Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why are people transgender?
There is a lot of diversity in gender. It is a normal part of human diversity. It is found throughout history and across cultures. Just as most people are right-handed, most people identify as male or female. Just as some people are left-handed, some are transgender. We no longer force children who are left-handed to learn to write with their right hand. Being left-handed is a normal part of human diversity. We no longer try to change a person’s gender identity because it doesn’t match the gender that the person was assigned at birth. This too is a natural part of human diversity.
2. What do trans* and gender creative mean?
Trans* (Trans, Transgender, Transsexual): trans* (with an asterisk) is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differ from their assigned sex and/or the societal and cultural expectations of their assigned sex.
Trans* includes people who identify as androgyne, agender, bigender, butch, CAFAB (Coercively Assigned Female At Birth), CAMAB (Coercively Assigned Male At Birth), cross-dresser, drag king, drag queen, femme, FTM (Female-to-Male), gender creative, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, gender variant, MTF (Male-to-Female), pangender, questioning, trans, trans man, trans woman, transfeminine, transgender, transmasucline, transsexual, and two-spirit. (This definition comes from QMUNITY: www.qmunity.ca)
Younger students who do not conform to gender expectations may not identify as transgender, but often use words like gender creative or gender independent to describe themselves.
3. What does cisgender mean?
Cisgender means having a gender identity that matches the sex assigned to you at birth, or being non-trans*.
4.Do all kids who are gender creative or non-conforming kids grow up to be trans*?
Dr. Marria Townsend, MD, CCRP, Physician Lead for Transgender Care, VCH; Family Physician, VCH; Clinical Instructor, Department of Family Practice, UBC
It is true that many kids who show gender creativity or gender nonconformity in early childhood do not engage in medical gender transition or identify as transgender when they get older; many of these children do require medical treatment at some point in their lives. Regardless of the eventual outcome, all children need to be supported to express their gender in a way that feels right to them in childhood. They need to be themselves, find safety at school, and family support and understanding at home. By supporting children in their gender expression and identity throughout their school years, schools will not make them more trans* or less trans*; they will simply keep them safe and support them in being who they are.
5. Why do trans* and gender creative students need extra support?
Egale Canada surveyed high school students across Canada, and found that:
- 74% of trans* students have been verbally harassed about their gender expression
- 49% of trans* students had been sexually harassed at school within the last year
- 37% of trans* students report being physically harassed or assaulted because of their gender expression
- 52% of trans* students reported feeling unsafe in washrooms and change rooms
- 37% of youth with LGBTQ parents were verbally harassed and 27 % were physically harassed about the sexual orientation of their parents
- 64% of LGBTQ students and 61% of students with LGBTQ parents feel they are unsafe at school
The consequences of unsafe schools are very significant. If students are not safe at school, they may drop out. If they are not safe at home, they may end up street-involved. The combination of not finishing school and homelessness leads to greater risk of poor health outcomes.
For more information:
6. What will make schools safer for trans* youth?
The majority of trans* and gender nonconforming students are non-apparent or invisible. Many students are bullied and harassed because their gender expression and interests do not match expectations based on gender norms. Staff and other students may think this kind of bullying based on gender is ok or not know how to intervene. Schools can create less gendered spaces to make room for a variety of gender expressions and make interests (such as being an engineer or a teacher) ok for everyone, regardless of gender.
We know that generic anti-bullying policies, ones that do not specifically address homophobia and transphobia, do not improve school climate for LGBTQ students. The Egale survey indicates that even schools with anti-homophobia measures in place were not safer for trans* students. Schools need to implement policies that specifically address gender expression, gender identity and transphobia in order to make schools safer for trans* youth. GSA’s and QSA’s are another important element in making schools safer places for LGBTQ youth.
