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Where are all the older transmen?

Much is made in the media of the current crisis facing the mental health of some of our children, and rightly so. Self esteem is stated as being at an all time low, with social media and the non stop onslaught of always-on mobile connectivity bearing the brunt of the blame.

A recent report by the NSPCC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-44083625) has revealed that the number of primary school children referred for specialist mental health treatment in the last four years has risen by a third.

No doubt within this group there will be children who are suffering with issues relating to their gender identity. We know from experience, that the rates of attempted suicide and self harm among this group are alarmingly high (45%). Something needs to be done.

Listening to some of the more vocal anti trans voices you would be forgiven for believing that when it comes to gender questioning children, the cause of their unhappiness is the gender confusion itself. However, research has shown that it is in fact society’s reaction to the gender non conformity and the resulting bullying and ostracism, which is causing the issue.

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(16)30165-1/fulltext?code=lancet-site.

Adolescent girls are a particular concern for those convinced that it is modern society that is leading to an increase in gender confusion. The argument goes that we are putting so much pressure on our young girls that they no longer want to be female. They want to escape into the gender – and ideally the body – of their male counterparts, who apparently have it so good. Yet everything I read seems to suggest that it’s not just our girls who are in crisis, we are in the midst of a male crisis too.

If the anti trans lobby is arguing that the rise in girls looking to transition is being caused by this desire to access some of the male privilege that is a man’s birthright, then what’s their argument for those boys looking to reject this prize in favour of embracing their female self?

While the media would have us believe that male transgender people who were assigned female at birth (AFAB), are a new phenomenon, They have always existed. The truth is they are just less visible than their female counterparts – the irony of this statement has not escaped me.

Today I opened up two email enquiries which were from older trans patients looking to access HRT through GenderGP. I say older, both patients were born in the 1960s. There is nothing very unusual in this, we regularly see emails from this age group and we don’t have to go back far to see that this was the most popular age for people to transition historically.

What made these two emails unusual was that they were from transmen; transmen who were looking to access testosterone and start the process of transitioning.

At GenderGP we see thousands of email requests a year but requests for help from transmen in this upper age group are rare. My personal experience, as a member of the trans community, leads me to believe that the reason members of this particular group are so rarely heard from is not because they do not exist, but rather because they do not seek help. Instead they keep quiet, living alone with their secret. As a transwoman having met many many people on this journey, I know how devastating it can be to keep this secret.

Historically, females have found it easier to present in a more masculine way, this is just fact. However, coming out as trans is equally difficult for transmen as it is transwomen, telling people you are trans is never without risk, so perhaps this group of men just don’t tell. Perhaps they just choose to live with their secret. Safe from persecution, safe from abuse. The sacrifice they make is that they are never able to embrace their true self, never able to share their real identity.

It’s always those who shout loudest who are heard. The accusations of adolescent girls rejecting their gender because of the pressures placed on them by society is not unreasonable, but nor is it based in fact. The figures show that our children – both male and female – are suffering and this is something that we need to address. But we should not allow our fear of the unknown or the unfamiliar to distract us. Transgender men and women are part of the fabric of society and always have been. Just because you fail to spot the transmen doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Perhaps if we could get some of the older transmen to open up and share their experiences; perhaps if we could see more articles written and aimed at this generation to just say: its ok to be trans; perhaps then they would feel safe enough to come out of hiding and get the help and support they need.

When we talk about how far the trans community has come in recent years it is easy to forget that there are some people who are being left behind. The older transmen, the truly repressed, it would be lovely if we could reach out to them and welcome them in to our new world.

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