Categories
family trans youth

Pride in Our Youth Work

At Gendered Intelligence, we are proud of our youth work service. We want to take the opportunity to go further in detailing our practices; we feel it important to delve into and offer more information about the age ranges and safeguarding procedures for the people our youth work service supports.

Gendered Intelligence is a charity that aims to improve the lives of trans people in the UK — we specialise in supporting young trans people aged 8-25. Youth work widely has a long and proud history of supporting children and teenagers in their lives as they are, and also in their journey to becoming young adults.

“My daughter and I attended the under 12’s group. This was led by professional and very lovely youth workers who went out of their way to make my daughter feel safe and welcome. The children remained hearing distance from their parents and carers at all times – I know this because they had to ask me to be quiet (the shame).

My daughter had a new lease of life after the first session and I’ve rarely seen her so relaxed and comfortable in her own skin. We can’t wait for sessions to resume. Thanks to all at GI for creating safe happy spaces for children like mine. “

A parent of one of our users

Since 2018 we have also been running a peer-led 18-30 group for young trans and gender questioning adults to meet together and find mutual support, strength and friendship.

We have noticed over the years that for young trans and gender questioning people, the journey of self-realisation can start later than ‘teenage-hood’, extending into early 20s. The need for support at this stage— from responsible and trusted adults and organisations — is vital.  

Occasionally, across our calendar of events, we have some sessions where we invite children, teenagers and young adults who are members of our groups to attend the same event.

For instance, our Imagining Our Futures sessions offer much-needed information about career and future family opportunities, information which is sorely lacking for these young people. We open these events up to parents, carers and family members as well as our wider age range and more staff. This creates more of a ‘community day’ feel than a youth group, with parents and carers being in the same space as their children and our youth workers and the session.

Our Context

We have been working with transgender and gender-questioning young people for over a decade; around 500 young people attend our youth groups every year. We provide a supportive environment where young people can meet others in a similar situation.

“When my son was 8, we started going to GI, as he was bullied in school for who he was. He needed to hear from and play with like-minded children, who would take him as he is. The first time we came to the youth group, we were welcomed with open arms.

GI is such a wonderful community and an actual, bully free, safe space for my child. He made some incredible friends as well. GI gave him the confidence to be him, unreservedly and unapologetically and they have given me the confidence I needed to be a spokesperson for my child, until he is old enough to tackle society’s pressures himself. “

All our youth work takes place in the context of well-established youth work practice in the UK. We are endorsed by UK Youth, London Youth and the Youth and Community Department at Ruskin College, Oxford , a leading provider of youth work qualifications, as well as by many other senior youth work practitioners and organisations around the UK. There are existing guidelines and frameworks which shape the work of thousands of youth groups across the country, including residential youth trips for mixed age ranges. We are no exception to this framework.

We often find, however, that we attract negative attention because we are trans-identified professionals and work with young trans and gender diverse young people. We welcome criticism or reflections where it may offer us the ability to further improve our youth work practice, but undue criticism on the trans youth work practice existing in and of itself is an obvious outcome of a transphobic mind. Hyper-focus on our professionals — who go above and beyond for the young people entrusted in their care — simply for their identities is callous.

This callousness is met instead with thanks from users and their parents, with one parent telling us:  

“I just wanted to thank you all as an organisation for everything you do. I know that you are such a supportive organisation, and honestly the whole of GI feels more like a family to me.

You’ve saved and changed lives, and I just wanted to drop you an email to say thank you so much for that, and I’m so grateful for it.”

Our Practices

Our work is funded by a range of well-respected grant-giving foundations, including Children in Need, the Blagrave Trust, the Lottery, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Comic Relief, Trust for London and City Bridge Trust, to name a few. Application processes are as thorough for us as for any other organisation.

All funders ask to see our safeguarding and child protection policies and on occasion, asked us to adapt them to include something specific. For example, Children in Need grants officers asked us to develop an e-safety policy, which was gladly produced and approved.

We welcome interrogation and questioning related to our safeguarding processes and practices and have a positive attitude to continual learning.

As with all charities Gendered Intelligence is governed by a Board of Trustees, who have responsibilities to ensure safeguarding is taken seriously and carried out effectively in the organisation. We adhere to the rules of, and are regulated by, the Charity Commission, which includes compliance of safeguarding.    

About Our Practices

At GI, we have been running split age youth groups as part of our services and we believe that those seeking to discredit our work are not representing the facts of our age splits in our work.

For clarity – our youth groups are split by age as follows:

  • 8-11 year olds group (with 7 year olds allowed to stay if their parent/carer stays at the parent group in the same building) in London
  • 11-15 year olds group in London
  • 16 – 20 year olds group in London
  • 13 – 20 year olds groups in Leeds and Bristol
  • 13 – 25 year olds group for our Black, Asian and other minority ethnicities  group in London
  • 11 – 25 year olds group for our Community Saturday, with increased staffing, parents and carers group running alongside and siblings in the same age range welcome to join in.
  • 18-30 year olds peer led group

As stated, on occasion we carry out activities with wider age ranges, including our Youth Board, Swimming, Pride trips, Imagine our Futures season.

On these occasions, the space is staffed with more youth workers and trained volunteers than usual and have strict policies and rules around how the attendees share the space. This includes: no 1:1 areas, facilitated discussions, and toilets separated by over- and under-18. Our workers are briefed in detail about supporting all ages to share and be in the space and all young people are supervised at all times by at least two workers. With the coronavirus crisis meaning our youth work sessions are now online, we felt the immediate need to put strict safeguards into place around our online work. When we host these groups, our young person attendees are not given the option to message each other 1:1 (only publicly to the entire group, or to the Youth Worker hosts). There is no way in our online spaces for young people to privately message each other; therefore there is no possibility for sharing of details. Entry into these groups is vetted through our usual Youth Work procedures. Our workers are briefed in detail about supporting all ages to share and be in the space and all young people are supervised at all times by at least two workers.