7. What makes a school inclusion policy for trans* students effective?
Clearly defined terms
Clear policy scope and purpose
- Protection of privacy and confidentiality (to maintain student safety and follow applicable laws)
- Name and gender on school records and communications
- Use of names and pronouns
- Access to gender-segregated areas and activities
- Dress code (if applicable)
- Transition planning (with parental involvement, when appropriate)
- Safe staff members in each school
- Support for GSA’s and QSA’s
- Trans* inclusion in curriculum and learning resources
- Staff training and professional development, including information on:
Basic information about gender identity, gender expression and gender transition
Developmentally appropriate communication strategies
Maintenance of privacy and confidentiality
Guidelines for referring students for additional supports
Policies related to bullying, discrimination, gender identity and gender expression
For more information:
8. How do school trans* inclusion policies impact cisgender youth?
These policies affect the school environment, making it a safer and more welcoming place for all students. When students know that individual differences are accepted by adult role models, they are more comfortable being themselves and accepting differences in others. This means that cisgender students may feel more comfortable expressing a wider range of interests and gender expressions. Having a policy that includes staff training means that knowledgeable adults will have the tools they need to address student questions about trans* issues, and maintain a safe and nurturing environment for all students. Ultimately, students who learn about trans* issues will have a greater understanding of human diversity and grow their capacity to be compassionate world citizens.
9. Do students have a right to confidentiality about their gender identity?
Yes. Students’ confidentiality is already protected by longstanding VSB policy and the law.
10. Why would a teacher need to keep a student’s gender identity confidential?
Students have the legal right to confidentiality, which mean they have control over who they share their private information with and when they share it. A student may first come out to a trusted staff person at school for a number of reasons. They may know that a staff person is supportive of trans* students and feel that they are a safe person to talk to. They may want to practice coming out to someone before coming out to their parents. They may be looking for support to help them come out to other people or to access gender-affirming healthcare.
Staff know that parental and family involvement and support is key to a student’s development and success, so they will work with the student to encourage sharing their personal information with their family when the student is ready and feels that it is safe. However, for some students, safety at home may be an issue if they come out as trans*. Students may be at genuine risk of violence and homelessness if they are outed to their family. For this reason, it is very important that staff members maintain confidentiality when asked.
If parents are concerned about their children keeping important information from them, there are many things that parents can do to communicate to their children that their family would be accepting if one of their children came out as trans*. This will greatly increase the likelihood that a child would feel safe talking to their family about what they are going through. PFLAG provides support for family members and friends: www.pflagcanada.ca
11. What can teachers do to make schools safer places?
- Educate yourself
- Examine gendered assumptions in language and teaching practices
- Prevent and address transphobia
- Address bullying, discrimination, harassment and violence
- Look for ways to make the curriculum more queer- and trans*-inclusive
- Maintain student privacy and confidentiality according to policy
- Reassure students that they have a right to a safe and caring education
- Work with students and families on transition planning and support
- Refer students for extra support when needed
For more information:
12. What about washroom access for trans* students?
A lot of people wonder about the best way to ensure trans* students have access to washrooms. Washrooms are typically very gendered spaces (boys’ rooms and girls’ rooms), and for students who are trans* or gender nonconforming, accessing washrooms can be a very stressful experience. Sometimes students experience bullying, harassment and violence just for trying to use the washroom – either the one that matches their birth sex or one that matches their gender identity. We know that some students avoid school washrooms altogether, sometimes leading to dehydration from not drinking fluids, kidney issues and bladder problems.
When schools support a student who is transitioning their gender at school, administrators, counsellors, parents/guardians and the student work together on a transition plan. This many include things such as name change, pronoun change, and washroom access. One plan that works for many trans* students is having access to a single-stall, gender-neutral washroom – this ensures their safety and washroom access while at school. For some students who have socially transitioned their gender, accessing the washroom that matches their gender identity works best. These decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that students are safe and healthy.
There is no evidence that having policies in place allowing trans* people access to the washroom that matches their gender identity leads to an increase in washroom violence. In fact, the evidence from places across North America that have inclusive washroom policies is that these policies do not increase violence in washrooms. We know that these policies do not place cisgender individuals at greater risk. We hope that implementation of these policies in schools will decrease the level of violence faced by trans* students at school.
13. What is the role of health care providers in keeping transgender and gender diverse youth safe and healthy?
Some trans* students may access health care providers to assist with various aspects of coming out and transitioning. These may include counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, general practitioners and endocrinologists. They each have unique roles, but in general, these are the types of things that health care providers do to support trans* youth:
- Counselling to navigate coming out, transitioning, social relationships, family dynamics, and positive development
- Assessment for gender dysphoria, puberty blocker readiness, and hormone therapy readiness
- Treat with puberty blockers and hormone therapy
- Work with families and schools on transition planning
- Maintain privacy and confidentiality
- Follow best practices
- Keep current with evidence-based research
14. What do the healthcare experts say about the need for the proposed VSB policy changes?
Melady Preece, Ph.D. R. Psych.
