Gender identity and sexuality can feel complex for some children and young people. For many young people, traditional gender stereotypes can feel too restrictive or they may feel more comfortable taking on a different gender from the one they were born as .Questioning one’s gender or sexuality is not a mental illness, but the experience may be tough for some young people , and sometimes they can experience anxiety, depression and even thoughts of suicide or self-harm, especially if they feel rejected by their families. Young people may feel quite unsure about their gender and sexuality and need time and acceptance while they figure it out. Fortunately, there is now a lot of really helpful advice and support for families and young people and there are helplines or online chat options if you or your child just need someone to chat to (see below).
Tell me more about gender and sexuality ... Some children who were registered as ‘male’ or ‘female’ when they were born, may not feel like a boy or girl when they are older. They may prefer to dress in clothes of the opposite gender, or feel like they are the opposite gender. Others may feel that neither being called a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ fits for them. or feel like they are a bit of both. Of course this can be a very normal part of child development but if those feelings persist into teenage years or adulthood, it is more likely that it is more than a developmental phase.
Being transgender does not define what sex somebody is attracted to, e.g. someone who was male at birth but feels and wants to become female (a trans girl or woman) might be attracted to women or men. Some young people may feel they do not want to take on any specific gender role or take on different roles depending on how they feel .This is sometimes called gender-neutral or gender-fluid. The different terms used to describe how people feel can be confusing - see resources below for a full set of definitions.
Parents of young people who are questioning their gender, often feel quite worried and may hope that it is "just a phase". While young people may experiment with gender, they will also often tell you that they have known from an early age that they felt they were 'in the wrong body'. The two videos below both explain that the most important thing you can do as a parent is love your child no matter what and tell them so, even if you don't yet understand and are finding it difficult to accept. Parents also often worry about hormone treatments and surgery but can be reassured that any young person wishing to transition to another gender in this way, has to have a detailed professional assessment first. In the UK, NHS waiting times are currently in excess of 2-3 years and while this can allow time for a young person to be sure about what they want, the waiting time can also be hugely difficult for them.
Young people might also question their sexuality and be attracted to someone of the same sex, opposite sex, both or sometimes feel asexual. Again, this is not a mental illness but can be a source of anxiety and low mood, especially for those young people who feel that their friends, family, culture or religion are not accepting of gay people.
I think my teen might be gay and I don’t know how to support them. Sensitive advice on how to talk to your teen from Relate with links to other resources here.
My child has told me they are gay . Great advice and information if your child tells you they are gay, lesbian or bisexual (downloadable booklet) plus booklets for young people on how to tell family or friends they are gay or transgender. Click here
"To parents who may have a transgender child" (USA)
'Proud to call you my transgender son' TEDx talk. A very moving testament from a loving father (USA)
Gendered Intelligence -specialise in supporting age 8-25 yrs , including support for parents/carers and professionals.. They have a guide for parents and family members of trans people in the UK with sections on “What happens when your loved one tells you they are trans?” , “At what point do you tell other people your child is trans?” and “New looks, names and pronouns”.http://genderedintelligence.co.uk/
Gender identity development service (GIDS) – a national specialised servicefor young people and their families, who experience difficulties in the development of their gender identity. The service works with young people and families with the aim of understanding the obstacles, and to cope with and reduce any distress related to this. Their website has useful information for young people, parents and professionals http://gids.nhs.uk/
Depend - Free, confidential, non-judgmental advice, information and support to family members and friends of transsexual people www.depend.org.uk. There are a couple of good articles written by parents about how they felt when their child told them they were transgender.
Being a Boy by Juno Dawson A fantastic book about puberty, gender, and sexuality for 11+ . Some sections are fairly explicit so you may want to read them first but by age 13 yrs there won't be much here that they haven't already heard at school and it is great for dispelling some of those playground myths. Funny, sensible and full of illustrations, highly rated by parents. Available here
Being a Girl by Hayley Long. Another good book, less explicit and therefore suitable for younger teens as well. Described as "friendy, funny ,warm and engaging" by one reviewer. Available here
This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson. Very explicit, funny, honest discussion about what is is like to grow up LGBT by a former PSHCE teacher and acclaimed author including testimonials from people across the gender and sexual spectrums
Books on gender
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan. Perfect for 10+ years. In the second book of this adventure series readers meet Alex, one of the best depictions of a trans, 'genderfluid' teenager in the genre. Alex’s gender identity is crucial to the plot. Available here
Transmission: My Quest to a Beard by Alex Bertie. Best for 15 + with a section written by Alex’s mum. Alex is a transgender man who was born a girl and has described the journey, the impact on his friends and family and has some good advice on how to support your child if they are getting to grips with their gender identity.Alex’s mum describes her own journey and feelings, how she initially struggled to use his new name and the male pronoun and how she learned to accept and support Alex.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin with some great photography of and comments from transgender teens from all sorts of different backgrounds.(USA)
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson .A novel about David who wants to be a girl- beautifully written, both sad and funny. Suitable from 11+
George by Alex Gino: a book about a boy who wants to be girl, suitable from about 9-10 years. Has won multiple awards. Available here