Dr Louise Theodosiou from the Royal College of Psychiatrists responds to parents that claimed being around transgender kids would “confuse” children.
In a world of global movement and changing cultural views, a person’s self-image can vary enormously over the course of a lifetime. What doesn’t change though, is the desire to know oneself; to understand one’s identity and to be able to communicate that identity to the world.
What also remains constant is how painful it is when that cannot happen, when one is not allowed to demonstrate key aspects of one’s identity.
The news earlier this week that parents are withdrawing their children from a school that allows a child to express their gender identity is a case in point.
When a child is able to openly express their gender identity, and receive acceptance for who they are, it can be a powerfully affirming experience. But to then have that acceptance withdrawn, the impact on a child’s self-esteem could be devastating.
Their identity is effectively being viewed as shameful, and could leave that child feeling ashamed of what is an entirely natural variant of gender expression.
We live in a time when Stonewall reports that nearly 1 in 10 trans pupils receive death threats, and that 2 in 5 LGBT pupils are not taught about LGBT issues in school.
The very public withdrawal of a child from a school that is open to self-expression and identify exploration, only serves to add to the alienation and stigmatisation of people who just like all of us, wish to be accepted for who we are.
Many societies currently perceive gender as binary. However, this has not always been the case.
From Native Americans to 17th Century Londoners, acknowledgement of the difference between gender identified at birth and gender identity has been a longstanding feature of our society.
The British Medical journal reports that 1 in 2000 live births are born with genitalia ambiguous enough to warrant further medical examination. Such people can be described as intersex.
There are increasing voices within the intersex community arguing for children born with ambiguous genitalia to be freed from binary genders.
In other words, one child in most high schools has been forced into a gender role that they may not choose as adults.
Having a gender identity which differs from that identified at birth does make people vulnerable bullying, misunderstanding and rejection.
These negative experiences can impact on self-esteem and lead to low mood, often resulting in mental health problems. While gender is not an illness, rejecting gender identity or compressing it into a modern homogenised artificial edifice can cause illness.
Identity is personal, unpredictable and vitally important. If we wish to live in a world in which everyone is accepted for who they are, it is imperative that we offer children the opportunity to express their gender and to have accessible role models of gender diversity.
Dr Louise Theodosiou is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.