What Is a Transgender Phase?
Transgender phases are a weird topic. As an outspoken mother of a transgender child, a common argument I’m presented with both in real life and online is: “Well when I was five I wanted to be a boy/girl/animal/superhero too”.
As an especially fertile woman, I’ve had so many children that I actually had one of these “I wanted to be…” children. One of my girls spent almost a year “wanting” to be a dog.
I say “wanting” because what she really wanted to be was a girl pretending to be a dog, she didn’t actually want to be a real life dog.
My child who spent a year being a dog would wear a dog costume when she was at home and she went about everywhere on all fours, she even tried to get us to put her food in a bowl on the floor (though I drew the line at that).
But at no point did she express any desire to change her body to be a dog’s body, she didn’t cry herself to sleep when people called her a girl instead of a dog. She was a child, playacting and pretending to be a dog because it was fun for her.
The only commonality between my transgender daughter and my sometime-dog-daughter is that both of them were pretending. My sometime-dog-daughter pretended to be a dog, and my transgender daughter pretended to be a boy. There was no transgender phase.
The big difference is pretending to be a boy caused my transgender daughter pain, while pretending to be a dog bought my cis child joy.
Trans Youth Care gender specialist, Darlene Tando says that there is no evidence to suggest that children are pretending to be trans.
“If we were seeing people do this just ‘for fun’ then we might have a little bit more caution, but that is not what is happening.”
“When someone is allowed to represent their authentic gender it comes as a huge relief and is in fact an intervention. If a child or an adolescent or an adult feels that they have to make a course correction down the line, it’s really important for them to feel able to do so, and it should be embraced as much as we would embrace the asserted gender the first time.”
The evidence overwhelmingly supports an affirmative care model, which for the parent and community of a young transgender child, simply means allowing them to express their identity. To attempt to suppress the identity of a transgender person is a form of conversion therapy and that it’s wrong to look at it like a transgender phase.
Darlene Tando says this can come from cis people projecting their own lack of understanding onto the child. This might cause it to seem like a transgender phase.
“…because a lot of cis gender people can’t really envision living life as a different gender. They think if they tried they would “change their mind” because it would not be authentic, which is ironic if you think about the fact that what all transgender people are really trying to do, is be authentic.”
Dr Michelle Telfer is Associate Professor and Paediatrician at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. Dr Telfer was involved in the creation of the world’s first set of clinical guidelines for the treatment of transgender adolescence: The Australian Standards of Care in 2018.
Dr Telfer says affirming trans children is vital to their wellbeing.
“The evidence is very much overwhelmingly in favour of affirmative care and the evidence also really well documents the damage that is done with either denial of that care, or even in a worst-case scenario, an active denial or conversion type responding to in terms of, not providing that care.”
Dr Telfer recounts her own experience as Director of the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service
“I was really struck by the young people I was seeing and just anecdotally how strong the affirmative stance was in terms of producing really good outcomes. Like at an individual level, you could see the power of allowing a young person to express who they are and supporting them in being who they know themselves to be.”
“You could see in front of your eyes the way that the young person would thrive and bloom.”
For me, my own daughter has been a trans girl now for several years – though she says she was always a girl and that we were the ones who got it wrong.
There are a few moments that really stand out for me, in particular the first Halloween when she went trick or treating as a girl, and had covered her still-short hair with a wig.
After coming back to the car with her sister she beamed with joy, “The lady said “Hello girls”” she said, absolutely delighted that a stranger had seen her for who she is, a girl.
That’s all she – and other trans kids- need; people to see them and respect them for who they are.
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