The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity1. Health is something we value as a society, and we work to provide our children with the best opportunities for health. This goes beyond ensuring they are not sick, to supporting healthy development in all aspects of their lives.
A group of clinicians and researchers who specialize in care for gender creative children and trans youth have recently proposed the idea of gender health. Gender health means living in the gender that feels most real or comfortable, and freely expressing that gender2. Another way to describe living in the gender that is most real or comfortable, is living in one’s authentic gender. So, supporting gender health means helping a child to freely live in and express their authentic gender self.
The Authentic Gender Self
Authentic, genuine, real, true.
The authentic gender self refers to a core part of our identity. For most people, their authentic gender self is consistent with the sex they were assigned at birth. They express who they truly are within the gender norms of culture and society. Others expand the traditional boundaries of gender or reject gender norms altogether, expressing their gender in ways that are seen as non-conforming.
For some people, the authentic gender self is not aligned with the sex assigned to them at birth. Their gender expression may vary, and may or may not fit with binary gender norms for men and women. As children, they may identify as gender creative or gender expansive. As youth and adults they may find one or more of the many identities under the large umbrella of trans fits with their authentic gender self.
Many children, youth, and adults with gender creative and trans identities are supported in identifying and expressing their authentic gender selves. Their families, partners, friends, teachers, and other important people honour their true gender selves and celebrate the expressions of who they are. These individuals may face challenges in the world, but with strong support from the loved ones in their lives, they can develop the resilience and confidence needed to express their authentic gender selves in the world. With support, they can grow to be happy, healthy, and confident people who thrive in life.
In the following section we address Gender Development in Childhood, and discuss the developmental importance of fostering the authentic gender self of every child.
These resources include stories of families who are finding ways to support the gender health of their children. We hope that they inform and inspire, and let you know that you are not alone.
Truth Videos – Trans Law Centre
Full Story: Gender Identity – 16×9 On Global
How to Be a Girl Videos – Marlo Mack
Transgender: You’re Part of the Story – Nicole Maynes
That’s Good Enough – Debi Jackson
Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word – MTV
Duron, L., Harris, N. P., & Burtka, D. (2013). Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
Nutt, A. E. (2015). Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family. New York, NY: Random House.
Waldron, C. (2014). My Daughter He: Transitioning With Our Transgender Children. Rockport, MA: Stone Circle Press.
Whittington, H. (2016). Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings Attached. New York. NY: William Morrow Paperbacks.
Haworth, G. (2007). She’s a Boy I Knew. Vancouver, BC: Shapeshifter Films. Retrieved from http://www.gwenhaworth.com
1 Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html
2 Hidalgo, M. A., Ehrensaft, D., Tishelman, A. C., Clark, L. F., Garofalo, R., Rosenthal, S. M., … Olson, J. (2013). The Gender Affirmative Model: What We Know and What We Aim to Learn. Human Development, 56(5), 285–290. http://doi.org/10.1159/000355235