Transgender Children

After many months of rumour and speculation Bruce Jenner, (most famous for being Kim Kardashian’s step father) came out in April as a transgender person.

She has now revealed herself as a woman named Caitlyn, appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair this month.

Caitlyn Jenner Is Finally “Free” on Vanity Fair’s Cover.

Regardless of your opinion of the Kardashian clan it’s difficult not to feel for Jenner as she transitioned from being a man to a woman.

In a recent interview with Diane Sawyer, Jenner described life as “Bruce” as a “lie”.

She revealed that her feelings of unease with her body started in childhood and how at around age eight she would secretly dress in her mother’s and sister’s clothing.

Jenner went on to express her feelings of loneliness and lack of belonging as she grappled with her sexual identity.

Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, during her interview with Diane Sawyer in April.

What is transgender?

Transgenderism is defined as the condition where a person’s gender identity or gender expression does not match their biology – that is the sex they were born as.

Individuals experience an all-consuming sense that they are in the “wrong body”.

Statistics about the condition are sketchy but some academic studies indicate that gender confusion could afflict as many as 1 in 1,000 people.

Sadly the mental health outcomes for transgender people are horrendous. According to Beyond Blue 60% have experienced severe depression and as many as 50% have attempted suicide at least once.

Transgender kids

Parents of transgender children can face a harrowing journey.

Like Caitlyn Jenner, many transgender people talk about feeling at odds with their gender in early childhood.

For example the high profile model Andreja Pejic (who was born a boy but recently underwent gender realignment surgery) has spoken about wanting to play with dolls and dress like a girl at age eight.

Similarly, Sonny and Cher's son, Chas Bono was born as a girl named Chastity. Speaking about being transgender, Chas said, "I always felt like a male from the time I was a child. There wasn't much feminine about me. I believe that gender is something between your ears not between your legs.”

Sonny, Cher & Chastity in 1970 | Chas and Cher in 2015

Is my child transgender?

It is very common for children to express the traits and tastes that society associates with the opposite sex. This does not automatically mean that they are transgender.

We all know of girls who love like to wear their hair short and play with cars, and similarly of boys who enjoy dressing up in tutus.

In most of these cases this sort of behaviour does not mean the child is transgender. It is often a phase children simply grow out of.

How can worried parents discern whether their child is a “tomboy” girl or an effeminate boy as opposed to having a more serious condition?

Child psychologist Dr Michelle Forcier from Brown University describes the key signs of transgenderism in children as “consistence, persistence and insistence.”

If the child is adamant about behaving like the opposite sex over a long period of time they may be transgender.

Dr Marvin Belzer, a specialist in adolescent medicine adds that transgender children usually “become distressed because somebody is telling them they can’t wear these clothes or play with these toys or that their genitals aren’t right”.

How to support a transgender child

If your child is showing these signs it’s critical to have them properly assessed by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist with experience in the field.

You’ll need to work closely with health care professionals to help your family navigate the social, emotional, medical (and even legal) mine field that lies ahead.

Parents of transgender kids should remember that nothing that they did or said brought the condition on. Medical science does not know exactly what causes transgenderism but it is thought to be linked to hormone levels in the womb.

Any attempts to “cure” a transgender child can often cause more harm than good. The best approach is love, acceptance and support.

Jacob Lemay's parents supported him to transition to being a boy.

In the meantime, we can only hope that Caitlyn Jenner’s openness and honesty with sharing his story will lead to greater acceptance of transgender people all around the world.

Hopefully transgender children born today won’t have to feel that their lives are a “lie”.

If this is affecting your family, you can go to these ACON or Gender Centre.

Written by Brenda Mumabulous