There were many issues covered in last night’s Channel 4 documentary 'Kids on the Edge'.
The programme highlighted the obstacles that trans young people face, their hopes and fears for the future and their determination to be seen as themselves. It also brought up some discussions that will be troubling to the trans community, and some that will be troubling to those who don’t understand the trans community.
But one facet that shone through was how crucial it is to support children to be themselves.
Many discussions that have taken place in recent weeks have lost that focus. News reporting chose to propose that 'Just a Girl' – a CBBC programme about an 11-year old girl who is trans - was tantamount to child abuse. The argument put forward is that discussing gender with children is ultimately damaging.
But last night’s documentary and the story of Ash demonstrated with total clarity how that is simply not the case, in fact quite the opposite.
Ash and her mum discussed gender frequently because it’s all Ash wanted to talk about. She needed someone to talk to about why she felt like she did and to have her mum understand what she needed to help her lead a happy life.
These open conversations were vital. If Ash’s questions were shut down, if Ash was told that what she was feeling wasn’t true, or was just a phase, where would Ash be? How would she feel about herself? Perhaps the confident, forthright little girl who spoke so eloquently about her experience and her feelings may have not been so sure of herself. And isn’t that we ultimately want children to be? To be sure of themselves and their place in the world.
Her main source of pain was bullying from her school mates and the weight of having to keep her identity secret. Her mum’s concern was similar – what would the parents of other children think if they knew? This vacuum of understanding of trans issues created an environment in which Ash’s gender identity wasn’t accepted, leaving her vulnerable to hurtful taunts.
Matt and his family were badly in need of support. Matt’s mum spoke of her concern about her child’s transition. If society was more accepting of children who question their gender, would her anxiety have been so intense?
Ash, Matt and other trans children and their families need our support. Our role as adults, parents, teachers, carers and friends is to let children be themselves.
We must let them play, laugh and have fun, and it’s important that we let them express themselves in a way that feels natural.
Children are people, and they are all different. Some children like to play with Barbies, others with Robin Hood. Some like to dress up as princesses, others as pirates. Some will fancy boys, others girls, and some will like both. Some will be trans, others will not. Whoever they are, we need to listen to them, support them, and reassure them, so they know that being themselves is absolutely ok.
At the beginning of the programme, Ash’s mum puts forward the question – how, as an eight-year-old, can Ash explain to others why she feels like she feels. The question we should all be asking is, why should it rest only on Ash’s shoulders to explain. Surely we, as a society, should be engaged in helping her and others to be understood.
This Sunday is Trans Day of Remembrance; a time for us to remember the tragic effects that a lack of understanding of trans identities can have.
Now is the time for us to unite as an LGBT community, and with our allies, and stand together to protect our rights, and our children’s rights, to allow everyone to be themselves.