What would you do if your 3-year-old son continuously said he was a girl? Or if you took your 8-year-old daughter to a medical appointment and she asked: “Does the doctor have the machine where I can walk in as a girl and look like a boy after?”
Fortunately, there is a new clinic that helps families who are dealing with gender variance, which is when a person’s behaviour does not reflect what society perceives as typical for that gender.
The Meraki Health Centre in downtown Montreal has a team of seven physicians, two psychologists, a co-ordinator and a liaison person. The team offers resource information, assessments as well as family and individual therapy.
Although the clinic does not offer surgery, doctors sometimes provide hormone therapy to stall puberty for teens who are considering the transition and cross-hormones for those who have decided to transition.
Dr. Shuvo Ghosh, co-director of the centre and a developmental-behavioural pediatrician at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, says it’s important to provide emotional and psychosocial support for these kids.
“They have a really hard time because they don’t fit social norms and are oftentimes marginalized, bullied, ostracized and misunderstood,” he says.
People are seeking help and asking questions of experts more frequently than in the past, when parents would try to handle it on their own because they felt embarrassed. “Families have a lot of questions so we support them if they have anxiety or feel stressed about the situation,” he says.
Ghosh says parents can bring their child for a consultation at any time, get advice about support groups as well as information about steps for medical intervention if needed in the future. Hormone therapy or surgery are only discussed around the age of puberty.
Ghosh frequently refers families of transgender youth to Gender Creative Kids Canada, a parent action group based in Montreal. This volunteer-run organization, which has about 100 members and was founded three years ago, focuses on bringing people together and creating a connection for children and their families.
The group offers peer-to-peer support through email and telephone exchange or parents can connect with other families via the website. Once a new parent registers on the website, the organization teams them up with another parent or parents who live or have lived through similar experiences. They also have a support group on the second Thursday of every month that offers four groups for children ages 3-18.
Akiko Asano, Director and President of Gender Creative Kids, says this sense of community is pivotal for transgender and gender variant children in order to build their self-confidence and move forward with their lives.
“It’s important to be able to connect with other individuals who have the same experiences and journey so they have something to identify with,” she says. “It’s not about focusing on the challenge and how a parent can face it, it’s more about creating a connection and having people working it out together.”
Asano says there is a big difference between someone who is gender variant and transgender. “We look at three things: persistence, consistence, and insistence,” she says. “If the kid is persistent in identifying as a different gender, consistent in how they are expressing it, and insistent in saying that they need to express it, then your child could be transgender.”
Asano and Dr. Ghosh believe that the most important thing to remember as a parent of a transgender child is that you are not alone and talking about your situation is the first step towards finding answers and moving forward.
“This whole situation about having a kid who doesn’t fit social norms is actually more common than a lot of families think,” Ghosh says. “If parents and children know that they are not alone and their case is not extremely rare, this can relieve some of the stress and fear.”
For more information about the Meraki Health Centre, call (514)-933-3393 or visit centremeraki.com.
For more information about Gender Creative Kids Canada, visit gendercreativekids.ca.