1. On Tuesday 13 October at 10pm, everyone will be watching Girls to Men, Channel 4’s much publicised documentary about three young people who were assigned a female gender at birth, but who have always believed that they were born in the wrong body.
2. One of the participants in the documentary, Jamie Raines, was just four years old when he first realized that he was actually male. It is not uncommon for children with gender dysphoria to report feelings of being ‘different’, or to begin resisting the norms seen as appropriate to their gender at a very early age (Hines, 2007).
3. The desire to change gender is thought to be related to a specific pattern of neurodevelopment in the foetal brain. In young people experiencing gender dysphoria, one area of the brain -which is known to be distinctly different in males and females – develops in opposition to other sex characteristics. Typical differentiation is believed to be associated with hormones impacting on the developing brain, but in young people experiencing gender dysphoria, the hormonal effect appears to be atypical’ (GIRES, 2006, p. 2).
4. Stigma and discrimination make it very difficult for young people to admit to gender dysphoria and the decision to make the transition to the gender that feels more appropriate, often occurs much later on. In fact the median age at which transgender people present for treatment is 42 (GIRES, 2009). This makes it very difficult to accurately estimate the number of trans people in the population.
5. The Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) estimate that the current prevalence of transgender people in the UK is somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000, but the vast majority of them are males who identify as female. Current research suggests that only 20% of transgendered people were assigned a female gender at birth, however this is probably a gross underestimate.
6. Although it is not the first challenge that springs to mind when one thinks about making the transition from female to male (FTM), one of the first major steps that a girl who feels like a boy will make as she moves towards a male identity is cutting her hair. Jamie Raines was just eight years old when he had his hair cut short because he was desperate to look like a boy.
7. Gabriel, formerly Calynda, is also a female-to-male transsexual. He writes a blog called “The FTM’s Complete Illustrated Guide To Looking Like Hot Dude” and he cautions young FTMs not to overcompensate the first time they get a male haircut. He is particularly scathing about buzz cuts which he says, only look sexy on men who actually are David Beckham. The stereotypically male buzz cut will make rounder faced FTM’s look like “a potato”, he warns.
8. Another FTM who has struggled with his hair is Greygory Vass. Greygory remembers the discomfort he felt as a gender dysphoric adolescent when he didn’t know whether he should be going to a hair salon or a barbershop. When Greygory grew up and transitioned to his male identity, he trained as a hairdresser and set up ‘Open Barbers‘, a social enterprise hairdressing service based in London, catering for people of “all lengths, genders and sexualities”.
9. Although the business was initially established to create a comfortable space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning or intersex people, as word has spread the clientele has expanded to include people with disabilities and… basically anyone who wants to be accepted for who they are, rather than what they look like, or which biological gender they conform to. The business operates on a sliding scale payment system and every week, five ‘affordable’ appointments are offered at between £2 – £10 to those in need.
10. Although gender dysphoric and trans gendered people still encounter ignorance and discrimination, there is more help available now than there was when Greygory was younger. Mermaids is a support group for gender variant children, teenagers and their families and The Gender Trust helps adults whose lives are affected by gender identity issues. The Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) is working to change the way that society treats trans people and has been instrumental in raising awareness with families, teachers, employers, clinicians, the providers of commercial and government services, politicians and people in the media.
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