Supporting Young People with Transitioning
What is Transitioning?
When someone has realised that they might be trans or non-binary, they will often go through a process called a transition or transitioning. When we talk about “transition”, we’re really talking about how someone starts to present a different gender identity to the world. Every person’s transition is different and there is no “right” way to transition.
Many people start by thinking about a new name for themselves or asking friends and family to use different pronouns for them, such as she/her, they/them, he/him, etc. Transitioning may or may not involve a significant change in gender expression (such as through clothing or hair styles), and it may or may not involve medical treatment.
Supporting Your Young Person
Transitioning can be a lengthy and difficult process at any age, but it can also be a time of joy, self-discovery, exploration and learning to love yourself anew. People of any age may want to transition to be their authentic selves. While the process itself may be hard at times, with long waiting lists involved for access to certain services, the desired outcome is for each person to be happy.
There are a fair amount of resource guides available for supporting young people who are transitioning, both from The Proud Trust and from other organisations, but it can all be boiled down to a few core principles:
- Use your empathy – you may find it difficult to fully understand what a young trans person is going through but realistically, you don’t need to completely “get it” to be able to give support.
- Listen – the most important thing is hearing what the young person is telling you. You may have some preconceived notions about what ‘a transition’ is but this may not line up with how the young person experiences things or what they want to do in their life. Try not to make assumptions about how a transition does or doesn’t work and instead ask about what the young person would like to do and how they would like to be supported.
- Be willing to learn – this learning may come from some research you do to find out more or it may come from the young person directly. It’s quite likely that the young person knows more about being trans than you do – and that’s okay!
- Be an advocate – at times you may need to support the young person in a wider context, such as in education, a part-time job or in regard to their healthcare. You are not there to lead the conversation but to support your young person in ensuring they are “heard” and that they are able to articulate their needs. This means being an advocate on a personal level too, supporting your young person and encouraging them.
As mentioned above, transitioning can be a long process that includes long waiting times for appointments. This can be incredibly frustrating and upsetting both for your young person and yourself. Your young person may depend on you for emotional support during this time, but you may also need support. Explore our page on Groups for Parents and Carers to find others who have had similar experiences that can support you at this time.
You may also find it beneficial to look at resources put together by trans young people, their families and people who work with trans young people. Our friends at Allsorts Youth Project have a variety of resources that you can explore here.
Research has repeatedly shown that using a trans young person’s chosen name and pronouns has a positive impact on their wellbeing, reducing symptoms of depression, thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts. So, after your young person has bravely shared their gender identity, name and pronouns with you, it is important that you use their name and pronouns.
You may have spent years referring to them by a different name and different pronouns, so initially you might make some mistakes and at times refer to your young person by their old name and/or misgender them. In these instances, correct yourself and apologise for the mistake. Your young person needs to see that you are learning and that you haven’t ignored what they have shared with you.
Going forward, it’s important that the family and friends your young person has “come out” to also use their name and pronouns. If they make mistakes and don’t correct themselves or apologise, advocate for your young person and point out that they have used an old name and/or misgendered your young person.
Below we have some information for your young person about their rights and steps they can take to legally change their name and gender marker, if they wish to do so.