Monday saw the launch of a new BBC2 daily news and current affairs programme presented by Victoria Derbyshire. Amazingly, following hot on the heals of Louis Theroux’ Transgender Kids on Sunday, Victoria has started the programme with a sensitive look at transgender children and transgender issues in the UK. Monday’s programme is still available at the time of writing on BBC iPlayer – but more importantly there are a raft of articles and support videos to help parents of transgender children that look is if they are going to be available on the BBC website for at least three months.
It is nice to see a programme at last addressing issues in the UK and hearing from parents in the UK who are being supportive, especially after reading some of the frankly vile comments I have seen online about transgender kids over the past week. What is both sad and alarming however, is that all the parents and children in this report have remained anonymous. I am not in anyway criticizing them for that decision – but when I look at the open way in which parents in the US feel able to come out and discuss the issue – it is sad that there is so much fear around gender issues in the UK.
The reality is, of course, that if they had come out their children would have been at risk of extreme bullying and abuse – even the possible threat of violence. Why do I think that? Because I have been out for 15 years now and I would not wish the level of discrimination and harassment I have experienced on anyone. Even now I often cannot publicly engage with my family because they will then become targets for discrimination, bullying and harassment – or worse.
The support article on the BBC site is definitely worth reading but I thought I might comment on a few of the facts in that article.
Current estimates suggest that 1% of the population is transgender. That is 1 in every 100 – which means that every primary school in the UK probably has 2 or 3 transgender children and most secondary schools 10 or more. The problem is that most people confuse gender and sexual orientation issues because gay children often do not conform to gender stereotypes – and around 6 in every 100 people are gay or lesbian. In all it is likely that at least 10% of children (and probably a lot more) are not comfortable with gender stereotypes and are bullied because they are perceived to be gay. Statistics from Stonewall show that children are more likely to be bullied because they are perceived to be gay or are associated with someone who is perceived to be gay than because they are gay.
The greatest fear we humans have is not spiders, or death or illness or violence – it is Shame. This is the primary weapon of the bully and it is by a huge margin the primary cause of suicide, self harm, depression, addiction and eating disorders and is inextricably linked to most violent behaviour. Repeatedly statistics about trans people show that most are simply too afraid to do anything and live “in the closet” or “in stealth” with their dark secret.
1% of the population means that there are over 600,000 trans people in the UK, however other statistics quoted on the BBC2 site indicate that just over 1500 people are known to have undergone surgery in the UK in the past decade – that is a tiny fraction of the number of trans people. As far as I can ascertain less than 4000 Gender Recognition Certificates (GRC) have been issued since 2005 and only about 20 are issued every month. Not all people receiving a GRC have undergone surgery, so you can see that the numbers are very small by comparison to the total number of trans people.
More importantly children do not receive any hormonal or surgical treatment before puberty. At puberty some trans children, after extensive psychiatric assessment, are given hormone blockers to suspend puberty and allow time for further assessment without the irreversible effects of puberty. It is going through puberty and the accompanying feelings of shame and humiliation that cause so many trans children to attempt or at least consider suicide and self harm.
Increasingly children are now being allowed to present themselves in their preferred gender although they will almost certainly then face bullying and humiliation. This is where I believe the greatest amount of work needs to be done. Schools MUST support a child’s preferences in gender expression and that means that has to be a zero tolerance policy regarding any bullying. Gender is the second highest cause of bullying behind body shape and not far ahead of mental health.
Sadly viewing the comments on the Facebook page for Victoria Derbyshire’s new programme, the now grown up bullies were out in force. What these bigots do not seem to understand is that children who do not receive support from friends and family are 4 times more likely to self harm or attempt suicide. They are also far more likely to experience depressive illness, eating disorders, and other mental health problems. From my experience in running a transgender support service I also noticed they were also far less likely to complete their education or get a job.
Finally I like the tips from the parents of these two transgender children for anyone who thinks their child may be transgender – and as I cannot put it better here they are:
1. Don’t panic, you are not alone. Contact Mermaids who can help you get in touch with support networks. Meeting other parents is invaluable.
3. Ask your GP for a referral to the NHS Tavistock Gender Identity Service.
4. Allow your child to express how they feel and dress in whichever gendered clothes they choose to build self-confidence and to discover who they really are.
5. Support, love and accept your child for who they are. And help those around you to understand and accept your child too.