Gender affirmative care is the practice of listening to your patient, as the expert in their own body, and using your expertise as a practitioner to help and guide them along the path which will help to alleviate their gender dysphoria.
Whatever direction that path may take, holding someone’s hand and truly empathising with their situation, so that they feel understood and supported, is key to improving the mental wellbeing of someone who is struggling with their gender.
For younger patients, social transition can go a long way to alleviating gender dysphoria but many parents worry that affirming a child’s gender by allowing them to, in Dr Johanna Olson Kennedy’s words, wear “A hat and a handbag” could have adverse effects.
In a recent episode of the GenderGP podcast we spoke to gender specialist, Darlene Tando. Darlene presents with the Trans Youth Care symposium team, Johanna and Aydin Olson-Kennedy. We asked her how she responds when this commonly asked question comes up:
What if we affirm a child’s gender, call them by the pronouns they feel most comfortable with, change their name, allow them to wear the clothing they want to wear? What happens if they change their mind in the future? What damage will we have done?
This was her response:
You know it’s really interesting, even the term “change their mind”, I don’t know that that’s even accurate, I call that ‘cis gender projection’ 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 trans people are really trying to do, is be authentic.
So it’s a little bit of a projection to understand what someone might feel like if they were not aligned with their authentic gender. It’s typically not a “change one’s mind” scenario, although I would say that does happen in rare cases.
I describe it more of an evolution of one’s gender. Which can change over time. As we evolve as human beings, as we grow, as we understand nuances of gender a little bit more than we could when we were younger. We may decide to express ourselves differently, we may decide to represent ourselves differently, or we may understand ourselves differently over time.
It’s okay for a child to be listened to and to be affirmed as they are, and to have that path change further down the line, and then for that path to be affirmed and supported in much the same way.
I think that is what creates the strength that is so important for trans people to be able to navigate their lives. 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.
Our head of counselling, Marianne Oakes, describes her interpretation of the process in the following terms:
“Changing your mind suggests going backwards but change is always a movement forward. The same can also apply to someone’s relationship with their gender, it keeps moving forward, we can change the road, or the direction we are on, but it is not about going backwards.”
Social transition can be an essential step for many younger trans people to be able to feel comfortable in their skin. Parents who are able to affirm their child’s gender, to truly listen and react with compassion and care, do so from a place of profound love.
If you have been affected by this post and would like to speak to a member of the team, support is available. Please visit our Help Centre to access our team of gender specialists.
Image courtesy of Darlene Tando