For a transgender child, it is more than a boy walking in his mother or sister’s high heels or a girl wanting to wear pants. Recently, the experience of transgender people, in particular, transgender children, caught the public’s attention when South African-born actress Charlize Theron decided to raise her 7-year-old son Jackson as a daughter.
It was reported in the Weekend Argus last week that Jackson had approached his mom and said she was not a boy.
“They were born who they are, and exactly where in the world both of them get to find themselves as they grow up and who they want to be is not for me to decide. My job as a parent is to celebrate them, love them and make sure they have everything they need in order to be what they want to be,” Theron said.
A clinical social worker and academic at the University of Cape Town, Ronald Addinall-Van Straaten, praised Theron’s decision.
“It’s fantastic that a public person is hearing her child,” Addinall-Van Straaten said.
While the decision has been praised by the transgender community, Theron has been criticised by some including, South African musician Steve Hofmeyr. In a recent tweet, Hofmeyr allegedly asked Theron if his 20-month-old daughter has an extra Y chromosome because she wears pants.
“Dear Charlize. My daughter sometimes wears pants. She is 20 months old. Is it perhaps the right time to ask her if she feels a balance of Y chromosome?” Hofmeyr tweeted.
Hofmeyr’s comment has stirred some support from the public, with some comparing Theron’s decision to a child saying that he or she is a dolphin and allowing them to be considered a dolphin.
Addinall-Van Straaten said these beliefs were ignorant and negative. He emphasised that Hofmeyr’s comments on Twitter could have a traumatic effect on members of the transgender community.
“He (Hofmeyr) is fuelling discrimination. The transgender community is a minority group that has faced prejudice and hate crimes. There are higher incidences of depression and suicide in the transgender community,” Addinall-Van Straaten added.
As a clinical social worker, Addinall-Van Straaten has worked with many parents, schools and children and provides counselling in their transition. He emphasised that for a transgender child, the transition was more than a fashion trend and an overnight decision.
He explained that the transition for a transgender child had been thoroughly researched and standards set by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Organisation (WPATH).
WPATH was founded in 1979 and is dedicated to helping families with transgender children.
Addinall-Van Straaten, as a member of WPATH, explained that when he counselled a transgender child, there were phases and steps that were taken in order to help them on their journey.
He stressed that when a child had been properly assessed and a significant amount of time had passed, the transgender child and their families would be helped by counsellors when deciding the appropriate steps to take.
Addinall-Van Straaten said while the transgender community has found their voice and has become outspoken, those who are not transgendered should not feel intimidated about meeting transgendered people.
“In my experience, transgender people are very open and understanding when they see that people are genuinely trying to be respectful and sensitive,” Addinall-Van Straaten said.