Teen’s journey from her to him embraced by school
There is considerable debate about the age at which children should be allowed to consent to transition
As the new academic year kicked off for private schools recently, so did a fresh life for a Grade 8 Durban pupil.
But it was not just the transition from primary to high school that the youngster had to adjust to. More pressing was a life-changing transformation from girl to boy.
John*, whose identity is known to Times Select, has chopped his hair, dresses like a boy and has signed up for soccer.
His school, with its strong Christian ethos, has embraced his decision and plans to build a unisex toilet.
In late 2018 the school’s board sent out a letter informing parents of John’s decision and calling for support “of one of our longstanding pupils at a time of profound personal change”.
The letter said the pupil had elected to start the high school year “assuming the identity of a boy”.
“She has requested ... to be referred to by male pronouns. This gender identity reflects how she feels about herself.”
John’s decision to transition followed extensive professional counselling and “a lot of soul searching”.
“ ... those with an understanding of her situation believe it is crucial for her wellbeing.”
“Adolescence is a challenging time for all, and we are committed to showing the same compassion and understanding to each and every child.”
Some of John’s classmates were aware of his “desired choice and personal reasons for it”.
“Learning from the experiences of other SA schools that have undertaken a similar journey, we acknowledge that potential challenges may arise. These are being – and will continue to be – addressed.”
John’s mother told Times Select he was a very private person “who is still adjusting to his transition at school”.
Both John’s family and the school asked that his privacy be respected as he embarked on his new path.
He is not alone in his life-changing decision.
Genderdynamix, which focuses on the rights of the transgender community, is seeing more transgender children in SA coming out, and some transitioning at a younger age.
Linda Chamane, health advocacy officer at Genderdynamix, said transgender celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, easy access to information and transgender support groups were propelling more transgender children to reveal their identity choice.
“Therefore there is more visibility in SA,” said Chamane.
“Many trans people face problems in daily life because their sex descriptor on their ID/birth document does not match their gender identity. The child in this instance might identify as a boy but their ID/birth document represents them as a girl.”
It is unclear at this stage whether John has started hormone therapy with the use of puberty blockers, which prevent puberty from occurring.
“It is important to bear in mind that not all trans persons will want to be on hormones; everyone’s needs are different,” Chamane added.
Clinical psychologist Stefanie Bove said although there was considerable debate about the age at which children should be allowed to consent “to the processes involved in transitioning, purporters argue that children who have felt connected to and have lived consistently as a specified gender for an extended period of time should be supported in their desire to use androgen blockers”.
“These are used to provide a youth and their parents with sufficient time to carefully explore what that child’s authentic gender identity is before permanent body changes set in and to ward off often unwanted physical body changes that can be traumatic to youth who know that they are not the gender that would accompany those bodily changes.”
Common side-effects include migraines, muscle cramps and occasional panic attacks.
“For many the issue is not whether parents should consent to or allow children to choose their own gender, since the majority of trans people generally choose to transition eventually,” said Bove.
“The issue is digesting the impact of subjecting them to years of trauma in having to live in the ‘wrong’ body and then also the permanent distortion of their bodies through imposing the onset of puberty.
“Children are at this stage unable to give consent for hormone-blocking drugs preventing them from going into puberty. Some might equate this denial to child abuse.”
She said the Durban’s school stance on John “is refreshing”, although SA schools still had a long way to go “given that we live in a country where boys who say they are girls and girls who say they are boys still have to play on the sports teams that match the sex assigned to them on their birth certificate ... “Motivation for a gender-neutral bathroom in all schools should be a key objective, and children should be permitted to use the facilities that match their affirmed gender rather than the sex originally listed on their birth certificate,” she added.