Caring about trans kids in 2023 continues to be heart-breaking. Worry and far too many tears.
Over the past 4 years, most ‘spare’ hours in my day (or more usually in the night) have been focused on my PhD: “Cis-supremacy: Experiences of trans children and families in the UK”. I chose to embark on a PhD in frustration at the bad science that informed policy and practice across the UK, frustration borne from failed attempts to advocate for trans children’s rights since 2015.
I have now submitted my PhD (phew), having already published 12 peer reviewed articles on the experiences of trans children and supportive families (research that has to date been ignored by UK media, NHS and policy makers…).
At this point of transition from PhD to what comes next, I’ve been taking stock on the last 7+ years of trying to advocate for trans children in the UK.
At first, my reflection was rather subdued. Since 2015, year upon year, across a host of different indicators of progress, the situation in the UK has got worse. Healthcare for trans kids has gone from abysmal to worse than abysmal. Media coverage has got worse. Discrimination appears harder to combat. Guidance for schools has got worse.
Having tried for so many years to help build a better world for trans kids than the one I saw in 2015, it has been beyond dispiriting to see everything year upon year seem worse. Year upon year it has been harder to make room for hope.
That is not the end of the story.
I was actively searching for the signs of optimism that I need to keep up the fight.
The thing I ended up on, our greatest strength, (and the reason why we will win) lies in supported and self-confident trans kids.
Since 2015, year upon year, more and more trans kids are being supported by their families. Amidst private forums, the numbers of affirming families continue to rise. Families whose kids know that they are respected, valued and cherished for who they are.
Year upon year I have seen families supporting trans kids at a younger age, families waiting shorter and shorter periods before affirming and embracing their trans kids, requiring trans kids to fight less hard for parental love. Year on year I have seen more families react with instant positivity, affirmation and love to a child sharing their identity. A noticeable shift from even 5 years ago when that was a rarity.
Year upon year I have seen majority discourse within family support groups shift from a focus on ‘loss’ or worry about a child’s identity to love and pride.
Year upon year I have seen more families stand up alongside their child at any age and argue for their equal rights.
Year upon year I see more trans kids who can speak up and claim their rights even in primary school (not that I think trans kids should carry this burden…)
Year upon year I see more families and kids demand genuine equality and respect from their wider families, schools and communities, not settling for tolerance or segregated accommodations.
I see within communities of trans kids the difference that this trans positivity makes. I meet trans kids who have been supported, who have grown up expecting to be treated as genuine equals to their cis peers. Trans kids surrounded by love and support can grow up without the heavy blanket of shame that so many older folks carry through our lives (see toxic shame).
When I look back over the past years of advocacy, the issue that gives me most pride is every family who I have in some small way supported to gain the knowledge and confidence to support and advocate for their trans kid. Every single supported trans kid makes a difference.
Those supported trans kids go out into the world a bit stronger, a bit less kicked down by this trans-hostile world. Many such trans kids and trans positive families end up providing a safe space for trans kids without affirming families. Many trans kids (whether supported at home or not) end up supporting a whole network of trans youth, providing peer advice, validation and mutual aid.
Every trans kid makes the world a better place.
This is why transphobes are so afraid of social transition.
Because trans kids who are supported young are less likely to grow up overwhelmed by shame or self-hatred.
Trans kids with self-respect will fiercely demand their rights. And they will fight even harder for the rights of their friends.
Trans kids are no longer isolated and alone.
Some trans kids stand on many strong pillars of support and trans-positivity. Some trans kids wobble on only a few. Every bit of support and trans-positivity matters.
Transphobes, including in the NHS, are trying to formally discourage social transition. To deny trans kids support. To deny them connection. To instil in them shame.
But, in the internet age, that boat has already sailed. Trans kids can’t be kept in the dark any longer. Their route to self-knowledge and self-actualisation cannot be controlled by the NHS, the media, transphobic parents or transphobic politicians.
Families of trans kids are now able to connect to each other. Amongst private parent support groups the case for social transition is recognised fact. Family after family after family report what is glaringly obvious to any trans person. Trans kids need love and support, and with love and support they can thrive.
So yes, the UK context is dire. It is dire in a way that continues to cause immense harm to trans people, especially trans children.
But, the fight does not primarily lie in legislation or in policy or in the NHS. Those fights are vitally important and will continue.
But even while those fights are slow, demoralising, unjust and depressing as hell, the real victory is coming from every single trans kid who grows up without being overwhelmed by shame. From every trans kid who grows up expecting equality. From every trans kid who believes there is space for them in this world.
That is where the real battle lies. And that is where we will win.
Because trans kids are easy to love. They are easy to respect.
Trans kids who have love and respect will claim their place. Trans kids can and do have childhoods filled with excitement and joy.
Trans kids change the world, family by family, school by school, community by community.
Happy trans kids change the world. Pissed off and angry at all the bullshit trans kids change the world.
Every single time you show love and support for a trans kid (or for a family struggling to stick up for a trans kid) you are shifting our world towards a better place. Towards a kinder place.
So, for everyone beaten down by cis-supremacy and transphobia – think how many individual lives you have touched in some way with trans-positivity. That matters.
For every family who is struggling to keep their trans kid happy and safe – know that being affirmed and celebrated in childhood is setting your kid up for the future, and that is a huge part of this fight.
It is so easy to be overwhelmed by fear and stress.
It is so easy to see no light at the end of the tunnel.
Focus on the trans kids in our world. They probably don’t even want to go through that tunnel anyway. Follow their lead (with swords at the ready).
Keep up the fight.
One thought on “Trans kids in 2023: Optimism and defiance”
I really needed to read that this morning 💕
Raising my trans child has been a medical and social minefield. At times her journey has felt like it has bitten off chunks from her self esteem and her curiosity for the world has at times disappeared. That said my child is now 15 and knows she is loved beyond words supported by an army of family and she knows she can must make and design a place for herself in this world whenever there doesn’t feel like there is one. As her parent though I do worry about her future and your words remind me that with loving support and an unbreakable determination we can make such a difference to so many lives .
Thank you 🙏🏻