Tag Archives: Gendered Intelligence

Sex education and the transgender child

images-6Jo sent me a text wishing me well for my operation yesterday. I was chuffed that she remembered and was thinking of me. I was sitting in the car waiting to go home last night when her housemaster phoned. My first reaction is always, ‘Oh dear, what have they done now?’ but apparently he had a tricky situation that he wanted to discuss. He kindly said that he had phoned me as the ‘voice of reason’. I can see that when staff are close up to a situation it can be difficult to step back and consider the options. This term in Citizenship classes Year 10 are covering sex education. We had received a letter informing us of our right to withdraw our child from this section of the curriculum. Jo had been asked whether she wanted to go with the boys or the girls, and had not surprisingly wanted to join the girls. Some of the girls in the class felt inhibited with what they saw as a boy present, and at least one parent had raised this as an issue with the school. The teacher in charge of Citizenship had gone to the housemaster for advice. Maybe they were hoping we would just exercise our right to withdraw Jo and solve their problems that way, but that would stigmatise Jo through no fault of her own. I reminded the housemaster that if they felt they could not teach Jo as one of the group they had an obligation to provide individual tuition for her to cover the same syllabus with a suitably qualified (female) teacher. He was open to that, but wondered aloud about the competence of any of the staff to take on that role. I also suggested that the school could use this as an opportunity for some wider gender education, and that the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, and Gendered Intelligence, must have plenty of experience they could draw on in this area. I offered to speak to the headmaster to see if he would pay for someone to go and speak to the staff and/or students.

It was also a chance to discuss with the housemaster what Jo had said earlier about feeling it had been left up to her to explain to fellow students about being transgender, and what it meant. She rightly felt that this was not fair. I passed on to him that tutors had not adequately explained to their tutees what it meant to be transgender, and that just saying that Jo had changed her name and would return to school in girl’s uniform wasn’t enough. He conceded that most tutors probably hadn’t explained it as they didn’t understand themselves. We left it that he would talk to the head, but I can see that this is one I will need to follow up. I do hope that this becomes a positive opportunity for some further education rather than just a negative experience of stigmatisation and exclusion for Jo.

Meanwhile Billy continues to avoid classes at college, and the people who could help him, while sending regular texts for more money. He wanted another £20 because he ‘took the wrong bus’ which I think probably translates as ‘had to ask x or y who is over 18 to buy tobacco for me and pay them to do so’. I continue to urge him to speak to his tutor or leaning support teacher about issues he has with attendance. He did say he was feeling overwhelmed, but seems paralysed when it comes to doing anything about it. People can only help, however willing they might be, if he turns up. I can’t seem to get that through to him. I have seen the same situation with university students, some of whom are probably exhibiting signs of depression, but they are not my responsibility in the same way and are older, better able in theory at least to take control of their lives. It is hard to know when to stop pleading with and for someone, and just let them get on with making a mess of things.

UnknownWe put the dog pack in kennels for a few days so that I have some post-operative time without them jumping up and pulling on the lead like a husky team. It is blissfully peaceful in the house without them. Much as we love our dogs we never planned to have three large ones. It makes a change to be able to leave doors open or unlocked (the pointer can open every unlocked door), without dogs rushing through the house, muddy feet and enthusiasm everywhere.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

As 2014 draws to a close it is appropriate to look back to the highs and lows of the past year, and to our hopes and fears for the year to come. Here are some of them.Unknown-1

