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Gender Identity Issues in Children and Adolescents

Gender Identity formation in infancy, childhood and adolescence is complex and has varied expressions. The latest research indicates that true gender identity is formed during the eighth week of pregnancy. There may however be periods when a child will swing back and forth between identities. It is important to remember that gender identity is only one of a host of fluid categories that make up self-awareness.

What ever the cause the result is a child that is suffering deeply and probably suffering from needless guilt and shame because of what they are. All children need unconditional love, growing up as a transgendered child, it is learned very quickly that what you are is not acceptable. Our society and culture has conditions of worth reinforced by parents, peers, and the media. We are given rewards when we accomplish, love when we behave, punishment when we transgress.  It is not based on our value as a person but on society and culture. These forces can be subtle and pervasive.

The result of this conditioning is that we like ourselves only if we have met the conditions and standards expected of us by others, rather than if we are realizing our own potential. Since the “standards” are created with out regard to the needs of the individual, it is impossible to meet them and therefore have a positive sense of self. This happens early in childhood before the child understands cognitively that gender problems are social problems.  The child learns very early that the real self must be hidden and a wall or mask is built.  The public persona of a transgendered individual is an artificial construct that is built to fit in, to be like every one else. We tend to built a wall or force field.  It is during this time that the experience of aloneness begins or increases.  The force field around the self is strengthened.  {“More power to the shields Scotty!”  “ I’m givin’ her all she’s got, sir.” (any number of Star Trek episodes).}

Adolescence is a time of tremendous cognitive, biological, and social change. Attitudes and norms of our society can lead to silence, self hate, and suicide. Drugs and alcohol are used to numb and cope. LGBT students are 1.6 times more likely to experience substance abuse.  Some transgendered teens will become involved with the Gay community out of ignorance, not realizing that what they are is transgendered not homosexual.

AIDS Vancouver distributed a pamphlet stating: “It takes a lot of energy to deny your feelings, and it can be costly. You may have tried using drugs and alcohol to numb yourself against these thoughts. There are alternatives to denying these valuable feelings.”

Asked what would have been helpful to them in school, transgendered adults indicated several things that they felt might have been useful.  These included role models (some one who is out), an advocate or representative to speak for them, awareness curriculum to educate other students, counselors open to questions, and to put a stop to all the jokes. 


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Last modified: 02/09/09