Understanding Trans Teens: Trans Resources For Parents

In more and more communities across the United States, transgender teens are comfortable coming out. That’s good news. But it’s also meant a learning curve—sometimes a steep one—for parents who are unfamiliar with transgender issues. And that’s most of us, as it’s estimated that less than one percent of the U.S. population (around 1.4 million people) identify as being transgender. Your Teen magazine talked with experts about what it means to be a transgender teenager—and how adults can best support trans teens, especially during early adolescence.

What does it mean to be transgender?

We are all born with a biological sex. During childhood, we also develop a gender identity, which is our sense of ourselves as male or female. For most of us, our biological sex matches our gender identity (that’s called being cisgender). But for some of us, it does not. A biological male may feel instead that he is female and vice versa. These individuals are transgender.

Gender dysphoria is the clinical term for what transgender individuals experience. Adolescents with gender dysphoria will express a strong desire to be a different gender and to be treated as such (not fleetingly, but for a significant period of time and likely for life); they are also often deeply distressed by the physical characteristics of their biological sex; and their distress may be so severe that it impairs day-to-day functioning.

What does it mean to transition? 

Adolescents with what experts describe as an “insistent, persistent, and consistent” transgender identity often elect to begin transitioning to the gender with which they identify. The first step is typically a “social transition.” This means they start to make changes that help them feel like their appearance—and social experience—lines up with their gender identity. They may dress differently, use a different name (and pronoun), or hang out with different friends.

Some adolescents may, if their parents consent, decide to take what are called puberty blockers. These drugs, called gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs, pause pubertal development and prevent development of secondary sex characteristics (facial hair, breasts, etc.). Why do this? Because developing the secondary-sex characteristics of a gender with which an individual doesn’t identify can be deeply distressing. Puberty blockers can prevent that from occurring, giving the adolescent time to mature and be sure of his or her gender identity and what next steps to take. “These are generally pretty safe medications,” says Nokoff. “And they are totally reversible.”

It’s helpful for those of us on the outside of such decisions to understand that this is not a one-day-to-the-next process. Adolescents who are struggling with gender dysphoria—and their families—typically spend considerable time in counseling and working with their doctors before taking such steps.

How can I support a transgender teenager?

It’s tough to be a transgender teenager. You’re often harassed. You’re discriminated against. And you’re at a significantly increased risk for a slew of mental-health issues. In fact, a staggering 41 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide. This is not an easy path to walk. But, stresses Baum, how parents and other adults respond to transgender teenagers can make all the difference. Teens need gender identity support. “The number one indicator for the health and well-being is parental support or lack thereof,” he stresses. “Without it, they are in deep trouble.”

Excerpted from “Understanding Trans Teens: Trans Resources For Parents” in Your Teen magazine. Read the full article online for more details on the above and experts’ answers to more questions.

Source: Your Teen | Understanding Trans Teens: Trans Resources For Parents“, https://yourteenmag.com/health/physical-health/transgender-teens | © 2021 Your Teen Magazine

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