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If you have a transgender child, the process for exploring and becoming their trues selves affects the entire family. Supporting your child at every step is important to their emotional, social and physical wellbeing. Aude Henin, PhD, co-director of the Child Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC), shares how you can become your child’s best advocate throughout their transgender journey.
Transgender is a general term for people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender is a label that a person assigns to themselves. It is not imposed on them by others.
Cisgender is a term used when a person’s gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.
Being transgender is much more common than you might think! There are about 1.4 million people in the United States who identify as transgender, or about 0.6 percent of the population.
A person usually knows that they are transgender from a young age, especially when the feelings are persistent, consistent and occur over a prolonged period of time. In toddlers, the idea of gender identity is very fluid. You might see little boys dressing up in their mother’s shoes or little girls playing with toy trucks. This does not mean that they are transgender – they are simply exploring who they are and the world around them. In preschool-age, children are more aware of their bodies and their gender identity becomes more stable. By the teenage years, a person usually has a firm sense of their gender identity. At that age, there can be a sense of conflict between the true self and the false self. The true self is always there on the inside, but the person might feel pressured to show their false self in certain situations.
Being transgender is not a phase. Although every child begins to explore their gender identity at a very young age, even as young as age 2, transgender children tend to be “persistent, consistent and insistent” in expressing their gender identity. All families should give children the space and time to explore who they are in healthy and positive ways, regardless of whether the child is transgender or not.
No. Being transgender is not a disease or something that needs to be cured. It is a normal human experience. Being transgender is not anyone’s fault. It is not caused by trauma or how you raise your child. Forcing your child to live as the gender they were assigned at birth will not prevent your child from being transgender. But it can cause a lot of emotional pain and lead to emotional challenges as your child gets older.
Gender dysphoria is when a person feels as though their physical body does not match their gender identity. It can be a very distressing experience that is felt by many, but not all transgender people. For example, someone may feel that their body is “wrong” and feel that they hate their body. Another example of gender dysphoria is when a person goes through puberty that does not match their gender identity.
A transition in terms of a person’s transgender journey is when they make social, emotional and physical changes to become who they are on the inside. This can take years. Typically, a social transition happens first. This is when a person starts to live their live as their true self on the outside. Later, a person can decide if they want to start hormone treatment, have surgery or have other medical treatments to change their physical appearance. Every transition has multiple stages. How and when a person transitions depends on their personal needs and wants.
There are many ways you can support your child on their transgender journey:
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