Quelle horreur? Parents of trans kids attending gender clinics are overwhelmingly… satisfied!

Zinnia JonesMedia coverage of transgender children, adolescents, and young adults can at times tend toward giving undue credence to parents who do not accept their trans child or who believe their child’s transness to be inauthentic. In many cases these stories are hosted by outlets overtly opposing the acceptance and even the validity of trans people; the Christian Broadcasting Network amplifies the voices of a handful of pseudonymous parents who are outraged that their now-adult children sought and received transition care, while the Christian Post published an alarming op-ed from an anonymous “Kelsey Coalition mother” in which she declares that her child has been “stolen” by a “transgender cult” and fantasizes about enacting retribution on trans-affirming healthcare providers (“you contemplate what life in prison would be like. . . . Fire boils through your veins, with bloody carnage dancing violently in your head”). Even more mainstream publications have recently fallen prey to a narrative promoted by an anti-trans father in the midst of a custody battle, escalating into blatant falsehoods circulating about the allegedly imminent “chemical castration” of his 7-year-old trans daughter.

Sadly, rejection of trans children by their parents has occurred throughout history – a parent who wants nothing to do with their child’s transition is hardly newsworthy. And regardless of how much rejection and denial trans people have faced from their families, this has never made us any less trans. But these stories of parents who are utterly distraught that their children are receiving gender-affirming care have neglected to look any closer at the larger question behind these selected narratives: How do most parents feel about the care their children receive at gender clinics? Do parents really oppose this care to the point of wanting to inflict anti-abortion-style violence on healthcare providers? Or does that story not really capture the whole picture?

These questions have answers – it’s just that certain media outlets and anti-trans organizations may not like them. Two studies published over the past year have examined the experiences of trans youth, as well as their parents, with the treatment provided by pediatric gender clinics. Tollit et al. (2018) surveyed 52 youth aged 12 or older receiving care at the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service (RCHGS) along with 114 of their parents on areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, as well as ideas for changes and improvements. Notably, 87.5% of the parents who responded to the survey were women.

How did they feel about the treatment their trans children were receiving? Overall, they were even more positive about this than their kids: 95.6% of parents, and 82.7% of trans patients, described RCHGS’s care as good or excellent. The occurrence of distress among both patients and parents declined dramatically after seeking treatment from the service. 88.3% of parents and 92.3% of patients said they were satisfied overall with the clinic, while 94.6% of parents and 88.6% of patients said they would recommend the clinic to others. And the most common source of dissatisfaction among both parents and their trans kids: the wait time for an initial appointment. Offering feedback, parents broadly felt that “the process was validating and normalizing”, but “stressed the need for additional support for families.”

Inwards-Breland et al. (2019) conducted a similar study of families attending the Seattle Children’s Gender Clinic, including 33 trans/gender-nonconforming youth ages 8-22, as well as 29 of their parents or caregivers. Interestingly, the vast majority of parents or caregivers in this sample (96.6%) were also women. 96% of parents or caregivers, and 94% of trans youth, stated that they were “very” or “extremely” happy with the overall care they received; among those families whose children were receiving hormone therapy, 77% of parents/caregivers and 90% of youth were “very” or “extremely” happy with the treatment. 96% of parents/caregivers and 100% of youth said they felt supported by the clinic staff. However, both patients and their parents reported that one area of difficulty was “the length of time between the readiness assessment and hormone initiation.”

These studies may not provide the same hit of outrage as anonymous parents who can’t cope with the reality of their child’s self-knowledge or prefer to retreat to fantasies of “bloody carnage”. But they are a welcome and refreshing reminder that outside the bubble of constructed controversy and selective storytelling, countless accepting parents are seeking to give their trans children the care they need, with the help of comprehensive clinics following best practices to support both trans kids and their families. 

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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