Guest blogger Alison Cupp Relyea brings us the second in a series of three blog posts inspired by the leaders of the Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
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Let’s focus on one statistic—one small moment in the presentation by Linda Hawkins and Samantha Taylor from the Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) that I attended in January. This statistic has changed the way I view the path of transgender youth, and it is one that I repeat time and again to anyone who will listen to me talk about why supporting gender diversity is critical. According to research, while many people associate transgender youth with an increased risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide, this correlation is only partially true.
When transgender youth feel affirmed and supported by their parents, the statistical difference for these risk factors between transgender youth and their peers diminishes to almost nothing. (Trans PULSE’s Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth Report)
Educators, too, play a role in a positive outcome by identifying at-risk students and ensuring that they have a supportive school environment.
In other words, it is the lack of support that many transgender youth face, and not gender identity, that is most problematic. This deeply resonates with me as an educator, a parent and an ally, and this is a message that is worth spreading far and wide. Parents often have a very hard time accepting and understanding a child who is transgender, and one reason that we often hear is: “I just don’t want life to be so hard for Kate. She will be not be accepted, will get teased and might become depressed.” They often try to avoid or ignore signs, or force gender-conforming behavior, because they do not want their child to struggle socially or emotionally. This intention is understandable, but the outcome is harmful.
Children who feel deeply that their gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth are not trying to create a more difficult life for themselves. In fact, they are trying to find a path forward that makes them feel comfortable in their own bodies and allows them to develop with the same social-emotional well-being that they see in their peers. When parents and teachers acknowledge this and affirm who they are, it helps them on this path.
Raising confident, self-aware adolescents and young adults does not mean removing challenges. It means helping them feel secure and giving them the tools they need to navigate challenges successfully. Transgender youth are no different, and the adults in their lives play a critical role in shaping a positive future.
Further Resource: One Parent’s Story