It is estimated that 1% of the UK population identify as Transgender.
In the last ten years there has been a twenty-fold increase in the number of under 16’s being referred by GPs, Schools and support groups to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) clinic in London. It is currently the only NHS clinic in the UK treating children and offering medical treatment including blockers (which suppress puberty) and cross sex hormones to develop the sexual characteristics of the opposite gender.
Ever younger children – some as young as three, are declaring that they identify with the opposite gender resulting in a growing call for schools to accommodate the needs of these children.
It is a whole new world for parents, educators and the medical profession. Until very recently the word Transgender was virtually unheard of and rarely properly understood.
For some it is possibly a phase. However, for more than 90% of those who identify as being transgender there is a genuine and permanent realisation that their biological sex does not match their gender identity. As a society the challenge is how best to support these young people. It is felt by some that parents and schools are too readily accepting of and accommodating these children’s wishes to be treated as the opposite gender. Currently, numerous schools up and down the country are embracing a unisex uniform code so as not to offend or discriminate against these pupils, while toilets and changing areas are being redesigned to provide appropriate facilities. Local education authorities are also having to catch up and provide best practice guidelines and policies.
Certainly with very young children it is difficult to know how best to handle this situation other than to react with understanding whilst allowing time and space to work things out. However, experts in this area advise that a consistent, persistent and insistent declaration from a child should not be ignored and assessment by a professional and counselling should be offered. If appropriate, puberty blocking hormones can be prescribed but only after the child has been thoroughly assessed over a period of time by a specialist multi-disciplinary team.
For secondary school age children, the challenges are much greater as puberty beckons and life changing decisions arise. Practical considerations such as future parenthood cannot be ignored. Currently, for a person to access cross- sex hormone therapy via the NHS certain conditions have to be met. These include counselling, a rigorous assessment by a specialist multi-disciplinary team, a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria and a requirement that the person is living as and presenting as their chosen gender and they intend to continue to do so.
Contrary to popular belief, cross–sex hormones can only be prescribed from around the time of the 16th birthday of the young person, subject to the individual meeting the eligibility and readiness criteria.
Transition begins when the individual starts hormone therapy and begins to acquire the characteristics of their chosen gender, changes name and adopts the use of alternative pronouns. It is considered incredibly disrespectful to intentionally mis – gender or dead name someone who has made these changes. After a period of two years living fully as their acquired gender, it is possible to apply for a gender recognition certificate which confers official confirmation of the change of gender. It will then be possible to apply for a passport in the acquired gender.
Whether it is a sign of a more tolerant society or greater understanding of the complexities of our biological make –up, we can be sure that we will see an ever-increasing number of people of all ages questioning their gender identity and transitioning from their birth gender.