All young people under the age of 16 have parental/carer consent to attend our sessions. We communicate regularly with parents and carers over all matters concerning their young people who attend our services.

Our residentials every summer have 18 youth workers to 36 young people, which is a ratio of 1:2. Young people are divided into the following age categories for sleeping: 11-13; 14-15; 16-17 and 18+.  As you might expect, we have a ban on any kind of sexual behaviour and the consumption of alcohol on our residentials. 

Our swimming group and residentials have strict rules and regulations that the workers and young people understand. Changing rooms and sleeping areas are split into various age ranges to keep young people separated according to existing national laws. These age ranges are as follows: under 16s, 16-17s & 18+ spaces.

We always require that young people under the age of 18 have consent from a parent/legal guardian in order to take part in our swimming group or overnight projects. Before we go away or go swimming, we invite young people’s parents/carers to a meeting so they can listen to our project plans in full, ask questions and meet the team of workers as well as the other young people. For our swimming, parents and carers are invited to drop their young people off and talk to workers at that point.

Our safeguarding qualifications 

We have a robust safeguarding policy in place which applies to everyone who works with young people, including volunteers. 

Our Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSL) are Dr. Catherine McNamara who works on the Board. Finn Greig, the Head of our Youth Service is also a qualified DSL 

Finn Greig has a First Class Hons Level 6 Youth and Community Work BA, 15 years’ youth work experience and Level 3 Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) status.

Dr Catherine McNamara has carried out the following training:

  • Child Protection Training, Designated Safeguarding Lead update training, NSPCC, 2017, 2019
  • Organisational development coaching, Institute of Group Analysis, 2016
  • The Prevent Agenda, MASHEIN, 2016
  • WRAP (Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent), Harrow Council, 2016
  • Child Protection Training UK, Safeguarding Children level 3 (Designated Safeguarding Lead), 2015

The deputy to our youth service and residential programme lead, Jake Kelly, also works as a LGBT specialist support worker at Portsmouth City Council as part of the Early Help and Prevention team and runs the PCC’s LGBT Youth Group. In addition to this, he has 10 years’ youth work experience, a level 3 Youth and Community Work qualification, a Masters in Applied Theatre and 6 years’ experience working in various school settings, including Head of Inclusion at a large secondary school in Hampshire.   

In terms of external review or contributions on specific issues, our work is informed by safeguarding and child protection expert Ann Marie Christian. Ann Marie helps schools, organisations, charities, churches and childcare settings to implement their statutory duty and responsibility in keeping children safe. She set up Child 1st Consultancy Limited in 2010 after working for a local authority in frontline child protection since 1996. She works in partnership with colleagues in various settings and supports them in offering bespoke intense support via training and consultancy.

We do not require our youth workers or mentors to have qualifications around psychotherapy, but some of them do. Indeed, some are therapists or counsellors in other aspects of their professional lives. They all have at least a level 2 or level 3 qualification in Youth and Community work, or are working towards them. The youth workers are also situated in a growing interdisciplinary team in the Youth and Communities Services, where we also carry out therapeutic practices.

Misdirected influences

Recently, we have noted an increase in members of the public saying that they have “safeguarding concerns” about Gendered Intelligence. This is not to mean there are any genuine areas of concern with our policies and practices, but as a way of suggesting that where trans adults carry out youth work with young people, there must be a nefarious aim. Thankfully, simply saying “safeguarding concern!” repeatedly and loudly will not bring one into actual existence: we are proud that our safeguarding policies are commendable and watertight.

We find that the assertion that our policies are unsuitable to be a mendacious one, often made in bad faith by people who would like our unique and necessary youth work programmes to no longer exist. It is unfortunate that these accusations mean we have to redirect our energies to protect our young people from even more loud voices. We would much rather use our limited resources to support our users to flourish as individuals. If there is a silver lining, it is that insidious and transphobic invective directed at us stands to strengthen the case that there is an acute need for Gendered Intelligence’s youth work output.

Safe spaces and working with young trans people

You may be aware that trans, non-binary and gender diverse children and young people face significant barriers to living the safe and care-free life that young people deserve. They face bullying and harassment at school or college, in public life and sometimes at home too. This often leads to poor mental health and low self-confidence. 

According to research by Stonewall, almost two thirds of trans pupils are bullied for being trans at school. Whilst we at Gendered Intelligence cannot confirm these exact figures with great certainty, we know from the young people who attend our services that anti-trans bullying is both prolific and rife.

However, with the right support, young trans people can flourish. 

Our support of young people sits within an established and recognised youth work practice framework. Through our youth work, we support young people to: improve their social networks and reduce isolation; achieve a sense of self-empowerment; increase confidence and build resilience. 

When young people come to our youth groups, they find recognition, understanding and validation. They leave feeling seen, with new friends and a sense of pride.

We recently asked a young transgender person, aged 9, what made him proud about being part of our 8-11 youth group. He said: “It feels like I’m part of something, a bunch of special people. Before I felt like I was nothing.” Our youth work practice exists so no child feels themselves to be “nothing”.

Creating a safe space for young people who identify as trans or are questioning their gender identity is at the core of our youth work.


Categories
bodily autonomy Gender Recognition Act GEO policy trans inclusion trans rights trans youth

What is an irreversible decision?

As part of our newly-launched BAEB campaign, Gendered Intelligence CEO, Dr Jay Stewart has written on the idea of bodily autonomy for trans people.

Who has the right to bodily autonomy?

