As a counsellor, specialising in the treatment of gender diverse people, I am probably more tuned in than most to the current narrative surrounding transgender children. The hysteria in the UK is particularly acute when it comes to this small proportion of the population, which is interesting given that most people never have -and never will – meet a trans child.
With that in mind, I wanted to share a story about one child I met which I hope will provide a little insight into what it feels like to be that child.
Alex, a trans boy, was 12 years old when I met him. We met for a face to face session so that I could gather information which I would then pass to Dr Webberley.
In his short life Alex had experienced significant emotional trauma. He was being raised by extended family as both parents were incapable of looking after him.
In spite of his traumatic start in life, Alex had a clear idea of who he was. He knew with utmost certainty that his birth gender did not match the gender with which he identified. He wanted to align himself with who he knew he was, rather than the person he saw in the mirror who, thanks to puberty, was quickly becoming altogether unrecognisable.
However, like so many children, Alex had been denied treatment on the NHS to help with his gender dysphoria. Alex’s dysphoria had led to extreme self harming, a factor which had influenced the decision NOT to help him. Instead, having been referred to the Tavistock and Portman Clinic, Alex was referred back to CAHMS (who had originally referred Alex to the Tavi). CAHMS were also unable to help.
When I met Alex he was wearing short sleeves. It was an extremely hot day, and I saw the devastation up close. The cuts on his arms were so severe that on many occasions he had needed stitches. They were swollen and purple and he was covered in them.
How many people had seen these scars while he was in their care? How many people had heard his story? How had no one been able to offer him any relief?
Alex didn’t draw the line at self harm. He had been admitted to hospital on three separate occasions with life threatening injuries which he had inflicted on himself. Still no real help was given with the route cause of Alex’s pain. His gender dysphoria.
Alex was clear about what was causing his suffering. In line with the requirements of a professional diagnosis of gender dysphoria, his symptoms were consistent, persistent and insistent. And yet his needs were ignored.
I have to ask myself, what kind of society are we living in where people in the caring profession pass on cases like Alex? Were they too frightened to act because of fear of potential consequences for their own career? How can we live in a society where the diagnosis is clear, where we have a solution to the problem, but we still insist on watchful waiting?
All Alex needed was puberty blockers to stop the intolerable body changes he was experiencing. His dysphoria was so intense that he turned to cutting himself in an attempt to release his emotional pain, this physical agony offered some respite from the mental anguish of his dysphoria.
Yes, given his family circumstances, Alex was a complicated case. His gender dysphoria was not the only factor at play in terms of his mental wellbeing but it was a huge factor – and one which was being ignored.
While we all stand around debating and arguing over the existence of trans kids, these individuals continue to suffer in agony. They are an easy target and they have very little by way of defence. Their existence becomes a debate and the ‘experts’ muddy the waters with their hysterical cries of “what if they change their mind!”
Our question should not be, ‘are you sure?’, it should be, ‘how can we help?’. How can we best support you and make sure that whatever is hurting you or causing you pain is addressed? Whether you like it or not, sometimes the answer will be ‘my gender’.
Trans adults were children once.
Lack of action is far more devastating in the long term. Trans children are forgotten, they lose their childhood and education, many end up with conditions that they will carry for their entire life such as eating disorders, alcohol abuse and addiction (these conditions are present in many of my clients, whatever their age). Worst still, many suffer from an inability to form any meaningful relationships. Many are unable to hold down work and many will be under the care of the mental health services for their whole life.
There has to be a better way even if, for some, the notion of a child being trans is unpalatable.