In the last hours and days, this television programme has generated a great deal of discussion, social media engagement and in many cases outright expressions of discrimination and transphobia. Of course this is a topic that should be discussed and debated, but for what purpose or aim?
In our minds, experts, frontline services working with the young transgender community such as the Young Transgender Centre of Excellence (YTCE) and young transgender people themselves should be framing this debate. However, did the television programme last night really do this? We are not suggesting that the programme did not have a wide variety of individuals represented but were the hundreds of transgender young people now living a happier life as a transgender adult represented? Perhaps not.
Nevertheless, here is what we do know. Both last night and this morning, young transgender people who are part of our flagship BBC Children in Need supported project - the YTCE – feel angry, disrespected, hurt and afraid. So perhaps in trying to show the ‘dangers’ of a gender affirmative approach in childhood and adolescence, BBC2 have actually caused the very communities they were trying to represent emotional distress and almost certainly they’ve increased their feelings of gender dysphoria.
Our YTCE project advocates for the gender affirmative approach because we believe it is the best means to support young transgender people. The families and friends of young transgender people, schools and colleges and other professionals working with them should be child-led and help a young person explore their identity in a way that is right for them. Moreover, no, as some people are concerned about; this does not mean giving cross-sex hormones and surgery to young children or even adolescents. It should be about respecting how they wish to express their gender and identity and enabling them to be seen by specialists at the Tavistock and Portman Gender Identity Development Service who are best placed to support them.
So what did we learn from BBC2 last night? In all honesty, it is hard to say for certain, as so many people would have interpreted it differently. However, it is clear that the programme lacked certain facts that the British public deserve to be given. For example, about the NHS care pathway and the lengthy process by which young people progress through treatment for gender dysphoria, which does not include cross-sex hormones or surgery under the age of 16 years old.
In so many ways, it is irrelevant if a young transgender person goes on to be a transgender adult. Nevertheless, what is relevant and so important is the wellbeing and mental health of our young transgender community. All of the 27 young transgender people the YTCE supported last year experience anxiety, low mood and almost certainly self-harm with many of them having previously tried to take their own life. However, we do know that by respecting a young person, using the pronouns and name they wish us to use and giving them a safe space to be themselves reduces some of this emotional distress. It most certainly does not alleviate it completely, but it is a start.
All of the families and carers of young transgender people in the project tell us that their child is happier because they have socially transitioned – even if they experience transphobia and are not accepted in everyday life, they are happier because they can be the person they feel they are. And for us that tells us everything we need to know. We know we are doing the right thing by supporting young transgender people in Leicester Leicestershire and Rutland and this quote from one of our young people is all the evidence we need:
“The Young Transgender Centre of Excellence has saved my life, quite literally. No amount of words will ever be able to fully describe what it’s done for me but I can start with this. Firstly, it’s done wonders for my self-confidence…it gives me an escape from society's judgement and my social anxiety.
Everyone who goes to the Centre and groups within it cares for you so genuinely, respects you, understands your problems and are relatable so you don't feel alone.
As soon as I walk through the doors I feel I've come home, it’s become my safe place, there's no need to hide or hold back on who you really are. The Centre and project is the most important thing in all of our life's and without it, I'd be lost or not here anymore”.