Last week, Equality Arizona Radio broadcast a long format interview with Kim Pearson, Executive Director of TransYouth Family Allies. TYFA is the first national organization exclusively dedicated to supporting, educating and advocating for gender variant and transgender children. Hosted by the Emmy Award winning Donna Rossi, Thursday's podcast provided answers and accurate information in response to the recent so-called "controversy" in Douglas County, Colorado, where a child is attending elementary school in her affirmed gender--with the support of her family.
The administrators in Douglas County are handling the situation well, providing unisex bathrooms and reiterating their desire as educators to give all students a learning environment free from harassment. Bravo! I believe that these types of best practices are becoming more common because of the hard work and educational efforts of advocates like Kim. If you pop over to Equality Arizona Radio, you can listen to Kim answer tough questions about trans kids. Questions like: When do kids know that they are transgender? How old should a child be to transition? What does "transition" mean in the case of a five year old? What happens when an endocrinologist delays puberty in trans youngsters?
Kim also gives much needed advice to the parents and loved ones of gender variant children. The most basic of which, "Listen to the children." From her experience as the mother of a trans son who began expressing gender dysphoria at age three, to her organization's work with hundreds of families with trans kids, Kim advises parents to always listen to what their child is saying--even if it's something that's hard to hear like "I'm really a boy" or "I'm a girl inside." According to Kim, if cross-gender behavior and play is "persistent, consistent, and acute," a child may be transgender. Children form their gender identity between the ages of 3 - 5 years old according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, so it only stands to reason that some parents will be dealing with these issues early in their children's lives. Thanks to groups like TYFA, PFLAG's Transgender Network, and Gender Spectrum Education and Training, there are critically needed resources for these families that didn't exist a decade ago.
I found one of the most interesting aspects of this podcast to be Kim's recounting of her own confusing experience parenting a trans son before she found information and resources. In preschool, her child--a trans boy--used a pair of scissors to cut of his eyelashes because he didn't want to be "pretty." She also told the story of another trans kid--a trans girl--who tried to cut off her penis because her parents had repeatedly explained to her that she was a boy because of it. To critics who warn of the supposed dangers for youth who transition at young ages, Kim outlines the serious risks of delaying transition: low self esteem, self harming behaviors, running away from home, and suicide. It's important to note that "transition" for kids can simply be a "social transition," that is wearing gender appropriate clothes and hairstyle and using different pronouns and a new name.
Next up for Kim is TYFA's conference for families of trans kids in Philadelphia (June 11-13). Generously, there is no fee to attend conference workshops. And keep an eye out this fall for a new documentary on gender by National Geographic. One of the five segments in the documentary will feature a trans youth and interviews with TYFA.
Click the link to listen to the full interview with Kim Pearson. And for more information about TYFA, or to download resources for families, educators, doctors, or other helping professionals working with trans or gender variant youth, please visit www.imatyfa.org.