Before we talk about what it means to be transgender, let’s first cover a few definitions. When we are born, we are assigned a sex—male or female—based on what body parts we are born with. In childhood, we will start to think of ourselves as a girl or a boy. This is our gender identity—it is the gender that we feel on the inside. Gender expression is how we choose to express our gender, such as by the clothes we wear, the way we style our hair, and the things we do. Most people have a sex and gender identity that match – most females feel like girls, and most males feel like boys. But this isn’t always the case…
What is Transgender?
Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from their biologic sex. Even though someone may look like a male, they might feel like a girl/woman, and vice versa. Some people even feel like their gender identity is neither male nor female, but rather something in between. We’re not quite sure why some people are transgender. It isn’t something that a person chooses or learns, it isn’t because of the way a person is raised, and it doesn’t mean that someone is mentally ill.
Most of us don’t think very much about our gender, but gender is all around us. When people talk about us, they use pronouns, like “he” or “she”, or we might be called “sir” or “ma’am”. We have to choose whether to use the men’s or the women’s bathroom, or whether to buy clothes from the men’s or women’s department. For people who are transgender, it can be very difficult to live in a body that doesn’t match how they feel inside, and may lead to anxiety or depression.
There is no way to change a person’s gender identity. Instead, people should be allowed to live as the gender with which they identify. Many times, a transgender person may change their name, ask to be called by different pronouns, change their hair or clothing. Some transgender people feel so uncomfortable in their body that they may require medical treatment to change the way their body looks (with hormone therapy and/or surgery).
Gender Variant Kids
All children have a gender identity, often this starts to develop well before the age of 3. Most children will experiment with gender at some point during their childhood—such as playing with opposite gendered toys, or dressing up as the opposite gender. However, for a minority of children and teens, they may persistently feel like the opposite gender, and some will go on to be transgender adults. In some situations, when a child or teen persistently feels distressed about having a gender and sex that don’t match, they may benefit from medical treatment that helps to block puberty.
Here at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital we are putting together a multidisciplinary team of providers to offer comprehensive care to gender variant youth. Stay tuned for more details.
How can I support my gender variant child?
- The most important thing you can do is love and support your child just the way they are.
- Allow your child to have a say in how they style their hair, what clothes they wear, what toys they play with, and what activities they participate in.
- Stand up for your child if he/she is mistreated or bullied.
- If your child seems stressed or is having a hard time coping with being different, your child or your family may benefit from talking with a therapist who can help them sort out their feelings about gender and develop coping strategies.
- Reach out for additional information and resources through local support groups, such as Outright Vermont (outrightvt.org) or Vermont Diversity Health Project (www.vdhp.org)
To learn more:
- Gender Spectrum
- Health Children
- World Professional Association for Transgender Health
- TransYouth Family Allies
This blog article was authored by Martina Drawdy, MD, pediatric endocrinologist at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM, and Jamie Mehringer, MD, a third-year pediatric resident at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital with an interest in adolescent medicine, primary care, and advocacy.