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Gender identity is important to who we are. Breaking the socially constructed set of norms that we have for each gender, can be highly consequential. This is especially concerning when it comes to children. Many young children who do not identify with the assigned sex they were given at birth, often suffer ramifications from society. After looking at various research done on this topic, we can see that children, especially transgender children, often suffer negative consequences from not identifying with the gender binary. The research done examines several negative side effects that these adolescents suffer from and these vary from issues such as family acceptance and mental health to even more concerning things such as, bullying in school to suicide ideation or suicide.
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Transgender children, are often faced with many difficulties. Authors of the article, Backlash Against Gender Stereotype-Violating Preschool Children, say that, “within the first years of life, children develop increasingly rigid beliefs about the behaviors, preferences, and traits associated with particular genders” (Sullivan et al, 2018, p. 2). The article goes on to explain, that children are like sponges and, “one explanation for children’s development of strong gender stereotypes early in life, is that structures in adult society provide strong cues to gender stereotypical behavior” (Sullivan et al, 2018, p. 2). Thus adults are enforcing the gender binary and therefore when a child does not identify with the gender binary, like trans children, they often feel a strong sense of social isolation or they experience backlash from adults who support the binary. This isolation is due in part to the acceptance, or lack thereof from their family members, their friends, or society in general. This article analyzed this acceptance by looking at adult’s treatment to children who did not fit the gender stereotypes of the gender binary. They wondered if children, as young as the age of three, faced the same types of penalization for breaking these stereotypes that adults did. After doing their research they found that many children did. “Children who violate gender stereotypes were rated by adults as less likeable than their stereotype conforming peers” (Sullivan et al, 2018, p. 17). This puts children, especially trans children in a very tough position because they begin to realize that society views and treats them differently from everyone else. This led many children, who noticed this backlash, to later on not feel as comfortable about challenging those stereotypes and thus lead to increased bullying at school, mental distress, and even suicide for many adolescents and youth.
Unfortunately, the negative side effects do not stop there. Acceptance for many trans children is not easily obtained. “Transgender or a gender nonconforming child who transgresses binary gender norms may face culturally imbued transphobia and psychological trauma […] they play at the margins of gender in their dress, play, choice of friends, choice of toys and activities, or very self-identities” (Ehrensaft, 2011, pp. 528-529). Research has shown that transgender children are constantly being challenged by society to fit into the gender binary. Many adolescence face adversities daily and as past research has pointed out, a lot of this distress can come from families who are not accepting of the child. Families are supposed to be the sacred place where every member loves and supports one another. Unfortunately, for many transgender children this is not the case. Research shows that there is a disproportionate number of homeless shelters and foster care homes filled with youth who identify as LGBTQ+ because many families are not accepting, or are even violent to these children. Ehrensaft says that, “family rejection was associated with significantly higher rates of depression, suicidal ideation and attempts, substance abuse, and sex-related health risks” (Ehrensaft, 2011, p. 530). Once rejected by their families, many children turn to the streets because they do not feel safe in their homes and feel like it is better for them to be independent and away from the people who bring them distress. The research from the article on backlash that gender non-conforming children receive, shows that it is hard for people to accept individuals, even children, that challenge or break social norms. As a parent, you are supposed to be loving, encouraging, and supportive of your child, but often as Jean Malpas points out, this is easier said than done for a child who breaks the gender binary. “Because of community pressure or personal beliefs, parents struggle to accept a child who does not fit within social gender norms” (Malpas, 2011, p. 454). This change is also difficult for parents because when a child decides that they do not identify with the gender given to them at birth, they are still very young. Parents main worry is that children are just confused, and will change their gender again, once they hit adulthood. The fear then is that their children will face even more social consequences if they decide to switch later in life. But research shows us that children understand and are able to affirm their identity from a very young age. It also shows us that they are not in as much distress about the change, as their parents may be. Malpas points out, “sometimes the parent’s difficulty to embrace their child’s gender nonconformity is more closely related to their own sociopolitical location and fear of not fitting in” (Malpas, 2011, p. 463). But if a parent chooses not to accept their child due to their own fears or worries, they are putting the child in a worse position by oppressing and isolating them even more. It is especially hard for parents who have a transgender child. This is because once new parents find out they are pregnant, they immediately assume the child will either be a boy or a girl. But when the child is born and identifies as transgender, parents begin to feel a sense of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is described as, “a mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information” (Ehrensaft, 2011, p. 536). Sometimes this cognitive dissonance can be so hard on a parent that they can even begin to feel resentment towards their child and then are unable to accept their child for their new identity. To avoid this, parents need to realize that “acceptance is protection” (Malpas, 2011, p. 468). Parents who cannot accept their child for who they are, fail to watch for warning signs such as, stress of the child and comfort in school. If a parent fails to acknowledge these signs, they are failing to see that the child may be getting bullied, may have serious mental issues, or worse case may be suicidal. It is extremely important that if parents care for their children and their child’s safety, that they show acceptance of their child’s new identity.