In a film called Gendernauts by Monika Treut, (1999), trans historian Susan Stryker said:

It’s been a really powerful way of feeling that I’m in control of my own body, that it’s like saying: my body belongs to me and I’m going to do with it as I choose… I have the right or the ability to exercise complete control over this flesh. I live here. I don’t rent, I’m not borrowing it from someone. I didn’t have to pay a damage deposit. It’s mine. To do with it as I see fit. … [it’s] my responsibility. (Monika Treut 1999– interview with Susan Stryker)

This was the single most important utterance that I had heard when I was developing an understanding of my own gender, and emerging trans identity at the turn of the millennium. The principle of bodily autonomy as a human right is stated clearly. I am in my own body. It is mine. And it is ultimately my responsibility. There is a sense of graveness but also freedom in this revelation.

Bodies are also routinely regulated by the state and societal norms pervade our thinking in relation to our own bodies and indeed in the way that we judge and police other bodies. So, I recognise the tensions between freedom and constraint. Nonetheless in contemporary discourse when it comes to trans adults’ lives the sentiment of bodily autonomy is appreciated widely. But what about people who are under 18 years old? Do they have a right to bodily autonomy?

On 22nd April, Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss, gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee. Here she set out her priorities for the Government Equalities Office. In response to the reform to the Gender Recognition Act, she stated:

“…not a direct issue concerning the Gender Recognition Act, but [one which] is relevant, [is] making sure that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future. I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.”

What is an irreversible decision?

Being a legal adult means something in society. It means the ability to take responsibility for your actions. Children are granted differing levels of responsibility which builds throughout childhood and teenage life before developing into an independent adulthood. With this comes degrees of freedom and opportunity to take decisions  which is generated from demonstrating an ability to take ownership of  responsibilities. It’s an iterative process.

For instance, I have ten year old twins and for Christmas last year one of my children wanted an iPhone 11 pro, whilst the other wanted a snake. Having your own smartphone (we settled on an iPhone 7) is a key moment in a child’s and indeed their carer’s/parent’s life. As they step into their own digital social world, I worry. It’s important that I learn about what’s involved – what are the risks? Of course, my constant thought is that I want to protect my child. Allowing my child to have a smartphone involves ongoing conversations about trust. We agree some basic rules. We equip ourselves and educate ourselves about how to keep safe and my child must embrace the responsibility that is involved in having a smart phone.

Now, what about the snake – well that’s another dilemma. Will the child look after it, feed, clean out its vivarium? Will the child take responsibility? In addition to this, did you know corn snakes live ‘til they’re 20 and that potentially would make my child will be 30 by the time it dies? That’s quite a commitment for a 10-year-old. However, giving a child an opportunity to be responsible is part of watching them grow. And of course, as responsible adults we are the back-up plan; we are there to catch our young people if they need us.

Entering teenage years the journey continues towards independence. Choosing GCSEs, A or T Levels, who to be friends with, who to break friends with, ear and other piercings, emerging sexualities and life experimentation. Decisions are happening all of the time. Which ones can be categorised as ‘irreversible’ is hard to say.

Okay, so let’s talk about gender

So, how does this relate to gender? Currently when we are born we are given a gender – an emphatic ‘it’s a boy’ or ‘it’s a girl’. That decision is based on genitalia. Each of us has no say in the gender that we are given. One could argue that it’s the first non-consensual act.  We think of ‘being a boy’ or ‘being a girl’ as a very normal part of human existence, natural even. However we don’t have to dig too deep to know that gender is a fundamental aspect of social life and there are deeply embedded social expectations to behave in particular ways based on the gender that we have been given.

What if you don’t behave in these particular ways? Or can’t? What can a person do?

At Gendered Intelligence we run groups for young people who feel that the gender that was given to them (the gender that they didn’t choose), doesn’t feel right to them. Being trans is an identity category or label that some individuals— including young people— take on for themselves. It is a word that we use to explain something about our gender where we are saying ‘hang on folks! The gender that you’re putting on me – it’s not right. It doesn’t feel right.’

Some individuals will use this term about themselves and feel empowered. Finally we are able to communicate something about our sense of self, about our inner feelings to the world around us, including our loved ones and family members.

Some will try on the label and take it off again – it’s not for them after all. Young people are welcome to come to GI to explore their gender and if they find that actually they come to the conclusion that they’re not trans, then of course that’s okay too. No judgement on the proverbial journey!

It’s not for anyone else to tell another person that they’re trans, or indeed that they’re not.

Being trans or becoming trans involves a process of self-determination. Not all identity categories work this way. I think sexual orientation also involves a process of self-determination in the sense that an individual might say, “I’m a lesbian. That description helps me to organise and communicate my principle desires for other women”. Not that people actually talk like that!

The problem with society is that being trans, like being lesbian, gay or bisexual, involves us saying ‘hey, I’m not the thing others have put on me and assumed me to be. I am different to that’. Despite strides made by the LGBT rights movement over the past decades, society continues to assume a person is heterosexual until they tell us otherwise. Likewise, we assume that a person, a baby born and a child growing up, is okay with the gender that they’ve been given or at least that they don’t have any intentions to change it (we often call this cisgender). In short, LGBT people go against the ‘norm’.

So, here we are at the crunch point – let’s imagine there is a person under the age of 18, who is telling the people around them that they do not feel themselves to be the gender that they have been given  – what actual decisions are ahead of them? And who is making them?

What is an irreversible decision? Or where may the harm lie?

Truss’s concern around individuals making ‘irreversible’ decisions is a hangover from a medically framed model of being trans. When a trans person chooses to have medical intervention, they do this in dialogue with a health practitioner who is a specialist in gender care. The doctors’ code of ‘do no harm’ provides an ethical dilemma around balancing the rights of an individual to bodily autonomy and the ability to take responsibility for themselves, with that of the duty of care a statutory funded health practitioner has to their patient.

