Challenges facing transgender adolescents
Being an adolescent is tough. Body changes, growing up, and trying to find a place in the world are just a few of the daily struggles of the typical adolescent. But what about those who are struggling with gender identity? Transgender children and adolescents face especially challenging issues, in addition to the social pressures every adolescent faces.
Gender identity refers to an individual’s internal sense of being a man or a woman. For transgender individuals, this internal sense does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
“Even the most liberal parent faces issues of grief and loss coming to terms with their child’s potential gender change and must walk the difficult line between unconditional love and support and the practical aspects of such a change,” says Sharon Klingman, licensed clinical counselor, with Advocate Medical Group in Normal, Ill.
Many transgender individuals feel compelled to alter their bodies in order to fit the internal gender identity that they associate with. Options can include hormone therapy, surgery and other medical procedures.
While about 1.6 percent of the general population attempt suicide, a staggering 46 percent of the transgender population has reported attempting suicide, according to GLAAD’s statistics.
Unfortunately, many adolescents are teased or bullied at school. Middle school and high school can be difficult years for all adolescents. For transgender students, the social pressures to fit in are even more severe. With transgender students’ inability to fit into gender norms, they are often taunted and bullied by their peers. Being bullied can cause students to experience stress-related seizures, depression, or panic attacks.
Jody Poultney, licensed clinical social worker at Advocate Medical Group in Normal, Ill., says, “It is my experience that the biggest issue that transgender youth face is being understood by their family and their friends. When parents think they are raising a boy and find out that their child perceives themselves as a girl, it often comes as a shock and their hopes and dreams for their child need to change in some ways.”
Safety at school.
According to the national nonprofit Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 80 percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe at school. Most school administrators are unprepared to accommodate transgender students. If these administrators work proactively to ensure future transgender students are well cared for in their schools, school life for future transgender students will be a more pleasant experience.
These transgender adolescents are often cast aside because the public does not understand what these individuals are going through. But, as more and more transgender people open up and share their stories, our society’s understanding of gender identity and gender expression will increase.
“What these children need to know is that they are still loved for who they are,” Poultney says. “Parents need to be willing to advocate for their child so that they can be comfortable in school and other settings where they may be bullied.”
Klingman adds, “Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of help and support from other parents who have experienced this, especially in a smaller town. The process itself can take years to come to full fruition and of course the possible financial costs are very high. Counseling for the parents both individually and as a family unit is essential in regards to this issue.”
To learn more about transgender resources, or to get involved in spreading awareness, visit the Human Rights Campaign website.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.