As we can see acceptance is key but it is not always easy. Acceptance of trans-kids is especially hard because it is a fluid gender that from a very early age many people do not accept. Parents tend to put blame on themselves or view their child as sick or diseased with a mental issue. But as we can see, this is not a mental problem. A transgender child is just living in a body that does not match with what their mind is telling them that they should be. When they break, or violate the stereotypical gender norms, to help fit better into what their brain tells them, they receive a lot of backlash, even as children. This can lead to an increase in depression, anxiety, bullying, and a constant fear for these children’s safety. Once we observe the negative impact that not accepting these children can have, we can start to avoid the consequences that come with it.
Distress is a huge negative outcome that comes from a lack of acceptance or backlash that transgender children receive from society. “Transgender people face specific stressors related to their gender nonconformity, experiences with and expectations of victimization, and internalized transphobia. This increased stress and victimization is associated with increased depression, attempted suicide, and drug use” (Hatchel, 2018, p. 2). For many transgender people, especially kids, this can be detrimental to their identities. As trans children grow up and start school, many face peer victimization for being part of a minority group. They also face a lot of stigma and when they do not conform to the gender stereotypes of their assigned sex there can be many issues that they face daily. In school, many transgender children face emotional, physical, and verbal abuse. Some of this abuse comes from their appearances but it also comes from their perceived sexuality. Many transgender people are perceived to be non-heterosexual. Therefore, they are victimized not only for their gender identity but also for their sexual orientation. This victimization leads to increased depression, attempts of suicide, and other risky behaviors. Often transgender teens report higher rates of drug and alcohol use and abuse. Research also shows that when they are physically assaulted or victimized, their drug abuse doubles. This leads to many issues and this lack of acceptance in school and with peers leads to unstable futures for many LGBTQ+ children.
Living in a world where people do not accept you also leads many transgender children to live a life filled with loneliness and shame. Further it can be associated with ongoing distress which can lead to many other issues. The article on Caring for Transgender People says, “transgender students face higher discrimination and poorer educational outcomes compared to their counterparts” (Ong et al, 2017, p. 402). This gap between transgender students and their peers makes them even more isolated and when they are segregated from a group like the rest of their peers, it adds an extra level of stress to their life. Research has observed that extra stress may be the cause of depression, increased risky behavior, and other negative health issues that these children face. Research is also showing that, “transgender children face a variety of obstacles such as resistance and discrimination from the healthcare profession, the mental health profession, the school system, their peers, and even their own family members” (Capous-Desllas et al, 2017, p. 527). With all of the discrimination from these institutions or other individuals, it’s easy to see that transgender people do not have a lot of places to turn for help. We live in a society that only accepts the gender binary and anyone violating this binary faces sanctions such as victimization and discrimination. The U.S. culture is also highly heteronormative. Meaning that there are only two genders and people can only be sexually attracted to the opposite gender. So when a child identifies as transgender and as a homosexual, they feel almost double the oppression as before, putting even more stress on the child.
