Luke, 16: ‘My mum struggled with the name’
What is the biggest issue faced by trans teens? Luke tells The Day about struggles with friends and school — but says the main problem is parents who don’t understand the hurt they can cause.
“I can play almost every instrument you can think of,” says 16-year-old Luke, proudly. “Ukulele, piano, guitar, electric guitar, drums...”
He says he’s “pretty masculine”, although “usually people think because I’m trans I like football and sports. But I’m not really a fan of sport… I’m more of a quiet type.” He says gender is “how you feel and how you present yourself to others. And what you choose, or feel like you’re born as, that’s who you are. It’s not something you should change for anybody.”
When he was little, he remembers screaming as his mum tried to put him into pink shoes and dresses. “I would rather walk around the house with nothing on at all than wear something pink,” he says.
Aged 10 or 11, he came out to his mum in a letter. She took it well, but “she struggles a little bit, because of the generation she grew up in”. He says seeing him wear boys’ clothes was particularly difficult. “For quite a long period of time I was seen as her daughter and she always feels like… like she’s kind of had a child that’s been replaced,” he explains, sadly. “It does break my heart when she says it.”
It was easier for his father, he says. But he thinks that fighting for acceptance from parents can be one of the biggest struggles for transgender teens. Often, parents do not understand “how much it can hurt to be deadnamed or misgendered,” he says.
“I always explain to my mum, it’s like you’re giving me something for Christmas, and then taking it away, and then giving it back… When they do use the right name or right pronouns, it’s like getting the most amazing gift you can think of. And then when they misgender you — and sometimes it can feel like it’s on purpose — it is like having something taken away that you loved so dearly. It’s not nice.”
There are struggles at school too. Since coming out, he says he has lost many of his guy friends, and that there are difficulties over issues like toilets and school uniforms.
Still, things are easier for his generation, he says, “probably because it’s being spoken about a lot more”. Transgender documentaries on TV have helped his mum to understand how he feels. But “it needs to be spoken about a lot more in schools”.
How important is gender to society?
“I think it should be thought about a lot less than it is currently,” he says. “It just doesn’t matter what someone identifies as or who they are, really. Like, if you’re a guy and you say you’re a guy, then you’re a guy.” What matters more is “just the person in general. Get to know them, understand them. Build a friendship! I don’t know. Don’t be like, ‘yo, what’s your gender?’ I’d be quite triggered if somebody said that to me. Just see them how they are.”
- How important is your parents’ approval?
- What is the biggest issue facing young transgender people?
- Write down all of the characteristics and stereotypes that you can think of which are associated with trans men. Then discuss: Are they mostly positive or negative traits? If you know any trans men in real life, do you think they fit those stereotypes?
- Read the BBC’s guide to how it feels to be transgender. Choose one of the problems mentioned in section three, and watch the accompanying video. Then discuss with a partner how it might feel to be in that situation, and how you might begin to resolve it.
Some People Say...
“Trying to take away someone’s language is usually the first step in trying to change them.”C.N. Lester
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- More children than ever are being referred to the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock Centre in London. Official figures showed that an average of 50 children per week had been referred in the first six months of last year. That is an increase of 2,500% from the year 2009-10, when just two children were referred each week.
- What do we not know?
- What is causing the rise in referrals. We also do not know how many of those children will grow up to be transgender, or decide to transition (i.e. start living their life as their preferred gender, possibly including hormone therapy and surgery.) Many will be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, the feeling that your gender does not match your body. But not all young children with this condition have it in adulthood.
- Short for transgender, an umbrella term for people who do not think their gender identity (what they feel inside) matches the gender they were assigned at birth (based on their biological sex). In Luke’s case, he was born with a female body but identifies as male.
- A person’s gender identity (whether they feel like a man, woman or something else) is not the same as their biological sex (which is determined by genitals, hormones or chromosomes).
- When a transgender person is called by the name they were given at birth, rather than the name they have chosen for themselves.
- When a person is referred to as the wrong gender.
- A word referring to a person and functioning as a noun, such as he/him or she/her. While these are the two most common sets of pronouns, some people prefer non-gendered terms like they/them or xe/xyr.
- When someone relives traumatic memories or experiences extreme distress due to a specific event. The term was originally used in the context of people with post-traumatic stress disorder.