One way doctors have dealt with this is to differentiate the treatments between that which is ‘reversible’ from that which is considered to be ‘irreversible’.  Before a person undergoes any kind of medical treatment via a Gender Identity Clinic or a Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), they will carry out social actions that are changeable, moveable and if wanted also reversible. They are not fixed acts. For instance, to start using a different name, to try it out and seeing how it feels   As a person goes about their daily life, they might try to experiment with their gender expression – clothes, haircuts, make up, or with their mannerisms, walk, voice etc. There is a lot in social life that a person can change if they wish to – all of which are not harmful and are, if you choose to think of it this way, ‘irreversible’.

This is about experimenting with the ways in which our expression feels authentic to us as individuals, where we feel that we are being most real, where we feel settled in our self (as much as possible anyhow – I’m being cautious here if we are to recognise the complexities of a world that highly regulates body image, as indeed, we regulate those of others).

Trans people, including those under 18, should be – and indeed are – free to change any of these social aspects of what we would call ‘gender’. This is because we have the right to be able to autonomously express ourselves and that should be respected.

It is in the refusal to respect a trans person’s wishes where harm is caused. And yet, to use a trans person’s name and pronoun can be such a small act on the part of those around us and the difference can be so very validating for us.  And if a person changes their name and pronoun again, or returns to a previous one, or goes onto wear a totally different style of clothes again, or in anyway reflects a different gender expression again, then that’s all perfectly acceptable. It all forms part of the rich tapestry of diverse life. The more openness to explore the better for everyone.

Likewise if a person feels confident with their name and they want to change important documents they can do that – there are processes to change names on passports, getting a deedpoll, changing names on exam certificates and if the person needs to change their name again and again, going back to their previous gender marker, then it is entirely possible – it is reversible, if you choose to think about it like that.

So what about body changes?

Families and young people who attend the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) will discuss options around the treatment that will change their bodies. Some children (usually around 10-12 years old) might explore puberty blocking treatment. For anyone younger than this, there is no hormone treatment or medical intervention of any kind. Puberty blocking treatment is reversible in the sense that when administered it stops puberty progressing and, if treatment stops, puberty kicks back in (like pressing the pause button – this is how it is currently understood).

For 16 year olds who want their bodies to masculinise through testosterone or feminise through oestrogen (sometimes called cross sex hormones) they will need to have been on puberty blockers for at least a year. Remember -sixteen is the age that a person can access health services and administer medicines without consent from their legal guardian; they can also get married, pregnant and join the army – all pretty responsible stuff.

So here we have a picture –  a young person and their legal guardians have been in GIDS services for some time, they will have attended several appointments, talked about their relationship to gender and what they would like to happen; they will have had the opportunity to explore and express their gender in everyday life and be continuing to do that; they may have made some changes to their identity documentation, been put on puberty blockers and, at the age of 16, go on cross sex hormones. At 18, they may consider surgery – as Liz Truss MP says, they would “have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit”.

GIDS is there to provide a space to discuss and explore – what does the young person want, what do the family members think, what are some of the concerns everyone has, what do we know about the choices that are available? It’s important that there is space for discussion, exploration and to get the right information in order to support decision making. Parents and carers are involved.  Staff in schools are involved. Sometimes Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are involved. Therapists and counsellors are involved. Gendered Intelligence, along with a whole number of LGBT charitable and voluntary sector organisations, may be  involved. We make up a collective of professionals around the child – thinking about what is in the child’s best interests, safeguarding them, holding them at the centre, listening to their wishes, supporting them in the respective roles that we have, asking ourselves ‘where the harm lie?’ We each bear our own responsibilities here, and recognise that the young person has responsibilities too. No one is rushing (in fact waiting lists are long!) There are no quick decisions made out of nowhere.

There is always a context – an iterative process of decision making.

We need to do away with the false dichotomy of ‘reversible’ and ‘irreversible’ when talking about young trans people and decision making. It’s not useful. What is useful is for adults to process their fears of gifting children their right to autonomy. We all know that young people thrive when given responsibility. We also know that, as adults, we should be supporting and reassuring young people, providing a safety net beneath them, working with them.

Trans, gender questioning and gender diverse people, especially those under 18 years of age, need more support not less. We need less judgement, not more.

Categories
bodily autonomy policy trans rights trans youth

Judicial Review on GIDS

This case is about trying to draw a near-invisible line in the sand about what healthcare can and should be offered to young people and what should be denied. This is an arbitrary distinction: a child can be informed of any consequences and be expected to fully consent to any other life-saving treatment where possible, but we’re expected to believe this is magically untrue of treatment around gender dysphoria. At the heart of this case lies a mission to run roughshod over the legal precedent of Gillick competence.

With waiting times creeping into the years, gatekeeping of options for young people with gender dysphoria – whether intentional or not – is already causing acute distress to a population who deserve and demand robust and proper care. If our response to young people in distress is to compound these feelings, we are failing them. These people know themselves, know their bodies and know what it right for them individually. Where there exists Gillick competence, they consent in the fullest terms, after several consultations with the NHS’s only service for them, to the treatment which is right for them. Some young trans and non-binary people may choose to take puberty blockers until a time where they can safely and legally access medication which may help them feel more congruent in their gender.

Either a young person can consent to their medical treatment when presented with all known information about that treatment, or they cannot. These are highly individualised conversations which cannot be reduced to simple talking points or a reductive rolling back of enshrined rights through the courts. If we were, as a society, to allow for children to be stripped of their agency when choosing what’s right for them, we set off a dangerous domino effect of others deciding what is and isn’t right for all of us. If this case is successful in removing Mrs A’s child’s right to consent to medical treatment, the line in the sand is removed: A loss to trans youth is a loss to all.

