Gender Identity Development Service hosts family day in Leeds
5 August 2016
We welcomed families from across the north of England to our fourth annual Family Day in Leeds on 27 July 2016.
It was the first in a series of family days around the country, with similar events taking place in Exeter and London in August.
133 guests including young people, their siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members joined us at The Studio venue, which overlooks the River Aire and has great views of the city. But we weren’t just there for the panoramic views. The staff from our Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) Leeds base, plus some extra helping hands from our London team, organised an afternoon of talks and activity groups for all the family.
Jamie and Ronnie
Our first speakers of the day were Jamie and his mum Ronnie. They were interviewed by Heather Wood, a clinical psychologist, who met Jamie earlier in the year when she visited the Trans Youth Hull group he helps to run.
Jamie was referred to our service when he was younger; now in his 20s, he shared his experience of adult gender services and reflected on his experience with GIDS. Jamie and Ronnie spoke with great honesty and integrity about Jamie’s transition and their family relationships.
Ronnie spoke about her frustrations of having tried for several years to find help for Jamie, and her subsequent relief when he was finally referred to our service. Jamie spoke about his experiences of waiting for physical interventions. He also described how he feels more at ease with doing “stereotypically feminine” things now that he is older and has transitioned.
Leeds Gender Identity Service for adults
Later in the afternoon we were joined by Michelle, Rhys and Helen who work at the Leeds Gender Identity Service for adults. Their talk allowed families to find out more about the care available for young adults if they are referred to the Leeds adult service from the GIDS child and adolescent team.
Dr Francis Ray White
Our final guest speaker was Dr Francis Ray White, senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Westminster.
Francis spoke about non-binary gender identities, both in general terms and from their own experience. They explained how we often think of gender like an on/off light switch – you’re either one thing, or the other. But perhaps, Francis suggested, gender is more like a dimmer switch.
For people who hadn’t had the chance to think about gender in this way before, it was a real light bulb moment.
It was great to see some of the youngest people in the room ask incredibly insightful questions, such as whether people had found it hard to start calling Francis “they”, and whether if you have previously described yourself as lesbian you can still do that if you are now known as non-binary.
The day also featured a number of groups for different family members and age ranges.
We ran a group for teenagers and each person was given a canvas tile and asked to paint something on it which they felt represented part of their identity. This could include any aspect of their identity – gender, family, culture, hobbies, or anything else they felt was important to them. Everyone’s tile was different and unique to them, and we had the opportunity to hear from some people about the meanings behind their paintings. These tiles were then arranged on a couple of larger canvases and will be displayed in our GIDS Leeds offices.
During the second half, we asked the two groups to discuss what it means to be transgender in 2016. Themes which arose included:
- increased media presence and societal awareness
- problems in school
- feeling lonely
- increased opportunities to make connections with other young people through services such as GIDS and LGBT support groups
Young people were able to meet other like-minded peers and had the opportunity to discuss both their similarities and differences in a safe, supportive space.
We also ran a group for younger children where we had a lively mixture of children being seen in the service and siblings of those in the service. We played games, decorated (and ate) gingerbread biscuits and painted canvases with our favourite emojis. Linked with the theme of emotions we talked about feelings we have had and how we’ve dealt with them.
As in previous years, it felt really important to have a space for siblings to talk as they don’t always get this opportunity. We had a very thoughtful group who valued listening and sharing their experiences with one another.
Everyone spoke about how they first learnt about transgender issues and noticed similarities and differences within the group. Everyone wanted to offer support to their siblings and often spoke about feeling protective.
Sometimes it seemed that the group found it more difficult to think about themselves but with encouragement were able to talk about the important part they each play within their families.
Last but not least, we had three parents groups. We also had a few aunties, uncles, grandparents and foster carers too. As in previous years, parents and carers told us just how valuable they had found it to meet others in a similar situation to them and to hear about different families’ experiences.
Some of the themes that were discussed included:
- how to manage worries and anxieties for your child
- finding positive trans role models
- waiting being difficult
- looking after yourself as a parent
- managing feelings of loss
- seeing your child grow happier and more confident
The wide range of topics reflects the many different and varied experiences and emotions that parents might encounter supporting their children: from fear through to hope, sadness and joy, and anxious concern as well as brimming with pride.
We would like to thank everyone who attended the family day for once again making this a fantastic event. Special thanks to our guest speakers for their time, energy and extremely thoughtful – and thought-provoking – contributions.
Our next family day in Leeds will be in summer 2017…but in the meantime, we run regular groups for young people and parents throughout the year. We hope to see many of you at these again soon.
As with our groups, the family days are open to young people and their families who are currently using our service. For more information speak to one of our clinicians or contact our administrative team on 0113 247 1955 (Leeds) or 020 8938 2030 (London and Exeter).
Dr Matt Bristow, clinical psychologist in the Gender Identity Development Service and the Leeds Family Day team