April 19, 2018, by Simon Langley-Evans
Transgender and young people- my experience
For the first 48 years of my life I led a very sheltered life with no knowledge or understanding of LGBTQ issues. I was, of course, entirely tolerant of LGBTQ lifestyles as I try and live a life that is free of prejudice on the grounds of anyone’s religion, gender or sexual orientation. Then my daughter came out as gay and that began to shape my views more strongly, but the real transformation came on graduation day in 2015 just a few minutes before I was due to give the prizes out at our local Sutton Bonington gathering. That was the point at which my then 11-year-old daughter Hebe, made the announcement that she was no longer going to be Hebe and instead would be a boy called Felix.
As you can imagine, this was a bit of a distraction for my graduation duties, but the truth was that this was no great surprise. Hebe had always shown a strong preference for all things masculine and had revelled in the occasions when she was mistaken for a boy. It transpired that she (now he) had known that she was a boy from a very early age and had spent many years working out what to do about it.
The transition from one gender to another isn’t easy for anyone, but for a child of such an age was a particular challenge. As parents, Alison and I had a lot to do. The School had to be informed that Felix would be joining them at the start of the year and processes put in place to deal with the inevitable bullying, and the new complexities of toileting and changing rooms for PE. We had to see our doctor and go through the process of referral to CAMHS (the children and adolescents mental health service) and eventually to the only clinic in the UK which deals with gender dysphoria in children- the most excellent Tavistock Gender Identity Service.
We spent over a year going through monthly trips to the Tavistock for psychological assessment before moving on to the next part of the process, which is referral to endocrinology so that steps can be taken to halt puberty. This means that Felix (now two years into the journey) can make a decision in 3 years whether to start taking male sex hormones or to go back to normal female development.
It has been a tough four years for all of us, but as a parent I am 100% confident that my son knows what he is doing, and that I am making the right choices to keep him safe and mentally healthy. We have met many other trans- children and their parents over this time and some of it has been very troubling (kids in a very poor state of mind, parents struggling to come to terms with things) and a lot of it very inspiring (excellent staff and support in the clinics).
Most transgender people are aged 13-25
I am sharing this information for our EDI blog because gender dysphoria, transgender and gender fluidity are now commonplace issues. It is estimated that around 1 in 70 people assigned as male at birth and 3 people in 1000 assigned as female at birth, may have gender dysphoria. With awareness of these issues at an all-time high, there has been a surge in the number of adolescents going through treatment and struggling with their gender identity. The greatest density of these young people is in the age group 16-18 at the moment (Felix was a real challenge for the clinicians as he was one of the youngest going through the system) and this means that we will certainly be encountering gender dysphoria and young people transitioning from one gender to another among our student population.
How transition impacts on health and wellbeing
The mental health of transgender people is often very poor. Self-harming is one behaviour that might be adopted to deal with the stress and anxiety associated with trying to find one’s place in society and dealing with uncertainty about gender. 45% of transgender people aged 18-24 years have attempted suicide. As a parent this is terrifying and I am very thankful for the very close monitoring and support that is available to my son.
What my experience has taught me
I’m still quite early in the trans- journey and I am not entirely sure where it is going to take us. Having observed what is happening to my son and to the people that we have come into contact with, I have four conclusions to leave you with:
- Young people who are transgender want and need acceptance by the community that they live and work in. This is an absolute right that we must respect.
- We need to be very careful about the pronouns that we use. ‘He’, ‘she’, ‘his’, ‘hers’ are what we commonly use and we have to learn that the preferred pronoun may not match the persons’ appearance. Some trans- or gender-fluid people prefer other pronouns, so one friend of our family prefers ‘they’ and ‘their’ and others may adopt ‘zee’. This isn’t trivial. If you misgender somebody it is offensive and upsetting.
- Be supportive but not intrusively watchful. We know that these are vulnerable young people and there is a need to just key an eye open for signs of mental ill-health and to offer support if appropriate.
- Make allowances! These are people who may be going through tremendous inner turmoil and who have many clinical appointments to attend. They may not make it to all of your classes and they may struggle to hit deadlines.
Head of School