Categories
trans youth

On being visibly trans (or not)

One of our volunteers has written about their own difficult relationship to visibility for TDOV (Trans Day of Visibility), which is celebrated every year on the 31st of March. 

It’s a quiet night (or very early morning) in the summer of 2011 and I’m sitting hunched over a laptop I’ve borrowed (stolen) from my mum for the night, on an internet deep dive into all things trans. I scroll past the faces of young trans men taking their first shots of testosterone, waking up from top surgery for the first time, even just selfies they’ve taken showing how happy they are post-‘transition’, and it’s like I’m seeing a reflection of myself, or of what I wanted for myself, in the future.

Almost in the exact same moment I make the connection that I myself am trans, I quickly and hastily decide that it’s also a secret that I want to take to the grave. Oh, not that I thought there was anything wrong with being trans, instead it was just… Not something I felt like I should share. A simple preference about what I chose to share about myself, right? Looking back, I can recognise that what I was actually feeling was a severe amount of internalised transphobia, and an unhealthy dose of shame.

I was afraid of judgement, and what cis people would think of me, and how they would perceive me from there on, and, and, and……. The ‘ands’ were endless, and each one weighed down on me so much that I went about my transition as secretively as possible. I told my closest friends at school, and my family, then went to university far far away from home, where I socially transitioned all in one go, and god forbid any cis person suggest I was trans.

Whenever I hung around the other trans people I’d met at university, it was like a breath of fresh air because for once I didn’t have to hide a huge part of myself, but at the same time it was hard not to listen to the dark voice in the back of my head was whispering ‘careful, if you hang out with these people too much where people can see, people might think you’re trans’. Past self, you idiot, you are trans. And there’s nothing wrong with being trans. There’s nothing wrong with being visibly trans.

I was so terrified of ‘cis judgement’ and thinking of things from the ‘cis perspective’ that I’d forgotten to even view things from my own trans one. I was prioritising the thoughts and opinions of an imaginary hivemind I had dubbed ‘The Cis’ over my own well-being, and it was unhealthy.

But I couldn’t help but remember how happy and free my trans friends seemed – sure they had to deal with discrimination, but it wasn’t like my closeted bubble was entirely discrimination-free. And my cis friends were nice, accepting people, nothing like the ‘The Cis’ hivemind I’d formed in my mind…

Then Trans Visibility Day came round. I’d almost forgotten it was that ‘today’, but when I checked my phone I was stunned.I saw so many happy and joyful trans people of all walks of life all over my social media feeds, full of pride and absolutely radiant. It was like looking at a (much more diverse) recreation of that same moment that made me realise I was trans in the first place.

I couldn’t help but remember how earnestly I had wanted to one day post my own transition photos with pride. I wondered what my past self would think of how I had made it to a point where I was proud with how much I had grown, and how far the community had come, but I hadn’t posted a thing.

I couldn’t help but wonder where I would even be as a person, if the original members of the trans community had done the same as I had, and stayed silent about their experiences.

Transgender Day of Visibility: a day to celebrate trans lives, embrace our diverse community and even raise awareness of the struggles we still face. A day to make ourselves heard, so that not only cis people can listen and learn, but so the young trans generation can see a bright and happy future for themselves.

I was struck with a thought, a dream I’d had as a young trans man, of being settled on the beach on a hot summer day with my dream husband and our circle of friends, enjoying a barbeque and laughing as we all chickened out of actually swimming in the sea. I would have been shirtless, because of course, and my top surgery scars would be visibly on show (while of course sun-screen would be well applied).

Though I had no way of knowing, in my dream a young trans person would have seen that and felt a little more hopeful about being trans. It’s something I desperately wish I had seen when I was younger, and something that I wished I could give to a young trans person out there even more.

It would be perhaps too perfect an ending to this if I’d ended my TDOV by making my own post, officially coming out and ‘accepting myself’. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t. But I did reach out to my community. I made new friendships with trans people across the world, and even started volunteering with a trans charity. I’ve been more vocal about my support of trans issues, and managed to squash down that voice in my head that always made me so wary of what ‘The Cis’ would think. Maybe I’ll even add a trans pride patch next to the gay pride patch on my jacket.

To any trans people out there reading this who are in a similar situation to what I faced: I know that there’s safety in silence, and you should think about your own well-being and safety. But there’s also joy in being vocal. With visibility, you can help the world seem like a brighter place to a young trans person in need.

 

Categories
media trans youth

Gendered Intelligence responds to press enquiry

Today we received a press enquiry from the Times that makes further allegations about Gendered Intelligence and our relationship with the Tavistock and its gender identity service for children and young people. We recently addressed similar allegations made by the Sunday Times. Mermaids has also responded to this enquiry.

We are extremely disappointed that our professional relationship with the GIDS team has been called into question and that the experiences of trans and gender diverse young people and their families continue to be undermined.

We have a professional relationship with the GIDS team. Gendered Intelligence has attended GIDS family days in the past to take part in panel discussions for young people and families to showcase the many varied experiences of gender. These have also involved gender nonconforming people who aren’t trans and trans people who do not undergo medical transition

Gendered Intelligence has been working with young people and their families for over a decade. As an organisation, our aim is to ensure that all young people can feel safe and supported in school, at home and in public. We take our duty of care to all young people seriously, including safeguarding, and encourage other organisations to do so too. Our support of young people sits within an established and recognised youth work practice framework.

