Transgender Issues – can we talk?


“OMG, did you SEE the Vanity Fair cover?!” For millions of people around the world this month, this was a familiar comment. On my own social media feeds I read comments that ran from “Yuk” to “Gorgeous” to “Can’t say I ‘understand’, but think ‘she’ is beautiful.
Hope she is happy, everyone deserves to be!” You might be thinking to yourself, “really, what’s the fuss all about?”

Finally we’re talking about transgender issues

Caitlyn Jenner’s pictures in Vanity Fair have created an opportunity for us to talk about transgender issues without fear of embarrassment or backlash. After all, we’re just talking about a magazine cover, right? The important thing is that we’re talking. What we can’t see, from the magazine cover, are the emotions that the transgender person, and their family, go through. We have to remember that Caitlyn Jenner is not a true representation of what transgender people go through in their daily lives.

We can’t see the harassment, rejection, discrimination and violence (also referred to as “transphobia”) that most transgender people face on almost a daily basis. Transgender people have even been refused medical care or had it stopped prematurely because they were trans. Among those with family doctors, 40% reported having experienced discriminatory behaviour from their very own physician. The average income for these people is $15,000, even though almost half have a post-secondary education or better. In plain language?Almost half of these Canadians are living well under the poverty line.

Mental Health and Transgender Identity

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 77% of transgender respondents have considered suicide and 45% have attempted it, numbers higher than any other group in Canada. Most people spoke of feelings of shame and isolation that were imposed on them by friends and family. Yet, according to the most recent report from Trans Pulse, these numbers will reduce 19% if the person has the support of family. For young people between the ages of 16-24, this number drops by 93% if the youth has supportive parents.

So what can you do to help?

For a start, provide your support, whether it be as a family member, as a neighbour or as a member of the work team. Transgender youth with supportive families are more likely to have adequate housing, to not be depressed and to have high self-esteem.

  • Listen to which pronoun the person uses for themselves. Don’t flip/flop between he and she. If it isn’t obvious and you don’t know, ask politely.
  • Be respectful of the name the person uses to identify him or herself. If they have chosen a new name, be respectful and use the new name.
  • If you accidently call her or him by their old name – acknowledge the mistake and correct yourself. We all make mistakes.
  • If you find yourself struggling,  because your youth or young adult is transitioning genders or is questioning their gender seek out the help of a professional health care provider. Transitioning, at any stage in the process, can provide anxiety for the individual and their family. Professionals psychotherapists can assist you to better deal with the issues related to your specific situation.