Children are not the only ones feeling this distress though. Research done on the article by Capous-Desyllas and Barron, show that parents also face some of this backlash when their child is old enough to go to school. In research done from the article written by, Capous-Desyllas and Barron, it discovered that many parents received complaints from other parents saying that they did not want their child around a transgender child. This was as if to say that transsexuality is contagious and they did not want their child to “get it.” Kids often felt rejection because of this and were bullied. This leaves many children feeling on guard to trying daily to conceal who they really are. (Capous-Desyllas, 2017, p. 534). This was also a pressure that many children felt if they were part of a highly religious family or school. According to the research, many Christian or other religious groups did not accept transgender children and were not supportive of them either. This was not only true of religious groups, but also true of medical professionals. A lot of the medical care that transgender children need to make them feel happier, more comfortable, and accepted is not covered by insurance. Not having this available makes many of these children feel even more like outsiders.
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Again, referencing the idea of acceptance, research shows that acceptance, especially in the family, makes a child happier and promotes positive mental health and a greater self-esteem. This was shown to help protect against things like depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and behaviors. (Capous-Desyllas, 2017, p. 537). If people like schools, religious groups, medical professionals, peers, or family members, continue to see transsexuality or transgender identities as wrong or not normal, this will continue to increase the shame and victimization these children face.
Overall, when examining these negative side effects that children face, it is vital that we recognize the violence and discrimination they experience especially in their homes. Therefore, many children feel rejected and choose the streets over their homes because of the lack of safety and comfort. “Currently LGBTQ+ make up 40% of the population experiencing homelessness, even though they are only 5-8% of the U.S. youth population” (Robinson, 2018, p. 30). They are also often over represented in the child welfare system. The issue with this is that these children face increased violence in these homes due to an effort to change these children’s views and behaviors. In many homes, the children were rejected for the fear that they would molest the other children. Also many foster parents had heterosexist beliefs and once they found out the child was non-heterosexual the child was kicked out of the home and onto the streets which lead to an increase in risky behaviors. Many youth describe these homes as gender segregated with lots of stigmatization, isolation, and institutionalization. The shelters were divided into a girls and a boys side. Research done showed that these welfare systems, “were often shaped around and upheld cisgenderism” (Robinson, 2018, p. 39). Therefore, for trans youth, this segregation led them to feeling more isolated and it marked them as different. Youth also said that institutionalization in residential treatment centers (RCTs) was common and was used to try and fix LGBTQ+ peoples sexualities. Making them feel like something is wrong with them that needs to be fixed.
Many LGBTQ+ also had a lack of access to services as well as institutional barriers. Homelessness for many LGBTQ+ youth was associated with family-conflict regardless of their gender or their sexual identity. “However, identity-based family conflict resulting from a young person coming out, is one of the most frequently cited pathways leading to homelessness among youth and young adults who are LGBTQ+” (Shelton et al, 2018, p. 3). The rates of housing instability were parallel to the increase in rates for risk of involvement in criminal actions when LGBTQ+ were compared to their heterosexual/ cisgender peers. Once again, the research links back to acceptance in the home and with the family. If we had homes that were welcoming and accepting for these children we could be saving many youth and young adults from homelessness and many other negative impacts that come with non-acceptance.
Transgender and LGBTQ+ children face oppression from housing, institutions, schools, friends, peers, and from family. Thus, increasing their vulnerability to serious mental health issues as well as an increase in the amount of self-hatred that these children feel. In our highly heteronormative and gender binary society, continuing with these ideas makes these youth susceptible to many stressors, and makes it very hard for them to fit in. All of this leads them to living lives with more stress and higher rates of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, and suicide. If we could learn to accept one another we could be saving these youth a lifetime of pain and oppression. Breaking from our gender binary and heteronormativity norms is a start as well as acceptance of people who differ from these norms. When we do this, we can create a world that is as accepting of trans people as it is of gay and lesbian people. They would feel safer, relaxed, happier, and we could decrease the amount of youth’s drug and alcohol use as well as help with their mental health issues.
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