With the right support, young trans people can flourish. We recognise that medical intervention is not right for all young trans and gender diverse young people. Young people’s exploration and expression of their gender identity is valid at all stages, no matter where it leads. Equally, access to hormone blockers can be life-saving for some young trans people. Our youth groups provide a safe and supportive space where young people can explore these vital questions. We provide space where it is ok to be uncertain – this is particularly important for young people who are constantly asked to prove their gender identity to adults.

Fundamentally, it is discrimination, prejudice and lack of understanding that creates the biggest problem for trans and gender diverse young people. Over two-thirds of trans pupils are bullied for being trans at school. When young people come to our youth groups, they find recognition, understanding and validation. They leave feeling seen, with new friends and a sense of pride.

But we can’t protect young trans people from the outside world entirely. Our task is to work together to transform society so it not only tolerates but celebrates gender diversity in all its forms. That is the only way that we will make life safe for all young people.

Categories
media mental health trans youth

GI’s response to Sunday Times GIDS article

Gendered Intelligence has been working with young people and their families for over a decade. As an organisation our aim is is to ensure that all young people can feel safe and supported. The experiences of our young people inform all the work that we do and our services are centred around supporting them, their families and professionals who work with them. Young people who use our services have a wide range of gender identities and expressions and we believe all of these are valid and real.

We recognise that GIDS provides a vital service for many families who are not able to access appropriate services in their local area. We have worked with GIDS to support our shared service users for many years. This work has included invitations to take part in panel discussions for young people and families to showcase the many varied experiences of gender. These have also involved gender nonconforming people who aren’t trans and trans people who do not undergo medical transition.

We refute the accusations that GIDS is providing unprofessional care and the insinuation that our relationship is based on anything other than a mutual respect for the work that we both do to support young people.  We take issue with the use of hypothetical case studies being misrepresented as fact to undermine the experiences of young people. Gendered Intelligence believes that it is vitally important that the autonomy of each individual young person should be respected.

Categories
Gender Recognition Act policy trans youth

Young people and the Gender Recognition Act

Gendered Intelligence’s stance on gender recognition reform for young people

When the Government announced its consultation on the Gender Recognition Act in July of this year, what we were hoping for was a robust enquiry into how we can best reform legal gender recognition in the UK for the benefit of all trans people, including young trans people.

With our work at GI being centred around young trans and gender diverse people, we were disappointed that there were no questions explicitly about their experiences of dealing with the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). This seems like a missed opportunity to meaningfully explore options for gender recognition with young people whose current and future well-being depends on updates to the GRA, especially in the current climate where increasingly vocal, transphobic rhetoric questions  trans people’s very existence. If Scotland can ask these questions, why couldn’t England and Wales?

It’s so important to get the biggest and most useful change for the most amount of people, taking special consideration of those who’d otherwise be ignored or left behind. We need to get this right, or we’ll be waiting another 14 years before there’s any hope of reform again.

If you’re a young person or ally

There are a few opportunities to shoehorn answers into the consultation response by young trans people or their allies. Questions 10 and 11 are the most obvious, where the interaction between age and the GRA is talked about. We’ve some guidance here on what we might write for these questions, but the best answers will always come from the heart and from direct experience. There are other opportunities throughout the consultation response, such as questions 1 and 2. Question 5 asks about documentary evidence of gender, which is something many young people are going to struggle to get, and this is just another one of the many places where young people’s experiences can be talked about.

What Gendered Intelligence has been doing

When the Scottish Government undertook its own consultation on Gender Recognition Act reform, it asked for feedback on its proposed options for young people. Our view now is the same as then: that young people know who they are, that approaches that affirm their gender are the best for young people and the people they know, and that the baseline for respect and recognition needs to be much higher than it is.

Our policy officer has been meeting the young people we work with at their youth groups, asking them what their first-hand experiences are with the GRA and how the process might be improved. By and large, they said the same thing over and over again:

  • This isn’t rocket science.
  • We know who we are.
  • Fix it and fix it now.
  • Make sure everyone who needs access to the process can get it.

Gendered Intelligence’s take on young trans people and the GRA

Whilst we’re all too aware that this isn’t being explicitly consulted on, we need to be making a stand and speaking up for those the reformed Act may continue to leave out.

It seems so obvious that 16 and 17 year olds should have full, autonomous access to the GRA process that it needn’t even be mentioned, but here we are! At 16, a person can change their name, receive any medical or even surgical treatment they want, and can even marry. There would be absolutely no logic to deny extending the GRA to 16 and 17 year olds, and ultimately we don’t see any real pushback to this.

None of the options given in the Scottish Government’s consultation for under-16s were perfect, but some were better than others. Obviously there needs to be some system in place, and some of these templates could be easily mirrored down in England and Wales, making for a seamless system across Britain.

Gendered Intelligence is asking for a system of legal gender recognition for under-16s through parental application, with the option of application by a capable child where parental consent can’t or won’t be given. A system of parental application might be best as it works under the assumption that the young person will have parental consent and support, which is ultimately one of the biggest factors in how successful and happy a transition is for a young person and their family.

Of course, the reality is that many young people of all gender identities don’t have much parental support, so there has to be something in place for them. We’re asking for a system of ‘application by capable child’, wherein a capable young person can access the GRA process by providing a statutory declaration. Application by capable child as the only option would make the process longer and should only be as a fall-back option where parental consent isn’t granted.

Young people’s access to a system of legal gender recognition that works for them must be guaranteed. Their right to recognition cannot be muted or discounted simply because of their age.

Making a better future

Having worked with young trans and gender diverse people over many years, we see them for themselves  – the full range of young people just being themselves, in their own unique ways. There can be no doubt that they should have the right to be recognised in the gender they know themselves to be.

