GIDS - what’s the story?

28 October 2015

Our highly specialist integrated Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) gets a lot of public attention and we can see why. Latest blog from Polly Carmichael.

It’s important to engage in healthy discussion about our work. Our doors are open. We’re keen to work in partnership with the media and provide balanced and informed information to help children and families who might need our services and to raise awareness about this important issue.

Anonymous adolescents (ado-95)

Increase in referrals, why?

It’s true we’re seeing more children and young people here; it’s also fair to say there’s not one straightforward explanation.

We know that more people are aware of the services available and young people seem to be more interested in exploring gender. What we also know is that for every young person we see their journey and decisions will be personal – there’s no pre-determined diagnosis, or fixed outcomes and it’s certainly not a question of being “transgender” or “not” it’s about young people having the freedom to decide who they are, themselves. Our specialist service gives people the time to do this.

There has been growing acceptance of Gender Dysphoria as a condition, as well as a wider policy of addressing the needs of transgender people. Today Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan answered questions at the Women and Equalities Select Committee meeting following the Government’s pledge in 2011 for greater equality for transgender people. This signals that the needs of gender variant people are being taken seriously at the highest level.

In an interview with Pink News Maria Miller, the chair of Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, acknowledged the ground-breaking work we’re doing here.

It’s important we keep this in context though, whilst the numbers are on the rise, we actually see a relatively small number of young people from across the country each year. In 2014/15 we had 697 referrals – not all of those will fulfill the criteria for a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria, not all of those will make a decision to transition.

Whilst the numbers are relatively small, we’re geared up for the increased number of children and young people seeking help, and this is something our service thinks about and plans for with care.

Under 5’s

There’s been a real preoccupation with the under-5 population and whilst it is true that more younger children are making social transitions, the numbers are still very small and it would be the exception for a child under the age of five. Between 13/14 and 14/15 we saw just 11 under-5’s with their families   

The conversation here should really focus on what this means for early year’s provision: how society at large addresses the binary context we operate in and how we make adjustments to early years and education services. Critically also, and the challenge for us all, is how we allow children to fully explore options, over time, as they grow and mature.

I am often asked questions like “is this really just about sexuality”, “how do we know if it’s not just a phase” and “what steps do children go through for gender reassignment” – not straightforward questions, or very helpful ones at that, as they can imply the processes involved are clear-cut and linear.

Transgender is an umbrella term which encompasses a range of gender identities. To us at GIDS, it feels retrogressive to categorise young people simply as “gay or straight”, “male or female”. It’s also inaccurate, as young people themselves are exploring a range of gender identities and ways of expressing themselves. They should be able to do this without fear of harassment or judgment. Our service allows young people and families to explore the best way forward for them as individuals, as they develop, rather than applying fixed labels to reinforce or pre-determine particular outcomes.

Polly Carmichael, Gender Identity Development Service Director & Consultant Clinical Psychologist

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