Part 6: Trans Kids and Gender Affirming Treatment
Gender transition can be a tricky prospect for transgender adults, but it is even more complicated for transgender children and their parents. Parents of transgender children may be confused about what gender affirming treatment even means for a minor.
Children can start to identify as transgender very young. Children who are allowed to freely express and explore gender may go through different phases of gender expression, but it is important for a child’s future mental health that you believe and support them, no matter what gender they may be identifying as at the time.
Physical and Mental Health Issues Can Result from Lack of Support
Children who are not supported or allowed to explore and express their gender identities in a healthy way, especially as they grow into teenagers, can face mental, emotional, and even physical dangers. About 2% of high school youth identify as trans, and that number would undoubtedly be higher without the prejudices of our society. For these 2+%, living in an unsupportive environment can cause major mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety. That depression and anxiety can then cause self-harming behaviors and even suicide – over a third of trans high school students attempt suicide in a given year.
Lack of support can be physically damaging as well. A transgender boy, for instance, who isn’t allowed to purchase a well-fitted binder for his breasts may resort to tight bandages, causing long-term nerve and vascular damage. Early gender affirming treatment for trans kids has been shown to narrow the mental health gap with their peers and decrease mental trauma and suicide attempts. Being supported at home can also help decrease the damage that societal discrimination can cause.
When a child is consistently and insistently identifying as a gender other than what they were assigned at birth, it may be time to consider gender affirming treatment. Fear-mongers claim that doctors are just handing out hormones and surgery to any child whose parent asks, but medical intervention never occurs right away. Children start by seeing an LGBTQIA+ experienced and positive counselor to help them understand what they are feeling. Social transition, or publicly identifying as the gender they identify with, is also a major step along the path of gender affirming treatment. Only after that point is medical transition considered, under a doctor’s close supervision.
Medical transition for minors consists of puberty blockers and synthetic hormones. These medications are never given to pre-pubescent children. They delay the onset of puberty, preventing the formation of secondary sex characteristics like facial hair, Adam’s apples, or breasts – all things that can be reversed with further hormone treatment later in life. Gender confirmation surgery is almost never conducted, and even then, it is strictly limited to the occasional removal of breast tissue.
“Gender affirming treatment” may seem scary to a parent unfamiliar with the process due to all of the myths and scare tactics circulating in the media, but supporting and affirming your trans child’s gender identity is one of the best things you can do for their mental and physical health.