Increase in trans support is offered as child gender fluidity rises in St Albans district
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What would you do if your child wanted to change gender? In this special report, Caroline Thain explores the growing community of transgender and gender fluid youngsters in St Albans.
Giving birth to a girl and then raising that child as a boy is not an experience most are familiar with.
But there is a growing St Albans community of transgender children and young people who identify as gender fluid – neither male nor female, both or alternating between male and female at different times.
According to trans charity Mermaids UK, which supports families experiencing gender diverse and transgender children, it is difficult to know how many people are gender-variant.
Yet a survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, undertaken in 2012 by 10,000 recipients, suggested one in 100 people are gender-fluid to some degree.
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Children and young people who are gender incongruent – that is, they feel a strong discrepancy between their birth gender and who they feel they really are – are at risk of isolation, low self-esteem and social functioning difficulties.
Such “great adversity” can lead to suicide and is made worse by lack of understanding and intolerance from health, education and social care professionals and society generally, according to the multi-award-winning charity, which aims to raise awareness, lobby for human rights and improve understanding.
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In St Albans and surrounding areas, new groups are starting up, run by mums of trans children to try to meet local demand. Hertfordshire County Council lists networks of support including youth clubs for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) teens and more are opening across Hertfordshire in coming months.
Last year, Stonewall – the national LGBT equality charity – named Hertfordshire as the best local authority for celebrating gender diversity among young people and for tackling gender-related bullying in schools.
According to St Albans-based mums it’s paying off. One pleased mother said: “My daughter is at Marlborough School and started this September. So far she is loving life and I hope it stays that way.
“She left primary school as a boy and everyone has just accepted the change with no dramas.”
Another proud mum added: “My daughter is 11 and one of the most beautiful children on the planet. She is happy and healthy and will never be a boy again. He used to be a boy at school and a girl at home. So she started secondary school as a girl. I wish I had the guts to let her be free a lot sooner.”
Seven-year-old Dexter was born a girl named Talia. He has lived as a boy with his mum Mienna Jones in Watson Avenue, St Albans, for several years.
She explained: “Children like Dex know from a very early age. He definitely knew at the age of about two that he was not a girl. I will use male pronouns, even when talking about Talia, as I am so used to doing this. Dex is male and only associates as male. He has never deviated from this.
“It was when he was aged two and a half I noticed a strong dislike of anything ‘girl’. He wouldn’t wear knickers and refused to play with girls’ toys. He had male friends but I never thought anything of it as my friends all had boys and I was a tomboy as a kid.
“Then when he was between three and a half and four, I realized he felt differently. He would protest if I said she or her and he said things like ‘Mummy I feel a boy’. He never talked about wanting to be a boy – he said ‘I am a boy!’ Dexter is a boy in his mind. He knows he would be described as transgender but he simply sees himself as a boy.”
Dexter - whose dream is to be an Olympic gymnast or runner when he grows up - celebrated his birthday on Wednesday – days after his mum opened a new support group for similar young children. It is the first of its kind in St Albans.
The group is for parents of transgender kids and transgender teens and adults, and anyone who wants to support and create more awareness.
Mienna, 44, is thankful that her GP was very helpful. Although she admitted she knew nothing on the subject, she asked the family to return the following week, when she had researched the best relevant professionals to refer them to.
Dexter is now under the care of The Tavistock Centre for gender identity dysphoria – described by the NHS, as a condition where a person is dissatisfied and uncomfortable because of a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.
The Tavistock Centre operates a Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) for children and families experiencing difficulties in the development of their gender identity, who can “sometimes find things very tough”, according to its website - which also states that young people and their families can experience high levels of distress as their gender evolves. It is a national service based in London and Leeds and is unique.
Fortunately Dexter is happy and content in his identity and has only had positivity and support from friends, school and family. The pair recently appeared as guests on live ITV television programme This Morning, with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, to discuss gender fluidity.
Mienna added: “We have always been very relaxed and accepting of everything. It’s been so gradual over a long period so it came as no shock. I want people to know that the most important thing is to be accepting of anything. Your child is still your child. Love is love.
“I want people to understand this isn’t a choice, in the same way being gay isn’t a choice. He’s adamant he will grow up and get married and be the husband and daddy and he will have a wife.
“We will always support Dex in whatever he wants to do. We tell him regularly that if he should ever feel that he is in fact a girl, we will adjust back at the drop of a hat.”
The first meeting was last Thursday and Mienna Jones can be contacted via a Facebook search for details of how to join the support group. Tracy’s Story
Tracy, 45, is mum to a trans boy. Born a girl called Kiera, her 14-year-old lives in Hatfield as a boy and applied to legally change his name to Danny this week.
He also attends a LGBT group for teenagers in Hatfield as Danny but attends a girls’ school where his identity is outwardly ‘female’. He returned to school with the new legal name of Danny – despite still wearing a skirt and blouse because it’s a girls’ school.
Tracy said: “Kiera has great friends at school. Her friends accept her as trans and are pleased she has a new identity as Danny. She has had no negativity in her circle of friends. I wish I had support when my child was younger. I think the older they make changes, the harder it is.
“Danny wants to fully transition to be male and The Tavistock will offer the help needed mentally and physically to be able to do this. Testosterone will be the first step and we are hoping to start as soon as he finishes Year 11, so there will be more of a visible change as Danny starts college.”
He had never been interested in boys’ toys then one day, Dianne found her biological son, aged two, upstairs with his sister’s dress and make up on. Through school he would change into girls’ clothes every evening, he hated football and wanted to keep his hair long. He would say to her “When I grow up and I’m a real girl I’m going to have loads of dresses”.
She says everyone accepted him as trans and “even the boys at school bought lip gloss for his birthday”. He joined the netball team and asked to wear dresses every summer. When he left primary school, he joined secondary as a girl. His mum said: “We changed his name and started saying she. There’s a sparkle in her eyes now. I love my daughter more than life itself.”
Jenny’s child changed her name from an overtly feminine name to Charlie, to reflect what she feels is her pansexuality. She is 14. Her mum said: “She dresses in an androgynous way and prefers to appear more male than female. She prefers not to be called she/her, so we use her name and pronouns, which quite is tricky.
“School are very good and respond very well. They are seeing more sexuality and gender fluidity. Friends and family are adjusting well and she has a large group of friends who share this new-found sexual/gender freedom. We love her regardless. We really don’t mind – as long as she is happy.”