• There are reports that children are 'transitioning'. (AAP)
Transgender advocates and psychologists have welcomed an open discussion on gender identity, despite age concerns.
By
Source:
SBS News
1 Sep 2016 - 8:59 PM  UPDATED 2 Sep 2016 - 10:03 AM

Gender identity in children dominated headlines on Thursday after the Daily Telegraph reported that a preschooler had begun transitioning, or experimenting with one's gender identity, in NSW.

The state government said several primary students were also transitioning.

Dr Elizabeth Riley, a gender identity counsellor who specialises in transgender issues, did not believe this should be cause for concern.

"It's just another way of being human," she told SBS.

"I see being differently gendered as just a normal human variation.”

But she said she recognised people were easily confused over what "transitioning" meant.

"It's nothing to do with surgery.

"Surgery in Australia isn’t even legally allowed until a child's 18."

A gender transition is about having a conversation, between families, counsellors and children, she explained.

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Former Defence Force Captain Catherine McGregor told SBS News that she wished she had been part of such a conversation.

Ms McGregor said she spent five decades of her life being someone she wasn’t, and wants to prevent anyone else from that pain.

"Their feelings deserve to be listened to, they need specialist medical support and empathetic families."

Although she did believe four-years-old was quite young.

“I don’t think anyone should make a life changing, life binding decision, at four.

"But these kids aren't, they're exploring their gender."

Experimenting with gender identity not uncommon

Sexologist Dr Patricia Weerakoon, who remembers wanting to be a boy when she grew up in a Sri Lankan tea plantation, but said it wasn't a permanent desire, explained only one per cent of children had "gender dysphoria".

Of the children who have, at some stage, had a desire to be another gender, Dr Weerakoon said "only one in five remain that way to puberty".

The condition is characterised by acute distress caused by someone feeling their gender differs from the anatomy they were born with.

The number of children seeking referrals to the gender services department at Sydney's Westmead Children's Hospital has tripled since 2014, from 10 to 30 referrals.

There has also been up to 250 referrals to the dysphoria unit at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne this year.