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Puberty and Transgender Youth
Puberty and Transgender Youth
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Puberty and Transgender Youth

Youth

Everyone has a gender identity—a feeling or sense of being masculine, feminine or something else. Sometimes people’s gender identity matches their bodies, and sometimes it does not. When someone is born with a penis and identifies as a girl or born with a vagina and identifies as a boy, this person may have a gender identity called “transgender.”

The changes of puberty can make any person feel anxious, and it’s possible a transgender or trans person may feel especially anxious when their bodies start to change in ways that don’t necessarily match their gender identity. These feelings are totally normal.

If your body is changing in ways that do not match how you feel inside, it may be helpful to talk with a trusted adult like a parent, caregiver, counselor, therapist, teacher, or health care provider. These adults may be able to help affirm your gender identity and explore ways to support your pubertal development that are more in line with your affirmed gender.

FAQs

What should I do if I don’t feel like either a boy or girl, or if how I feel doesn’t match my body?

Lots of people have qualities that are associated with different genders or no gender at all. If you feel like your gender identity does not fit neatly into a boy or girl category, that’s perfectly normal. Some people may identify as nonbinary, meaning their gender identity isn’t simply boy or girl. You may choose to dress or style your hair in lots of different ways that feel good to you!  As you figure out what feels right for you, you might find it helpful to reach out to a trusted adult or friend for support.

If you feel like your body does not match how you feel inside, then you may also want to talk to an adult that you can trust. People who feel like their bodies do not match how they feel inside may identify as transgender or trans. With the help of trusted adults like parents, doctors, and counselors, you can explore what might help make you feel more comfortable in your body.

Parents

All people have a gender identity, which is an internal sense of being a boy, girl or something else. For transgender people, this gender identity does not match their biological sex or the sex they were assigned at birth. Puberty can be difficult for all young people. It can be an especially difficult time for some trans young people who may feel alarmed, anxious or scared when their body begins to change in ways that don’t match their gender identity. For example, if a person identifies as a boy, it can feel frightening to grow breasts or get a period. If a person identifies as a girl, it can be alarming to grow facial hair or develop a deeper voice. These feelings are totally normal. Other trans young people may feel totally comfortable. The important thing is that a young person who identifies as trans or is questioning their gender identity gets the support they need to figure out what’s best for them so they can feel comfortable in their body.

Parents, caregivers, and your child’s community will play a crucial role in supporting and affirming a young person’s gender identity. Some families find it helpful to connect with a knowledgeable mental health provider or counselor to provide additional support.  No matter what someone’s gender identity is, everyone starts to experience emotional changes during puberty and changes in their friendships and other relationships. This is all totally normal for everyone, but it can feel stressful to manage so much change if a person is also feeling like their physical body does not match their gender identity. Talking with a counselor or therapist may help a young trans person or person who is questioning their gender identity navigate how they’re feeling. These professionals may also discuss if or how a young person may or may not want to come out to friends and family as transgender, including whether to change the pronouns they use or to change their physical appearance to reflect their affirmed gender. Transgender young people who experience discrimination report higher rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm. Supportive home environments have been shown to decrease these mental health disparities. It is especially important that parents and caregivers provide necessary support for trans children.

Regardless of how your child identifies, remember that there’s no one way to be any gender and that gender variations are perfectly normal variations of human diversity. There are lots of ways to manage puberty so that it can be a fun, exciting time of change rather than a scary or stressful one.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

It is important for children to understand that gender identity and expression are spectrums, and that you are there to support them if they feel different in terms of how they identify or express their gender. The best way to know what your child is thinking or feeling about their gender identity is to have conversations about the topic. We live in a very gendered world, so there are many opportunities to bring up gender identity. Gendered public restrooms, hyperfeminine or hypermasculine characters on TV or in movies, or transgender celebrities all provide opportunities to bring up the topic of gender identity. (The books listed at the bottom of this page can also be useful in starting these conversations.) You can ask some of the questions below to get the conversation started:

When you see people on shows who challenge conventional ideas about gender identity and expression, talk to your child about it

It seems like it’s not easy when someone expresses their gender in a way that people don’t understand. What do you think?