Now’s the time to refuse to be belittled, to refuse to be silenced, to speak truth to power and make the world a better place for young trans and gender diverse people. I hope you’ll join us.

Categories
education mental health students trans youth

Schools must support young trans people

We are extremely saddened to hear of the death of 15 year-old trans boy Leo Etherington from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. Leo took his own life in May 2017 and an inquest into his death has recently taken place.

Media reports of the inquest suggest that Leo was supported by his family and friends.

The media also reported that Leo’s school said he could not change his name there until he was 16 (Wycombe High School has since refuted these claims).

There continues to be misinformation around making a name change, especially of young people aged under 16. This misinformation can create a huge amount of damage for young people who are unnecessarily blocked from their gender being recognised and validated. Many young people are unaware of their rights, even when they are supported by friends and family.

It is possible to change your name if you are aged under 16, with parental consent. In fact, as gov.uk says, you do not have to follow a legal process in order to start using a new name. The act of using a new name is the change of name itself.

However, in some circumstances you may need a deed poll (or a statutory declaration) in order to prove that a change has taken place.  You can “enroll” your Deed Poll with the courts from 18, but in most cases this is not necessary.

If someone is a young person, getting formal evidence of a name change requires the consent of those with parental responsibility.  Those over 16 can apply for a Deed Poll or Statutory Declaration themselves.

It is not necessary to have undergone any part of gender reassignment or medical transition in order to change your name and title.

Sometimes schools work on the false assumption that young people cannot change their name until some condition or other is met – for example, the child reaches a certain age, or until they attend the gender identity services for adolescents (NHS GIDS). This kind of assumption can be based on prejudices around the “correct age” at which a young person can self identify as transgender and make decisions about their transition. Young trans people continue to grow up in a society where they receive negative messages about not conforming to the gender expectations placed on them at birth. Many face bullying, discrimination and even violence. They experience high levels of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

It is vital that schools create a safe and inclusive environment for trans and gender variant young people. If you are a school and are concerned about the well-being of your trans students and/ or are keen to ensure that your school is inclusive of trans people, do reach out to us or other organisations that can support you.

You can contact us at: education@genderedintelligence.co.uk

Young trans people who do not have support and validation at home desperately need to feel safe enough to be themselves at school or college. If they cannot find support at home or at school, they find themselves in an incredibly isolated position.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please reach out for help. Talk to a parent, a teacher, your GP, a member of your faith community or a youth group leader. If you feel unable to do that, you can contact one of the UK helplines below:

Samaritans (08457 90 90 90)
Childline (0800 1111)

HOPELineUK (PAPYRUS)

Call: 0800 068 41 41

Email: pat@papyrus-uk.org

SMS: 07786 209697

HOPELineUK is a specialist telephone service staffed by trained professionals who give non-judgemental support, practical advice and information to:

  • Children, teenagers and young people up to the age of 35 who are worried about how they are feeling
  • Anyone who is concerned about a young person

Opening hours:  Mon-Fri: 10am-10pm, weekends: 2pm-10pm & bank holidays: 2pm-5pm

In an emergency, phone 999 as soon as possible.

Prevention of young suicide: http://www.papyrus-uk.org/
Myths about suicide: http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-he…/myths-about-suicide

 

 

Categories
careers trans inclusion trans youth

What is it like to be trans at work? We found out at Imagining Our Futures 2017

Last Saturday at Gendered Intelligence we ran our annual day about careers and interests for young trans people in London, Imagining Our Futures 2017. 

In the morning we invited 15 diverse employers and organisations to run stalls and chat to attendees about what they can offer to trans people.

We were delighted to have stalls from Accenture, Amazing Apprenticeships, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, Diversity Role Models, EYLondon College of Beauty Therapy, Media Trust,  Ministry of Justice/Civil Service, NHS Employers, NUT, Royal MailSoho TheatreStonewall, TfL, with Institute of PhysicsRoyal Astronomical Society and National Physical Laboratory on one stall.

A group of trans teachers from the NUT  ran a workshop about what it’s like being trans as a teacher alongside the careers and interests fair.

At the beginning of the day we asked young people to share their concerns about their future at work or following their interest. Their comments demonstrated that there is still a lot of fear and apprehension around what it means to be trans at work. They are concerned about “being viewed as inferior compared to others”; “getting discriminated against” and “being outed against my will”.

Imagining Our Futures gives young trans people a chance to talk to employers and organisations about careers and projects that interest them. More importantly, those employers have an opportunity to tell young trans people that they are welcome in the workplace. Many organisations now recognise the value of a diverse workforce. Resilience and self-knowledge are assets. Imagining Our Futures provides a space for employers to communicate their message that trans people have a place in their workforce.

During the afternoon session, ten adult trans professionals with a range of backgrounds spoke to the audience of young trans people and their parents/carers about their experiences of being trans in the workplace. Just under half of them were non-binary. We heard from an academic, a London Underground driver, a video games developer, a charity filmmaker, a graphic designer, an archaeologist, an IT engineer at Mars, a software developer, a consultant and a primary school teacher.

Our speakers did not shy away from issues that they had encountered at work. They spoke about instances of being misgendered and when other’s lack of knowledge had created tricky moments for them. Everyone had experienced challenges and looked for advice and support from their employer, union or wider networks of friends, mentors and allies.

However, our speakers’ experience of work were overwhelmingly positive. Their employers had been accommodating and supportive and in general they were able to be themselves at work. Many found that their work improved once they felt comfortable in themselves .

At the end of the day, we asked all the young people who attended for their reflections about Imagining Our Futures 2017. Here are some highlights:

“The job fair was interesting – I felt like something positive could come out of it and it was great to speak to real people.”

“The employers I spoke to had a great attitude.”

