Marriage and Family Therapist
September 28, 2018
As a therapist that specializes in working with people who are transgender or gender expansive, I often hear statements or questions based on myths about transgender youth. Here are the top 10 myths I have heard about transgender youth (I am defining youth as 2-10 years old).
Before we get started, for those who are not familiar with gender identity related issues, the following are definitions from Trans Student Educational Resources; a youth led organization dedicated to improving educational environments for trans and gender non conforming students.
Gender Identity: Gender Identity: One’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both, or another gender(s). Everyone has a gender identity, including you. For transgender people, their sex assigned at birth and their own internal sense of gender identity are not the same. Female, woman, and girl and male, man, and boy are also NOT necessarily linked to each other but are just six common gender identities.
Gender Expression/Presentation: The physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. Most transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they are), rather than their sex assigned at birth.
Sex Assigned at Birth: The assignment and classification of people as male, female, intersex, or another sex based on a combination of anatomy, hormones, chromosomes. It is important we don’t simply use “sex” because of the vagueness of the definition of sex and its place in transphobia. Chromosomes are frequently used to determine sex from prenatal karyotyping (although not as often as genitalia). Chromosomes do not determine genitalia.
Sexually Attracted To: Sexual Orientation. It is important to note that sexual and romantic/emotional attraction can be from a variety of factors including but not limited to gender identity, gender expression/presentation, and sex assigned at birth.
Romantically/Emotionally Attracted To: Romantic/emotional orientation. It is important to note that sexual and romantic/emotional attraction can be from a variety of factors including but not limited to gender identity, gender expression/presentation, and sex assigned at birth.
If you’re interested in learning more terminology, check out our ABC’s of Gender
10 myths about transgender youth
10. They are only doing it because it is cool or their friends are doing it.
In most cases, youth that transition struggle with their peers acceptance and often don’t want anyone to know they are transgender. Most often youth that transition early on want to just be like other children of the gender they transition to. They don’t find it “cool” and most don’t know many that are transgender. The most common phrase I hear from a child who have transitioned is “I just want to be a girl” or “I just want to be a boy” referring to the gender they transitioned to.
9. It’s not a real thing because it only recently started happening.
We are hearing about transgender people more because of social media and information traveling faster and being broadcast further. Because so many now see information about the subject of transgender on social media, they are more aware when their daughter insists she is a boy or their son insists he is a girl. Before most were aware of the subject of transgender and that people actually can and do transition from one gender to another, most would answer a daughter that insisted she was a boy, with “No, you are a girl – you have girl parts so you are a girl”. If you are told such a thing over and over, although you still feel that way, you just give up trying to express it. Also just 40 years ago, the only way someone feeling that their body doesn’t match how they feel would have to find information would be to go to a library and look it up in a card catalog (if they knew what information to look up) and then request the book from a librarian as they were not available on the shelves.
Think of it this way: you are feeling really sick. Without the internet and being able to Google your symptoms, you would have to go to the doctor and tell them your symptoms. The doctor takes an educated guess from your symptoms and then runs tests. You may have never heard of the illness before but now that you know what it is you at least know what you have and what may ease your symptoms. If you didn’t go to the doctor you would never know what is wrong with you unless you ran into someone who had it, but if it was embarrassing or you were told that isn’t possible you would have given up. That is why it was not common to hear about transgender or transsexual issues before social media and the internet.
8. If you allow your child to transition, they will become suicidal.
So many parents are afraid if they let their child transition, they will be at a greater risk of suicide. It is actually the opposite that is the case. Those youth who are transgender but feel they are not accepted or would lose their friends and family. The pain of having a brain that does not match their body is hard, but the hardest and most painful part for most is they rejection they feel or knowing that they would be rejected if they were their true selves.
7. The parents allowed or caused this to happen.
There is nothing a parent can do to make their child want to transition. Most parents will admit they struggled to wrap their heads around their child being transgender. While nearly all parents state they love their child so much, they supported their child’s transition because of the distress the youth was struggling with before transition, most parents will admit they struggled to wrap their heads around their child being transgender. Those on the outside of the family may see this support as allowing or wanting their child to be transgender when in fact the parents are only trying to ease the distress their child is dealing with.
6. It is a mental illness.
Being transgender is not a mental illness, but currently the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5, put out by the American Psychiatric Association) lists gender dysphoria (the intense, persistent gender incongruence) as a mental disorder. That is to say, being transgender is not a mental illness, but the negative effects that can result from being transgender are recognized as a mental illness. Gender dysphoria can be reduced or eliminated through transitioning (medical and\or social).
5. Surgeries and medications are damaging.
Youth (pre-pubescent youth) do not go through surgeries or hormones. When children transition, it is through social transition, meaning they choose clothes, hair styles, names and pronouns that fit their identity and not necessarily their gender they were assigned at birth.
4. It is permanent.
Because it is a social transition (no medications or surgeries) at this age, it is not permanent. This means that there is nothing permanent, if the youth were to decide, they are not comfortable after they transition, they could go back to the gender they were assigned at birth. This is why I have told parents that this time can really create strong bonds and understanding by supporting their child, and the child will know they have their parents’ unconditional love.
3. It is a phase for most youth.
In my practice, I have never had a youth choose to go back to their gender assigned at birth. Once in awhile, I have heard of a child that found that transition was not for them, and because it is not permanent they are able to go back to their gender assigned at birth. Most often children do not transition until they have been insistent of gender identity longer than 6 months and most phases don’t last longer than 6 months, especially a child of 6 or 7 years old.
2. They are too young to know.
At what age did you know you were a boy or a girl? What if you knew you were a boy but your mom said since you had a girl body you were a girl? What if you kept trying to tell her but she dismissed your feelings? Now what if you knew you were a boy and you were in a boy body and you tell your mom you were a boy and she agrees with you and tells you how smart you are? Notice how we determine what is considered correct or smart and what is corrected and dismissed. In one instance the mother is proud of her child knowing their gender and in the other instance the mother assumes the child is wrong and corrects the child assuming the child will learn their gender.
1. They are too young to be sexualized.
Due to the fact that we determine gender (or sex) by the genitalia and we use genitalia for sexual relations, we often think of genitalia in a sexual manner and also think of gender in a sexual manner. Children are more innocent in their thoughts. For example a child assigned female at birth, might feel like a boy and want to run around with no shirt like the other boys and might want to emulate the other boys with their haircuts. This is not a sexualized issue, but simply a child trying to match how they feel in their mind to the way they look. Similar to how we often look at a magazine and see an outfit or haircut that they think would look good on us and would fit the way we feel on the inside.
I hope you learned some things reading the truth to these myths. If you found this post helpful please share it with your friends and family. If you have any concerns, comments, or you think I got something wrong or something I should add, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org