A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has found what trans kids and their families have long known: parental and social acceptance of transness results in happier, healthier children.
The study measured the depression and anxiety of transgender children between 9 and 14, as well as the siblings of trans kids and a control group. What it found was that socially transitioned trans children reported depression and anxiety at the same rates of the control and sibling groups. Only anxiety was found to be marginally higher.
These findings tell us that, contrary to the opinions of those who continue to prescribe denial for trans children, social transition gives the best mental health outcomes. Author and activist Jo Hirst tells SBS that, for transgender kids “understanding and acceptance from peers, school and family is crucial. When children feel loved and accepted for who they are they thrive.”
When children are not allowed to socially transition, Hirst argues that “school can be a very stressful environment for transgender children. Being constantly referred to by a name and a pronoun that does not match your gender identity, having to wear clothes that do not reflect your gender expression or use a toilet that feels completely alien, can make school a torturous place.” Misgendering - being treated as the wrong sex - is a profoundly upsetting experience for any transgender person, especially a child.
As the study put it, “these findings are in striking contrast to previous work with gender-nonconforming children who had not socially transitioned, which found very high rates of depression and anxiety. These findings lessen concerns from previous work that parents of socially transitioned children could be systematically under-reporting mental health problems.” Lead researcher Lily Durwood noted that more research needs to be done on trans youth, however she stated that “the take-home message of this study is that it is possible for a child to socially transition before puberty and have normative mental health.”
Other research confirms the need for social inclusion of transgender children. Recently, a group of 13 associations in the UK including the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the Royal College of GPs, the British Psychoanalytic Council and the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy released a statement disavowing the therapeutic usefulness of conversion therapy, therapy which tries to prevent transgender people from being trans. A statement from the groups said that: ““We the undersigned UK organisations wish to state that the practice of conversion therapy has no place in the modern world. It is unethical and harmful and not supported by evidence. Sexual orientations and gender identities are not mental health disorders, although exclusion, stigma and prejudice may precipitate mental health issues for any person subjected to these abuses.”
What is clear from this research is that mental health issues arise not because of the inherently disordered state of transness imagined by transphobes like the ACL, but from a lack of acceptance from the people surrounding the trans child. It is important to note therefore the social aspect for transition; it is not simply a matter of family acceptance, but school too plays a crucial role in promoting understanding for trans children. It is for this reason that Hirst and other parents of trans children have fought hard for the role of the Safe Schools Coalition in producing safe, accepting school environments. She states that “my child, like many in Victoria, is free to live as himself. Free from the anxiety of being forced to live a lie. Free to concentrate on learning and playing with his friends. He is just another child.”