 Looking Back

  • Billy getting kicked out of his public boarding school in March 2014, shortly before his GCSE exams. Quite a low as it looked as if he might leave education for good at that point with no qualifications. His mental health would have plummeted. The silver lining was that we were spared having to find a term’s fees. He did go into school to sit a couple of GCSEs, but did no revision and had very odd sleep patterns so was tired. Not surprisingly he didn’t perform well. At least he scraped an English Language GCSE, which will stand him in good stead. The Sixth Form College offered him a place for a Level 2 course as he didn’t have the qualifications, or maturity and study skills, to go on to A’ Levels or equivalent.
  • A high point was the National Citizenship Service scheme for 16-17 year olds run by the College for four weeks in July. After three months spent mostly in bed, Billy managed against all expectations to rally himself and take part in the scheme, which was a great success. He made friends, joined in the activities, and enjoyed it. We managed to get him back each Monday morning, which we hadn’t really expected. He misjudged things at the end and smashed up one of the buses, which we had to pay for. The staff dealt with it and he never mentioned it to us nor we to him. We were grateful for their professionalism.
  • Another low – being told by a friend’s mum via Facebook that at 15 Billy had got girl pregnant. He had met her online and only met her twice. To our great relief there was no sign of the girl actually having a baby, and the relationship didn’t last long. Whatever she told him, and whatever did or did not happen to the unconfirmed pregnancy, the due-date passed without any sign of an infant. I did manage to establish that the girl was known to social services and that she was being monitored, as if there were a baby it might well be at risk. There was a sense of déjà vu, as if Billy was determined to replicate the circumstances of his birth, but he seems to have been given a bit longer to grow up before taking on the responsibilities of parenthood.
  • A very important part of 2014 was Jo’s continued journey from boy to girl. A decisive moment was the intervention of the clinicians from the gender clinic, who came down to her school. The new head had decided to change the school uniform, and I had discussed with Jo the possibility of going back after Spring half term in the new girl’s uniform. She has always hated being dressed as a boy at school, and was really pleased at the idea, although understandably nervous about people’s reactions. The staff hadn’t anticipated things moving so quickly, but were open to the notion that moving too slowly also had dangers for Jo, who needed a sense of forward momentum. Over the half term she changed her name by deed poll, and we cleared out all her boy clothes. The girls’ games clothes, kilt and blouses were duly purchased and named. The biggest problem was and is the shoes, as she is at least a 9 UK size, in some makes 9 ½ or 10 in trainers. I don’t know if you have tried buying women’s shoes that size, let alone black leather school shoes that don’t look as if they are made for hiking. Most stop at 7 or 8. We did discover that Clarkes have a limited range of 9s in female styles, thank goodness!
  • Jo finished her six-month’s assessment at the Gender Clinic, and its up to her now to move on to the next stage, which is a physical examination and hormone blockers. She is scared of injections and having blood taken and nervous of the physical, so hasn’t kept any of the appointments so far. A high point was the two trans-teen groups she attended at the Tavi, and the three mentoring sessions she has had with people from Gendered Intelligence (see the links page for details).
  • Other domestic news – a third dog joined the family on a permanent basis, an 8 year-old Pointer. We’d been walking and looking after her now and then for about a year since her owner died, but she joined us for good in May. Three dogs is a bit of a pack, and being tall and clever she can open all the doors and pinch anything she likes off the counter. We have a regime of locks, but are still greeted regularly by three enthusiastic dogs rushing from the back to the front of the house when they hear the car engine. Fortunately they all get on well with one another.


Looking Forward

  • Where do we want to be this time next year? It would be great if Billy had completed his first year of college successfully and moved on to a two year A’ level equivalent course. He would like to share a flat with a friend next year instead of lodging with a local family during the week (the college is too far away for a daily commute) – a big jump but who knows? He has made great strides in terms of settling in, getting himself up in the mornings and keeping out of trouble (more or less).
  • We’d love to see Jo continue on her path with confidence – probably with the help of the hormone blockers as she will be 15 in 2015 and her body is becoming noticeably more masculine, which distresses her. She has to wait until 16 for the feminising hormones, but also needs to be on the blockers for a year first, so needs to get a move on. She can of course stay as she is, but our fear would be that the self-harming, usually cuts with a knife or razor on her arms and legs, would carry on if she feels she is stuck with a body she doesn’t like. It would also be great to see her find the head-space to do some schoolwork. She wants to so some sort of post 16 course, but at the present rate won’t achieve any qualifications at all. She has the ability to pass a few exams, especially in more practical subjects, but needs to find the energy to apply herself to it, and there isn’t much spare at the moment.
  • Some funds to undertake essential repairs would go in handy – the family bathroom is ceasing up and needs replacing, and a door fell off the kitchen cupboard for the umpteenth time. I came back from walking the dogs to see that Jo had left a note to that effect. The boiler isn’t working properly and anyway is underpowered for the size of the housIMG_1796e. There are holes punched in doors and walls and bathroom floors and tiles are all stained. Fortunately we are not particularly house-proud, you can’t be with kids with tempers, but it does get me down at times. I wonder whether one can crowd-fund essential repairs? And what’s really essential anyway? I guess offering a safe and loving environment is still the number one priority for 2015, so a very Happy New Year to everyone.

