Services, Community Services under the Specialist Homelessness Service (SHS) program.

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