“This morning’s careers fair showed us that employers are keen to diversify and appeal to trans people.”

“I have learnt that workplaces are accepting.”

“Thinking about a career is usually daunting, but today has given me a lot of confidence. I feel like I have a future as a trans person. “

“It’s reassuring to know that I have options in the future.”“It’s good that the fair focused on the “T”. I graduated recently and have been to LGBT employment fairs where trans gets lost.”

“It’s been empowering and encouraging. We exist everywhere and it’s been great to see companies that value our individuality.”

“I now know there is a place for non-binary people in the workforce. I go by they/them and I see that I can do that in the future too.”

There is a lot of work to be done to make sure that young trans people are, and feel, safe to be themselves in all areas of their lives. Imagining Our Futures showed attendees that progress is being made and that they can have the future they deserve.

We’d like to thank the National Union of Teachers for donating their amazing space at Hamilton House for Imagining Our Futures 2017.

Categories
media trans youth

Trans youth are real

by Dr Jay Stewart, CEO Gendered Intelligence

 

Following the broadcast of  Who knows best? documentary by John Conroy on BBC 2 last week, there has been a lot of rich discussion, debate and thoughtful insight online by members of our trans, queer and LGB communities and beyond.

Part of me feels there isn’t anything constructive that I can add, so much has been said. I’ve been reflecting and some time has passed. However, I’ve been thinking about the impact of this programme on our young members and their families, and wanted to address it.

The young people at Gendered Intelligence often tell me of their general sense of not being listened to and also of not being taken seriously. Sadly, that’s their norm. Sometimes what young people want isn’t deemed important, or they are told that it’s not ‘doable’ or even ‘sensible’.

Well intentioned teachers, parents, carers, nurses, GPs, social workers, youth workers, therapists and counsellors can feel nervous about the best thing to do when working with a young trans person.  Sometimes they miss out the most important question: what does the young person want? I think professionals do this because they lack support and guidance from the institutions and services that they work for.

Mainstream programmes that purposely undermine what trans children and young people are saying about themselves, their feelings and what they would like to happen are a backwards step for everyone. It’s disappointing that the BBC posited the idea that it is not children and young people, but experts, who know best about their own gender-related feelings and emerging identities.

At Gendered Intelligence, we have critiqued the notion of the ‘expert’ or sought to problematise it. From our inaugural Sci:dentity Project in 2005 where we asked ‘What’s the science of sex and gender?’, we learnt quite quickly that in fact there is very little ‘science’ when it comes to sex/gender and what is out there is subjective, even partisan – arguably heteronormative and reinforcing of gender norms. What’s more, by the time any scientific findings reach us (the general public) via journalists and documentary makers, they have been so reduced and oversimplified, all nuance is lost and meanings twisted.

But, what if we gave young people more of a platform rather than less of one? I believe we would all gain. At Gendered Intelligence, we learn from our young members. That’s where we got our name – trans and gender diverse young people are very intelligent when it comes to gender and it is their insight and experience that should steer services, not vice versa.

The 400 young people who attend our groups each year come from a wide range of backgrounds and have very diverse experiences, senses of self and use different words to describe their identity and their expressions.

When we use the word trans we mean it in its very broadest sense and work hard to ensure that those who identify as, for instance, non-binary, agender or a person with a trans history are all included. It’s important to state that we also welcome young people who are questioning their gender at our groups. We can’t expect young people (or anyone really) to have it all worked out.

Some members might think, ‘It feels right for me to express my gender in ways that people don’t expect, but I’m not sure trans is the right word for me just now and might never be’. We value these diverse feelings, experiences, identities and expressions. If such diversity was more visible and valued in society, the world would be a better place.

The BBC documentary reiterated a common belief that any exploration of gender identity or expression during the childhood or adolescence of a person who turns out not to identify as trans in adulthood is inauthentic and even dangerous.

I want to make the argument that we shift through life, we can change and we can take on different words to describe our sense of selfhood as we go along. Some things stay the same, some things don’t. Who we are is not ever entirely fixed – there is a lot that’s fluid. I think there is a lot of pressure for trans people (and young trans people in particular) to prove to everyone around them that who they are is entirely fixed in order to be taken seriously.

Thomas Kuhn wrote a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). In it he tells us that what we know through science, comes to us through a paradigm shift. A new piece of scientific knowledge will look to prove the old one wrong – it’s a fundamental shift, a revolution, rather than a gentle evolution.

In 2015 I did a Ted talk, stating ‘We are on the cusp of a gender revolution‘. Today I picked up a copy of National Geographic and on the front features a photograph of 7 young people with different gender identities. In big letters it says: ‘Gender Revolution’.

It looks like that revolution has started.

national-geographic-2
National Geographic

The idea of two distinct categories of gender identity based on genitalia presented at birth is (or will be) no longer tenable. Gender is more complex, nuanced, political and interesting than that.

I’m reading a book at the moment called Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly by Judith Butler. In it she talks about the importance of coming together, to ‘call for justice’, to say ‘”we are not disposable”… “we are still here, persisting, demanding greater justice, a release from precarity, a possibility of a livable life”‘.

Now is the time to come together and get behind gender diversity, get behind the right to express ourselves, get behind Gendered Intelligence and other organisations like us because this affects lives.

Butler states:

‘The political aspiration is to… let the lives of gender and sexual minorities become more possible and more lovable, for bodies that are gender nonconforming as well as those that conform too well (and at a high cost) to be able to breathe and move more freely in public and private spaces…’

To breathe and to move more freely – that is what trans, gender diverse and gender questioning people need – to breathe, to expand our lungs, our bodies, our selves – let us feel what’s right, let us do what’s right – right now.