image by Steve Rainwater

The term transgender describes individuals “whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth”. Usually the term is used with adults who have begun or completed a social or physical transition from their sex assigned at birth to their preferred sex. The terms “gender variant” or “gender creative” are more often applied to children and adolescents.

Less than 1% of the population would identify as transgender (including children and adults). Only between 2.5% and 20% of children and adolescents who would identify as gender variant will continue to identify with a gender “inconsistent” with their biological sex into their teenage years and early adulthood (Korte et al., 2008).

Gender Variant Youth and Psychological Functioning

Gender variant children often experience elevated risks for psychological symptoms, with the most frequent symptoms being depression and anxiety and behavioral disorders (Wallien, Swaab, & Cohen-Kettenis, 2007). Gender variant youth also experience higher than average rates of suicidality. In one study, 26% of gender variant youth reported at least one previous suicide attempt, 45% of the sample had “seriously considered” suicide, and 20% reported “sometimes” or “often” having serious thoughts of suicide (Grossman & D’Augelli, 2007). Slightly less than half of the sample considered their suicidal thoughts to be related to being transgender.

Gender Variant Youth Reports about Their School Environment

82% Felt unsafe at school due to their transgender identity
90% Often or frequently experienced transphobic or homophobic harassment
44% Had been punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon at least once per year
62% Were the victims of cyberbullying
67% Had property stolen or destroyed by peers
76% Experienced unwanted sexual remarks and/or touching from peers
39% Often or frequently heard staff members make negative comments about an individual’s gender expression
80% Reported that staff members did not intervene most of the time when hearing homophobic or negative comments about an individual’s gender expression
52-55% Avoided locker rooms or school bathrooms due to concerns about being abused by peers

From Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, & Bartkiewicz, 2010

image by Nenad Stojkovic

Parents of Gender Variant Youth

There is little research on the parents of gender variant youth. What little research exists identifies common themes in their processing of their child’s transition, including:

  • parents’ worries about losing family, friends, and even partners,
  • parents feeling stigmatized and isolated,
  • worries about their child’s future success, and current and future safety,
  • worries about whether their child’s gender identity or expression was a phase and worry about whether they were making the right decision to entrust their child with such a major life-changing decision.
  • Reports of loss and grief for the child who they expected to have

(Hill & Menvielle, 2009; Menvielle & Hill, 2010; Menvielle & Rodnan, 2011; Menvielle & Tuerk, 2002).