The Gender Clinic

It’s a miracle! We are on our way to the gender clinic, or rather the Gender Identity Development Service, with Jo for one of her three-monthly appointments, to be followed by a mentoring session with a male-to-female transgender volunteer from the wonderful organisation Gendered Intelligence (see the Links page for details). The clinic at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, affectionately known as ‘the Tavi’ is where all transgender children and young people in the south of England and Wales are referred. The miracle is getting Jo out of bed and ready. We usually go by coach or train, or on one occasion her housemaster drove Jo and me from school to north London in order to demonstrate his support for her, which was great, and useful for him as well I think.

Jo has strong avoidance instincts when it comes to appointments, or life in general. She weekly boards at her current school (if only there were state schools like it) as even when we moved to be within commuting distance of the school we still couldn’t get her there. Any transition can be difficult. We have spent years trying to get Jo, now 14, to school, often failing and usually late. When combined with trying to do a full-time job it was unbelievably stressful. Getting her back to school on Sunday nights is still difficult or impossible now and again, but at least it’s only once a week. She has been at her current school since Year 6, and weekly boarding since Year 7, aged eleven. We didn’t think that she would cope, but being quite a social animal there were lots of benefits to boarding. She finds it tiring and stressful at times (and has a long history of self-harming), but seems much happier than she was at her lovely Catholic primary school. Classes of 28 were way too big and however skilled one teacher and a teaching-assistant were, they could not provide her with the tailored education she needed. Added to this, being transgendered, by the time she reached Year 5 (nine or ten) most of Jo’s girl friends had deserted her and she didn’t relate to the boys, so was miserable and isolated. I would drive past and see her standing alone at the edge of the playground which was pretty heart-wrenching. At boarding school you are thrown together, and although she is in a much more male environment than ever before, with boys outnumbering girls about three-to-one, there are compensations in having close company. Jo’s boarding school are also able to get her to do things we’d totally failed at as parents, such as getting her out of bed in the morning, and into it at night, getting her to shower and change clothes, brush her teeth occasionally, do homework, attend dental and doctor’s appointments, or get her hair cut. The relief of sharing the parenting in this way is considerable, if financially challenging (the school do give us a small bursary, it’s always worth asking – see the financial help page as well). As well as changing her name and gender, officially, earlier this year, Jo also changed from having girl-friends to boy-friends – an interesting and complicated situation, especially in a mixed-boarding school. I’ll save for another post.

And now we are speeding up the motorway to London. We have given up on advance booking of trains, coaches and hotels as we end up having to cancel at the last minute. I only texted a dog-walker an hour before we left, having cancelled at the last minute when Jo refused to budge too often to risk doing it again. Luckily the dog-walker is able to come, so the dogs will at least get an afternoon walk and food before we get home this evening. I left them each with a marrow-bone treat which should occupy them for a couple of hours at least. And Jo’s looking great! I think we’ve had several changes of clothes before finally coming downstairs. I saw her in a new, pretty red dress and black boots, before reappearing in flowery skinny jeans with a new top and tight black three quarter-length jacket. She washes her hair then wears a beanie hat (with IMPERFECT written across the forehead) to try to make it dry straight, although I like the natural wave – which due to some Jamaican paternity is unlikely to be beaten into submission. The aim is to produce a Japanese anime look, with which the hair won’t readily cooperate. Its interesting how asexual many anime characters look, I can see why she identifies with this style.