Why are so many kids coming out as trans or non-binary?

Photo: Carolyn and her transgender son. Supplied
Photo: Carolyn and her transgender son. Supplied 

As the parent of a transgender son, it's a question I hear all the time: "Why are so many kids coming out as transgender and binary all of a sudden? Where did they all come from?"

Often from well-meaning but baffled older relatives, we hear comments about how "in our day you were one or the other and that was the end of it", or "poor kids these days must be so confused by all the choices that are available to them now". 

Having seen up close the evolution of a dangerously depressed little girl into a happy and confident young man, I'd say that in the past there would have been a whole lot of unhappy people living lies their entire lives, and now they don't have to any more. 

Transgender advocate Melissa Griffiths says more kids are coming out as non-binary or transgender because they are more aware of who they are and more in touch with their feelings than ever before, especially thanks to the internet.

And that can only be a good thing, right?

"With the advent of the internet, kids who have access to it can explore more easily about what it means to be transgender and/or non-binary," she says.   

Resources such as the Queensland Human Rights Commission's Trans at School offer support and information for children and their families, where previously children who identified as trans or non-binary were left to fend for themselves in a largely unsupportive community.

"It is more acceptable now than in past decades for kids to come out and be non-binary and/or transgender," says Griffiths. "Also some schools are more open than others and they have an environment which encourages kids to be themselves and express themselves freely."

As for whether kids have "too many" choices these days that it can be overwhelming and confusing, Griffiths says that although it may appear on the surface that there are a lot of options, most kids know from an early age if they are transgender or non-binary.

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"Kids are spoilt for choice in general with regards to what TV they can watch if their parents have Foxtel, Netflix, etc. however when it comes to their own gender identity – that is, the personal sense of what their gender is – most kids are intuitive and know who they are," she says. 

Parents can play a significant role in helping their children to feel comfortable being who they are, says Dr Raileen Merlino, a clinical psychologist who specialises in transgender issues.

"In general terms, an environment that encourages kids to feel comfortable being themselves, is a loving and supportive one that promotes overall tolerance and compassion toward all people and situations," she says. 

"If your child sees you showing empathy and acceptance to others, they'll feel reassured that you'll be accepting of them too."

Parents can also help by educating themselves about being trans or non-binary, says Dr Merlino, and by being open to discussions on the topic.

"Once the conversation starts, parents must steer clear of being judgemental, and to just listen with an open mind," she says. "Whilst it can be difficult, parents need to put their child's feelings first, not their own. For their child, the world is a difficult place to be, feeling they're not in the right body, yet having conflict with this thought.

"Have more than one conversation, and during these conversations, ask them what they need in order to feel comfortable. Consider engaging in therapy so that they can learn and navigate the journey together."