In February 2020, Louisiana rapper Boosie went viral for an expletive-filled rant in which he condemned future NBA Hall ff Famer Dwayne Wade for supporting his daughter Zaya in coming out as transgender. A couple of months prior, in July 2019, TV host Mario Lopez expressed that he felt it was dangerous for parents to support their children in identifying as transgender. As evidenced by public responses to these two situations, it appears these statements echo the beliefs of a large part of the American people who view children being transgender as a negative thing to be protected and guarded from.
Where these celebrities and their supporters build these beliefs from, we can assume is largely influenced by societal stigma and other preconceived notions not based on any facts or data pushed forth by professional communities. Experts in the mental health and medical fields agree that the safest and best way to ensure the well-being of transgender children is to support them in their journey, with data showing that without validation and support from the adults in their lives, even young gender-variant children can become acutely depressed and suicidal.
A 2018 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that more than half of transgender male teens who participated in the survey reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9% of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide. Among non-binary youth, 41.8% of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. These numbers are staggering and should be where the worry is placed by concerned parents and adults, not on the fact that their children are transgender.
The DSM-5 defines gender dysphoria as a difference between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, and significant distress or problems in functioning. The American Psychiatric Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics, The Endocrine Society, and the World Health Organization, to name a few, all agree that the most effective way to treat this diagnosis, is to accept the individual as who they are, and move towards social and eventual medical transitioning if desired.
If experts in the medical and mental health fields agree that support is the safest and healthiest way to respond to someone being transgender, what keeps the public from believing this rather than siding with celebrities who have no experience in any related field? As mental health professionals, it is our duty to continue to educate and advocate in hopes of stigmatising transgender identities in children and youth. We know that shame and stigma not only have mental health effects on individuals, but also contribute to larger issues in the world like isolation, barriers to employment and housing, and even violence.
The fact that celebrities with such wide-reaching audiences are using their platforms to spread misinformation should encourage our professional community to push harder in our education and advocacy efforts to protect this vulnerable population. There are many resources available online that provide easy explanations to a lot of the questions and misunderstandings that are found out among the public. It is important to share information on the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, the way that gender dysphoria is diagnosed, and the process and timelines around social and medical transitions.
Hopefully, being informed and aware of the issues will help more people understand what it means to be transgender, and specially the effect that our acceptance has on these individuals. GLAAD, Planned Parenthood, Trans Student Educational Resources, and Callen Lorde Community Health Center, to name a few, all provide helpful information on their websites in a way that is easy to understand for the public.
Denisse Arcos-Pratt is a psychotherapist working with LGBTQ youth in group homes in New York City.