Talk to them about how people may be teased or bullied because of their gender identity or expression

Have you ever seen someone teased for being too much like a girl or too much like a boy? How did that make you feel? What did you do?

You hear someone make an assumption based on gender or perceived gender identity.

Show your child how to respond if you see or hear someone make an assumption based on gender or perceived gender identity. Since there is no one right way to be a boy, girl or any gender, you can interrupt assumptions and stereotypes about gender. For example, if someone associates a toy or clothing item with a specific gender, address it. “Oh, a doll isn’t a girl toy—it’s just a toy. I think that it’s important for kids of all genders to have practice taking care of something.” When your child sees you addressing gender stereotypes or transphobia, it not only teaches them how to respond in these situations, but it also signals to them that you are someone they can talk to about gender.

Educators

All people have a gender identity, which is an internal sense of being a boy, girl or something else. For transgender people, this gender identity does not match their biological sex or the sex they were assigned at birth. Puberty can be difficult for all young people. It can be an especially challenging time for some trans young people, who may feel alarmed, anxious or scared when their body begins to change in ways that don’t match their gender identity. For example, if a person identifies as a boy, it can feel frightening to grow breasts or get a period. If a person identifies as a girl, it can be distressing to grow facial hair or develop a deeper voice. These feelings are totally normal. Other trans young people may feel totally comfortable. The important thing is that a young person who identifies as trans or is questioning their gender identity gets the support they need to figure out what’s best for them so they can feel comfortable in their body.

If transgender students or students who are questioning their gender identity are fortunate, they may have the support of their families. Some trans youth don’t have supportive families. It is important to remember that transgender students don’t need parental consent to receive affirming support from their schools. You don’t need parental consent to call a student by the name or pronoun that they ask you to use. Transgender young people who experience discrimination report higher rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm. Supportive school environments have been shown to decrease these mental health disparities.

In addition to the emotional changes a child may be experiencing, there may be physical changes to be addressed. There is no one way to be transgender, which means that each person’s path to affirming their gender identity is unique. While some transgender people may choose not to take puberty blockers, others may decide to take puberty blockers under the supervision of a health care professional. Puberty blockers are medications, which a person may take to prevent the changes of puberty from happening. Essentially, puberty blocking medications—usually given as an injection or an implant—block the production of hormones from the pituitary gland, which stops or delays the physical changes of puberty. The effects of the medication are only temporary. If a person stops using puberty blockers, the physical changes of puberty will pick up where they left off. (Puberty blockers do not affect the social and emotional changes of puberty.) Taking puberty blockers can be a good option for young people who are questioning their gender and may want more time to explore how they feel about their gender before their body starts to change. These medications can also be important for transgender youth who want to prevent the onset of secondary sex characteristics that don’t affirm their gender identity (like voice deepening, breast growth or facial hair). These medications are only administered under the care of a trained medical provider to very early adolescents who are just beginning pubertal development. More research is needed to understand the long-term effects of taking puberty blockers, but doctors agree they are safe and effective and their effects are reversible.

Whether a student has the support of their families or not, educators and other school professionals often play an important and crucial role in affirming the lives of trans students by using students’ pronouns—those that a young person has asked you to use because they align with their gender identity—and creating a safe climate in the classroom that is free of transphobia. It may take practice to use a student’s pronouns, but if you make a mistake, correct yourself and keep practicing. Research conducted by GLSEN found that trans and gender non-conforming students experience more hostile school climates than other lesbian, gay or bisexual students. Reducing transphobia can make school a safer place for trans and gender non-conforming students. Schools can also ensure students have access to safe facilities that align with their gender identity. If a student comes out to you, ask what you can do to support them. You may be the first person to ever ask to provide this type of affirming support. Here are some additional resources for supporting trans gender students.

Discussion Questions

After watching the video with your class, process it using the following discussion questions:
  • How did the person in the video feel as they began to go through puberty and their body did not match how they felt inside? What do you think that might be like?
  • How did the person in the video express their gender in ways that matched how they felt inside?
  • What are some ways other than through dress that people express gender?
  • What should a person do if how they feel inside does not match the sex they were assigned at birth? Who are some people they could go to for support?