Generally, I feel that the policy is well-articulated and in line with the recommendations for transgender care made by various medical, legal, psychiatric, and psychological organizations as well as the conclusions from medical and psychological research. It provides parents, teachers, and school staff with guidelines based on principles of respect, inclusion, sensitivity to privacy, and student safety. I believe that this policy will help transgender students to feel safer and more accepted in their schools. I certainly hope that other school districts will quickly follow suit and adopt similar policies. I feel confident that this policy will go a long way towards preventing the fear, isolation, depression, and inaccessibility to a solid education that in the past has been the common experience of far too many transgender youth.
Marria Townsend, MD, CCFP
The evidence is clear that trans* people of all ages face disproportionate levels of stigma, harassment and violence resulting in negative health consequences including poor mental health, increased rates of substance use and suicide…I would like to stress that expert opinion is overwhelmingly in support of allowing and supporting trans* people of all ages to self determine gender identity and expression, and supporting them through the stages of social and medical transition as desired. The VSB policy touches on critical aspects of supporting trans* children and youth, which are consistent with best practices and medical evidence, including sections on confidentiality and privacy, use of names and pronouns, expectations regarding dress, reducing sex-segregated activities, ensuring washroom and changeroom accessibility and access to physical education and sport. These measures will greatly improve the safety and well-being of trans* and gender diverse youth and will no doubt benefit the entire school community.
The BC Trans* Clinical Care Group
It is the professional opinion of the psychiatrists, physicians, and other health-care professionals in our organization that policies such as this are necessary to support children and youth who are under our care. Living in one’s preferred gender is an important element of gender transition, which for children and youth typically precedes medical transition. It is imperative that students who are living in their preferred gender feel safe and supported in school. This includes providing gender-appropriate and gender-neutral washrooms and change rooms, respecting the privacy of trans* students by implementing appropriate data management policies, organizing education and awareness for adult staff, and creating accountability when students do report challenges, as outlined in guidelines published by the Public Health Agency of Canada. In summary, we support the Vancouver School Board’s proposed policy changes and congratulate VSB on taking steps to ensure the safety of our city’s schools.
15.What is reparative (or conversion) therapy?
Dr. Gail Knudson, MD, MPE, FRCPC, Psychiatrist; Physician Lead, Transgender Health Information Program; Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, UBC
Reparative therapy, also known as conversion therapy, attempts to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Mainstream professional associations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the World Professional Organization for Transgender Health, have deemed this a harmful practice. WPATH’s current Standards of Care state that, “treatment aimed at trying to change a person’s gender identity and expression to become more congruent with sex assigned at birth has been attempted in the past without success, particularly in the long term. Such treatment is no longer considered ethical.” By explicitly stating that staff may not refer students to reparative therapy, the VSB proposed policy changes will ensure that no student is referred for this kind of harmful and unethical intervention.
Dr. Marria Townsend, MD, CCRP, Physician Lead for Transgender Care, VCH; Family Physician, VCH; Clinical Instructor, Department of Family Practice, UBC
The current WPATH Standards of Care (version 7, 2011) explicitly state that reparative therapy – therapy to change someone’s gender identity – is unethical. Kenneth Zucker is actually one of the co-authors of these Standards, which are based on current research and followed by clinical care providers working with trans* and gender nonconforming children, youth and adults in BC. These evidence-based standards demonstrate a significant change in our approach to working with children since research on treating gender-nonconforming children was first published, decades ago.
16. Where can I find services for a transgender or gender creative student?
Transgender Health Information Program
THiP is a province-wide resource hub that helps people connect with gender-affirming healthcare and support services. For more information, visit www.transhealth.ca
BC Children’s Hospital Transgender Care
This program has a team that includes an Endocrinologist, Endocrine Nurse Clinician, and Social Worker/Counsellor, working in partnership with community mental health professionals (a Psychiatrist and several Psychologists) and the BC Transgender Clinical Care Group. It functions as a “clinic without walls” to deliver endocrine care (puberty blockers and hormone therapy) to this transgender and gender-questioning youth. In general, the clinic will see patients only after the beginning stages of puberty, or later, until the age of 18. Ideally, patients will already have been evaluated by one of the mental health professionals in BC who are competent in the diagnosis and management of gender dysphoria in youth. As elsewhere across BC, our care is delivered according to the WPATH Standards of Care. Since we are a subspecialty clinic, it is necessary for a patient to be referred to us by a Family Practitioner or other physician.
