Children and adults with gender identity concerns are increasingly presenting for treatment, with referrals to specialist clinics rapidly rising. The percentage of children with gender identity disorder that self-harm or attempt suicide is estimated at 50%, so it is essential that it is recognised early and managed appropriately.
Gender identity disorder of childhood usually manifests before puberty. The child typically experiences distress resulting from an incongruence between their current gender identity (sense of themselves as ‘male’, ‘female’, or otherwise), and their gender assigned at birth. Behaviour and activities of the child may stereotypically be associated with that of the opposite gender and the child may be preoccupied with wanting to change their name and gender pronoun (‘she’, ‘he’). Depending on the age, they may also have a strong desire to acquire secondary sexual characteristics of the opposite gender. This may cause significant distress and can impact their performance and experiences at school or at home. Six months of persistent gender non-conforming behaviour has been proposed as an indicator that this is more than ‘a phase’, which is common and not necessarily pathological for many individuals in childhood.
Tom is 13 years old and has come with his mother to see you. She tells you he becomes distressed when people address him as Tom, and asks to be called Kelly. He hates wearing boys’ clothes, and most of his friends at school are girls, leading to teasing about him being ‘gay’. Recently, his mother found a skirt in his room, which he eventually admitted to having stolen from a friend’s house. He has asked his mother if he can ‘become a girl’, and seems so preoccupied with this idea that he is struggling to complete his school homework. Today Tom’s mother wants to know what to do.
The full article can be read in the journal BJGP Open.