How do parents of a transgender child handle the transitional phase? One father describes his experience.
According to WebMD, a child’s sex is based on biology. However, the inner sense of being male or female, sometimes both, mightn’t always match such defined biology. Live Science describes transgender people as “people whose gender identity or expression does not match the sex they were assigned at birth”. Transgender people might either undergo sex-reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy. While some transgender people might simply dress in a way that expresses how they feel inside better.
Depending on the country one lives in, a person may even need a gender dysphoria diagnosis in order to legally change gender identity. In the UK, the NHS defines gender dysphoria as being, “a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. It’s sometimes known as gender incongruence.”
Transgender people must have transitioned two years before a Gender Recognition Certificate is issued. Moreover, a transgender person is not obliged to undergo sex reassignment surgery. As of April 2015, it is possible for a transgender person to change their legal gender. They can acquire a new birth certificate, which allows full recognition of their sex by law for all purposes.
Poor mental health
Although a transgender person is free to transition legally to their preferred gender, the process can be emotionally hard. Evidence provided by the Mental Health Organisation, shows that people identifying as LGBT are at higher risk of experiencing poor mental health. Moreover, a study funded by the British Psychological Society, shows that 88 per cent of transgender people had experienced depression and 84 per cent had thought of ending their life.
The decision a person makes to transition can have a strong emotional impact on parents too. Although parents can make their children’s experience easier by providing them with love and support, they themselves might need support. Giving birth to a biological son, and seeing them becoming a woman can be difficult. Some parents might experience a sense of grief and even a disconnection from the situation. Counselling for the whole family, and not just the transgender person, is one way to find help and support in such a potentially affecting situation.
Eric, (his name has been changed to preserve his identity), recalls the time his 14-year-old then-daughter came out as being transgender. “We were taken aback by the determination Oliver’s determination showed at presenting the situation and doing something about it,” he says. “Something had to be done urgently in the direction he wanted. We couldn’t be blind about it. It was for the better of all of us.”
Oliver, now 23, has been living as a male for the past seven years, but has been identifying as such for at least 12 years. Oliver even used to give himself boy names through childhood. When Oliver came out to his parents, Eric felt a sense of relief. “Ever since I saw him coming out of the pool, at a friend’s house, bending forward so as not to show his breasts profiling through the t-shirt, I realised that his tomboyishness was not the issue anymore. But his mum had thought then, it could have been something else.”
Eric sensed that he viewed the situation from a more factual point of view than Oliver’s mother: “I think that she felt terribly sad at the loss of not having ever grandchildren through her daughter.” However, Oliver’s parents were both prepared to deal with the change as a family. “We started the quest for changing the first name as soon as possible and then finding the right psychiatrist and other experts. Then we decided to tell all the people we know, beginning with my parents and brother and the mum’s siblings. If anyone had any problems about it, I was prepared to cut such person out of our lives.”
When asked how Eric handled the overall process of Oliver’s transition he replies: “Very well, because it was the best and only healthy option available to us. Fortunately, the experts were fantastic. I think we were blessed with the strength in character our son always had. That was instrumental in him, not falling into depression.”
If you or anyone you know feels affected by the issues raised in this article, visit Transgender Therapy UK for help finding the right counselling.