Transgender Youth: Challenges and Hope

Over the last few decades, we have come a long way in terms of our understanding of the issues facing transgender clients.  In a recent ted talk, Margaret Nichols, PhD, who has worked with transgender clients for over 30 years discusses the challenges facing these groups and clears up some important pieces of information.

Even in the last ten years, transgender people have become more and more visible throughout our society – in the news and social media, as well as in our personal lives.  Nichols notes, that this is not due to an increased number of transgender people, but rather due to a change in our culture – trans people are feeling more comfortable coming out at younger ages.

The field of psychology used to consider transgender clients as having a rare and serious “disorder,” termed “Gender Identity Disorder” or GID.  We now know that, gender, rather than lying on a binary, is on a continuum.  Transgender people are not mentally ill, we now know that it’s a normal variation.

Twenty-five years ago, the “treatment” for gender variant children and teens was to force them to conform to gender stereotypes.  This “treatment” is now considered unethical, as we now know that this type of view and treatment is exactly the opposite of what these kids need – and contributes to a lifetime of shame, secrecy, and hiding.  Nichols notes that forcing children to be someone other than who they are is “soul crushing,” and contributes to the incredibly high suicide rates seen in this community.  Another contributor?  Lesbian and gay children are bullied and harassed at much higher rates than other children, and transgender kids are bullied even more.  What’s most alarming, is that suicide rates among the LGBTQ community vastly exceed that of the overall U.S. population.  Here are the numbers of people who report having attempted suicide at some point in their lives:

  • 47% of transgender adults reported attempting suicide
  • 10-20% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults reported attempting suicide
  • 6% of adults in the general population reported suicide attempts

There IS something we can do:

  1. Family support can act as a buffer against the harassment that these kids face on a regular basis. As a parent, having a transgender child is difficult to accept; it’s scary, confusing, and new, and we don’t know what’s going to happen and what our child’s life will be like. By showing and telling these kids that we love them and accept them just the way they are, we can make a MAJOR difference. Just look at the numbers:
  • 57% of transgender teens without parental support attempt suicide
  • 4% of transgender teens with parental support attempt suicide
  1. Get involved! Advocating for your child at school, in the community, and in our justice system is another important opportunity for action. For more information go to National Center for Transgender Equality: www.transequality.org.
  1. Lastly, just like other children and teens, some gender non-conforming kids struggle with anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. With the added pressures and stressors facing them, some of these kids can greatly benefit from engaging in individual, group, or family therapy in open, safe, and supportive setting.

Some good places to start learning more:

For additional resources in your area go to our LGBTQ resources page.

TEDx Talks: Beyond the Gender Binary: Understanding Transgender Youth | Dr. Margaret Nichols. March 30, 2015.

Haas, A., Rodgers, & Herman, J. (2014).  American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults.  Findings of the national transgender discrimination survey.