Gender identity isn’t something that just adults deal with. Dr. Stephen Stathis at the Children’s Hospital Gender Clinic, Brisbane, is helping children who are struggling with gender issues.

At 18-months Samuel didn’t want anything to do with being a boy. He couldn’t identify with the stereotypical boy toys and clothing, and at age 2 asked, “When will I get a vagina?” By three-and-a-half, Samuel was living as Olivia.

Olivia may have been born a boy, but she never identified as one. Her mum told the Brisbane Times, “You’d take her shopping and she’d run to the girls’ department and just grab stuff and hoard it.” But, that was hardly the most challenging behaviour that the tot exhibited. Olivia would bite and hit, getting more physical than a child her age should. She acted out in what her mum called an “almost primal” way.

It got to the point where then-Samuel would put two legs in one hole when wearing shorts, creating a make-shift skirt. When Olivia’s parents took her to see Dr. Stathis he told them that their child was exhibiting “gender variant behaviour.

Even tough Olivia was much happier living as a girl (and not as Samuel), her mum noted, “Our child was three-and-a-half years old and we were being prepared for our child to be gay or transgender or no gender, suicide, self harming, we were being given lots of avenues that this could go down.”

Scary, right? Luckily, Olivia and her parents had Dt. Stathis and his colleagues to help them. But, that help is only due (or at least primarily due) to funding in excess of $1 million – given to the gender clinic from the Queensland government.

The Lady Cilento Children's Hospital. Photo: Christopher Frederick Jones via Brisbane Times.
The Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. Photo: Christopher Frederick Jones via Brisbane Times.

Dr. Stathis and paediatric endocrinologist Professor Jennifer Batch have seen a steady increase in the number of children who they’re seeing at their clinic. Without proper funding, the wait times to see the clinicians at Lady Cilento were almost unbearable for some families. Dr. Stathis noted that at one point he had a two-year waiting list for his services. Professor Batch had a nine-month-long list. Waiting doesn’t do the children who need Stathis’s gender clinic any favors. The longer the wait, the higher the chance that the child will suffer from mental health issues.

Does early intervention eliminate the chance of having any mental health concerns that might be associated with gender identity issues? Not really. But, the sooner that a child gets help from a professional, the less likely it is that he or she will engage in potentially harmful behaviours. Dr. Stathis cites the mental health issue stats for children at a 40% rate, with teens having up to a 90% chance of screening positive for anxiety, suicidal behaviour, depression or self harm.

Not only does Stathis’s gender clinic provide the mental health help that children with gender identity issues may need, but it also helps them to find medical treatment (this may include hormone therapy). Children who are ready to start puberty may receive a hormone that stops the development of secondary sex characteristics. After turning 16, children can petition the Family Court to get either estrogen or testosterone hormone treatment. Some people who are considered “gender variant” may eventually choose to have sex reassignment surgery. This does not include children. It’s currently illegal for any person under the age of 18 to have this surgery.

Keep in mind, even though the clinic at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t solve every problem. The road that children like Olivia have to deal with isn’t easy. But, children who are dealing with gender identity issues can be thankful for medical professionals such as Dr. Stathis. From the psychological help to the medical assistance they receive, these services are vital for these children.

You can find more information on Lady Client Children’s Hospital here.

Author

Erica Loop is a mum, parenting writer and educator with an MS in child development. Along with writing for websites such as PBS Parents, care.com, Scary Mommy, mom.me, Modern Mom, education.com and others, she also is the creator of a kids' activities and art blog.

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