Information about supporting your child to live in their authentic gender, without medical intervention.
Gender creativity and trans identities may emerge at any age. Some children and youth always live affirmed in their authentic gender, and do not feel they ever transitioned from one gender to another. Others clearly feel that they are transitioning from living in one gender to another.
Transitions can be gradual or sudden. Sometimes transition is about the child making significant changes in how they express themselves in the world. Other times it is about the people in their world transitioning to a place of understanding, acceptance, and affirmation of the gender the child has always known themselves to be. Ultimately, we hope all children and youth are able to live in their affirmed genders.
Parents often wonder whether social transition is the right choice for their child. Here we address some common questions and concerns:
- Are they too young? We now understand that children as young as 2 or 3 years old can know and express what their true gender is. So there is no particular age that children need to reach before they are ready to live in their authentic gender. The key is listening to what your child is telling you about their gender and how they want to express it in the world. If they are persistent, insistent, and consistent about their need to transition or be affirmed in their authentic gender, these are important signs to pay attention to.
- Will they be safe? The balance of authenticity and safety comes up here. When parents ask this question, they are often recognizing that their child needs to transition in order to live as their authentic gender selves. Each family's circumstances differ, and parents will need to assess how their child's safety might be impacted if they were to socially transition. However, if your child is experiencing distress from not being able to socially transition, their safety may be at risk in terms of depression and suicide risk. We also know that the rate for suicide and attempted suicide is higher in trans youth than in their non-trans peers.
- What is the right process or timeline for transitioning? Each child's process will be different. There may be name changes (more than once) and pronoun changes (more than once). There may be new hair styles, make-up, or clothes as your child explores their gender. Older children and youth may ask for a packer or breast forms. They may want to make a lot of changes all at once, or explore little by little. What is important is to listen to what your child needs in order to feel affirmed in their gender, and to let them make their own timeline.
- Once they transition, what if they want to transition back? When parents provide safe spaces for gender exploration it allows children to understand, accept and express their authentic gender self. Social transition can be part of their exploration. When parents hold a safe space for exploration, they can communicate to their child that they will be loved and supported in whatever their gender is and however they express it. When children are supported, they can feel safe to move among different gender expressions until they find what is right for them. This might be a binary, a non-binary, or a gender fluid identity.
- How will I know if I made the right decision? When children who are persistent, insistent, and consistent about their trans identities are supported in socially transitioning, their feelings of distress and anxiety typically improve. If a social transition was not in line with a child's gender identity, a positive change in psychological wellbeing would not be expected
Researchers published a study of children who have socially transitioned before puberty. This research confirms what many children, youth, families, and care providers have told us. Children who are insistent, persistent, and consistent about their trans identity, who socially transition and are supported in their gender identity, are doing very well. They are generally doing as well as their non-trans peers and are no more likely to be depressed or anxious.
Research also that shows trans youth with strong family support have much better health outcomes than those with unsupportive families. At this time, there is no evidence that socially transitioning causes problems for young children. More research is underway to study longer term outcomes.
If your child has expressed that they would like to socially transition, here are some things to consider:
- Has your child been persistent, insistent, and consistent about their need to transition or be affirmed in their authentic gender?
- What would need to change so that your child could live fully in their authentic gender?
- Are there any safety concerns that would need to be addressed?
- Who else do you need on board to support your family (e.g. extended family, friends, school, counsellor)?
Some families proceed through social affirmation or transition fairly smoothly, without help from health care professionals. Other families seek out support from psychosocial health care providers.