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‘Parents, like us, of trans children are begging for support’

The mother of child who has transitioned socially from girl to boy says the fear that children are being rushed into life-changing decisions is misplaced. In reality, families are struggling alone with hugely challenging issues 

The mother of child who has transitioned socially from girl to boy says the fear that children are being rushed into life-changing decisions is misplaced. In reality, families are struggling alone with hugely challenging issues  


Picture: iStock

This is the story of a mum looking for care for her child. A mum who would do anything to help that child, but who has been trapped in a system that struggles to provide appropriate care.

I have (knowingly) had a transgender child for 20 months, although my child, now almost 12, has known from about the age of seven or eight. My then 10-year-old daughter had felt for several years that something wasn’t right and finally found the words to tell us. Very quickly she became our son.

You may well be thinking, especially if you read the newspapers, that 10-year-olds don’t know their own minds when it comes to gender. What kind of permissive parenting is this?

You listen hard

But unless you’ve actually parented a child through this, don’t even think of being judgemental. Have you ever held your child as they sobbed and sobbed, and said that what they wanted most was to grow a beard? Have you listened as they described how they would like to chop off their breasts with a knife? When your child tells you things like this you listen hard.

Unfortunately, puberty started quite young for my child. By the age of 10 definite breasts were there and she was, let’s say, hormonally challenging.

There was clearly an underlying issue alongside her hatred of her emerging womanliness. It was almost a relief to be able to put our finger on what was wrong when she finally admitted her feelings.

‘Unless you’ve actually parented a child through this, don’t even think of being judgemental’

Things from the past few years now made sense. However, we were still cautious and at no time did we think this was the end of the story. We knew it was going to be an emerging picture.

Very quickly our child wanted her hair cut and to wear boys’ clothes. She was dressing androgynously anyway but was thrilled to get to shop in the boys’ section and buy what she considered the ‘right’ clothes, all of which were a size larger than normal so they didn’t lay tightly over her bust.

To begin with, friends barely noticed, but a name change and change of pronoun two months later, at the beginning of a new term, was a marker in the sand. ‘Too fast,’ you say? ‘What about seeking advice from professionals first?’ If only.

I had approached our GP straight away as I knew we needed a specialist referral. He referred us immediately to the Tavistock Hospital in London. The waiting list was ten months. In the meantime, the Tavistock suggested the GP refer us to our local child and adolescent mental health service, which also had a huge waiting list. We finally saw someone there 12 months after I first approached our GP, and after we had been seen at the Tavistock.

‘I was left with no support, except from other parents to whom I had reached out online’

So I was left with no support, except from other parents to whom I had reached out online. I also read books and articles, and quickly found the advice was to follow your child’s lead.

We supported him to transition socially, which thankfully went without a hitch, with support from every class and club he was in. He was thrilled that people finally saw him as male, rather than being confused. And it was so important to him to be addressed correctly.

Out of my depth

He began stampeding through puberty at alarming speed and in increasing distress. He developed a voracious appetite and gained size in every direction. He absolutely hated his breasts and all they stood for. He scratched them and left welts, and cut off his emerging pubic hair. He spoke repeatedly about not wanting to develop a woman’s body.

Luckily I have raised a kid who is great at discussing his feelings so he was able to talk about the anguish he was suffering. I, however, felt out of my depth, especially when he said repeatedly, and in sheer frustration, that he would rather not live if he could not eventually be ‘a proper man’.

‘Trans children who have been puzzling inside for many years have a depth of understanding about themselves that would put most adults to shame’

This became his default way of expressing just how overwhelmed he felt by it all. He didn’t really know what he was saying, but at times of desolation just couldn’t think of any other way to express himself.

I too started to feel overwhelmed. I was playing the amateur therapist with no end in sight. This is the part of the transgender story that isn’t ever mentioned. No one seems to realise that families, when they cannot be seen in a timely fashion, are left utterly alone and completely unsupported by the NHS. And then parents are blasted for supporting their child’s transition and asking for help at school.

Most people seem to think that young transgender children are being handed out hormone blockers like sweeties or, worse, being given actual drugs to change their sex. It’s all so laughable when you’ve been in the system and can’t even get an appointment.

In my experience trans children who have been puzzling inside for many years have a depth of understanding about themselves that would put most adults to shame They know to their core who they are because they have lived, or are living still, with who they are not. Their feelings should not be dismissed as a whim or fancy. Children do not do this for fun, neither do parents indulge them or force them on a path they don’t want to follow.

‘No one is suggesting we make life-changing alterations for them as minors. There is a time for that, after careful counselling and support – if you can access it’

There are ample opportunities for children to shift their feelings along the way. Many do, my child included. But what is real for them at one moment in time is real.

No one is suggesting we make life-changing alterations for them as minors. There is a time for that, after careful counselling and support – if you can access it. As parents we are begging for such support, but it is woefully lacking.

People who understood

I hope that by reading this, nurses from every setting will understand better the struggles that families of transgender children go through and will feel better equipped to support us as we negotiate these tricky waters.

For us there were people in the NHS who have stood out from the rest: the GP’s receptionist who, without being asked, changed the electronic header of my child’s name to ‘MX’ instead of ‘Miss’ so the whole waiting room didn’t see a ‘Miss’ come up on the board and then watch as a boy walked to his appointment; the paediatric phlebotomist who didn’t bat an eyelid when I handed a note over the counter explaining that the Miss K on the system was living as a boy now, and would really appreciate being called by this new name and pronoun. She called out his new name in the waiting room and referred to him as a boy throughout.

We have finally accessed help at the Tavistock: an hour-long appointment once a month. It takes us twice that to travel there and back.

Our therapists are lovely, kind and gentle. We have a lot of ground to cover. I’m glad we like them because at this rate we’ll be seeing them for a very long time.


The author wishes to remain anonymous


More information

  • To see the RCN’s guidance for health professionals on caring for transgender patients click here

 

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