Gender Diversity in Children: Where Are We?
A visible shift has occurred regarding support for children expressing diversity in gender identity and expression. Some parents are recognising gender diversity as young as age 2 (i.e. that their child’s assigned gender does not match the child’s reality) and are seeking support to raise a healthy and happy child.
Research now tells us that the prevalence of gender diversity is around one percent and schools are now recognising the need for training often in response to a child affirming their gender in the school environment. School principals recognising their responsibility to act in the child’s best interest, has been a marked turning point. Some schools are preparing staff for what they understand now to be the inevitable requirement of a gender affirmative environment for children who have not yet disclosed their gender diversity. Indeed, all schools have children with gender diversity whether they know it, whether the child is has disclosed it or not, or whether the child’s parents are aware of gender variance, or not.
Although children with gender diversity are more visible in the media, there still appears to be significant lack of awareness regarding the needs of these children, including in the professional community. Formal training is still severely lacking in medical, psychological, psychiatric, social work and counselling training. Pre-natal classes for expecting parents would be wise to plant the seed and let parents know that one percent of children have a gender identity that does not meet societies expectations. Unfortunately, personal biases and ignorance still drive much of the service provision as many children continue to be coerced, punished or threatened for expressing their genuine gender needs.
The field of gender diversity continues to evolve as more children and adolescents express non-binary identities (i.e. not feeling congruent with either being female or male, but rather identifying themselves as being as being somewhere on the spectrum between female and male, a mixture of both, or alternatively not identifying with either). Professionals need to know how to work affirmatively with these non-binary children and teens. Simultaneously, governments, law makers and society need to acknowledge that gender diversity is NOT a mental condition but rather a naturally occurring human variation.
Dr Elizabeth Riley is a counselling practitioner in Sydney, specialising in gender diversity and works with adolescents expressing gender diversity, their parents and families.