Toll-free 1-888-300-3088, x2117
Three Bridges Youth Drop-in Clinic
Youth under 25 years of age, you can access the Three Bridges Youth Drop-in Clinic in Vancouver. The healthcare providers at this clinic are experienced in working with individuals who identify as trans* and questioning.
Three Bridges Community Health Centre
1292 Hornby Street, Vancouver, B.C. V6Z 1W2
Youth Clinic Drop-in Hours: Mon – Fri, 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. (except holidays)
17. Where can I find information on starting a GSA (Gay/Straight Alliance) or QSA (Queer/Straight Alliance) at my school?
Check out these resources online:
18. Where can I find information about religious views on transgender issues?
Crossing Paths: Where Transgender and Religion Meet (Book)
Collection of essays compiled by the Unitarian Universalists Association’s Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns.
Call Me Malcom (documentary)
Call Me Malcolm is an amazing story of the human spirit and God’s spirit, and the liberating struggle to realize and express with confidence the marvelous gift of one’s truest sense of self. As Malcolm shares his own story and through the stories of others we meet, Call Me Malcolm offers us a glimpse into the real lives of real people who are transgender. But it is only a glimpse. There are many stories to be told and Malcolm helps us make connections to our own stories, encouraging us to share them. That can seem daunting in a culture which has done more to heap shame on persons who identify as transgender. The good news of Malcolm’s story is the way in which shame and fear are overcome by grace, compassion and knowledge. Viewers cannot help but come to a deeper understanding of faith, love, and gender identity, and by doing so, arrive at a deeper understanding of their own journey.
The Spirit of Transgender
Trans-Spirits is an organization at the forefront of service to the spiritual life of the transgender community, supporting its leaders, teachers, healers, artists and seekers in non-dogmatic, creative and playful ways. This article provides an historical context for what is now known as transgender.
Transfaith™ is a national non-profit that is led by transgender people and focused on issues of faith and spirituality. We work closely with many allied organizations, secular, spiritual, and religious, transgender-led and otherwise. We believe that the spiritual vitality and leadership of people of transgender experience will make the world a better place. We bring people together to develop conversation, strategy, and community in order to help us all reach our full potential.
TransTorah helps people of all genders to fully access and transform Jewish tradition, and helps Jewish communities to be welcoming sanctuaries for people of all genders.
Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach
Book by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
This book bridges traditional religious doctrine and secular postmodern theory regarding gender. Through an examination of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and church history as well as the exploration of other religious traditions and cultures, Mollenkott honors the experience of people who do not fit within the traditional binary concept of gender: intersexual, trans-sexual, or otherwise-gendered individuals.
Transgender Good News
Book by Pat Conover
This book responds to three basic questions about transgender experience and expression. What is true? What is going on? What really matters? I have tried not merely to answer these questions, but to pay attention to the framing of the questions. After wrestling with transgender questions as an important part of my own life, and after applying the disciplines I have learned as a scientist and a theologian, I believe more than ever that getting the questions right is more important than defending the answers.
Transgendering Faith: Identity, Sexuality and Spirituality
Book by Leanne McCall Tigert and Maren C. Tirabassi
Transgendering Faith is a resource to help churches respond with love and care to transgender people in our society, both those within the Christian community and those who find themselves–unhappily–outside its doors. It is also a book for transgender Christians, their families, pastoral counselors, and clergy.
Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith
Book by Justin Tanis
Justin Tanis, a transgendered ordained minister in the Metropolitan Community Churches, seeks to explore the spiritual nature of transgendered persons, to listen to the stories of others like himself, and to provide theological reflection on the ministries of, by and for this particular community. The book includes an introduction to trans issues, an overview of gender variance and the Bible, reflections on the intersection of transgendered people and faith communities and how to create a genuine welcome for trans people in those communities, as well as a theological analysis of gender as a calling and transgendered body theology. Dr. Tanis earned his M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School and his D.Min. from San Francisco Theological Seminary and serves on the National Advisory Board of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry.