InsideOUT has recently been made aware of an email that was sent from an organisation called Speak Up For Women New Zealand to high-schools around the country, addressed to the principals and school counsellors.
We are concerned about the harmful information and messages contained in
this email in regards to supporting trans and gender diverse youth, a
resilient yet vulnerable group of young people who experience higher rates
of bullying and mental health issues than the general youth population.
We wish to provide schools with assurances that affirming gender diverse young people is the right thing to do and remind you that there is support here for you.
We have compiled some information below to help you and your school when considering this topic and how you can best support gender diverse youth.
Encouraging a young person to change or suppress their gender is a form of conversion therapy.
The email sent from SUFWNZ contained links to material from Sasha Ayad, a counsellor whose practice is focused on encouraging gender diverse adolescents to identify as their sex assigned at birth. Many other counsellors describe this approach as a form of conversion therapy, explicitly designed to change or suppress a young person’s gender identity. Conversion practices have been clearly linked to increased suicidality, and the New Zealand Government is currently working through legislation to ban conversion practices in Aotearoa. The New Zealand Association of Counsellors also has a very clear policy against conversion therapy which can be read here.
What are young people saying about gender affirming healthcare?
Preliminary findings from the Identify Survey, Aotearoa’s largest survey for rainbow young people aged 14-26 to date, suggests that taking gender-affirming medication can make a positive difference to a person’s mental, physical and relational wellbeing. When asked to explain what difference gender-affirming mediation had had to their life, many participants described the medication as life-saving, significantly improving their mental health and reducing dysphoria, allowing them to be seen as the gender they are by others, enabling them to live social and active lives and maintain healthy relationships.
Here are some anonymous quotes from the survey that illustrate some of the main themes outlined above:
Going on hormone blockers took me from hating my body to feeling like it was bearable. HRT has changed so much for the better. People recognise me as male, I feel comfortable talking and singing, I’m more confident with my body shape which means I can dance without feeling self conscious about anything but my dance skills.
(It) saved my life and made me feel confident and able to exist.
My depression symptoms have significantly improved and I feel that I am able to see colour in my life again.
It has saved my life. Taking testosterone not only improved my connection to my own body (ie feeling like I belong in it) but has meant that people see me for who I am. If people still saw me as my AGAB I wouldn’t feel like they saw the real me, which is why I find being misgendered really hard.
Insane improvement on mental health, sense of identity and personal relationships. Have been mostly overwhelmed by how positive the experiences I have had are but that was not universal and I am aware that I am very fortunate as to how I have been treated.
Made me feel comfortable in myself and given me confidence, due both to the reduction in dysphoria and the difference in how I am treated.
If I wasn’t given the chance to medically transition, I sincerely believe I wouldn’t be alive today.
I think people tend to focus on the physical changes hormone therapy can bring. Of course, these are important things but it shouldn’t overshadow that profoundly positive feeling of the hormones themselves. That greater mental space, clarity and baseline mood.
I feel much more stable and happy, I feel happier in my own body and much more physically comfortable, and I feel like I’ve reached a place where I can fully be and explore myself.
People tell me I seem happier, brighter, more at ease, more myself. I feel more happy and safe in my own skin every day and my mental health is consistently more positive than it’s ever been even though I still have a ways to go.
It’s lessened my dysphoria and allowed me to be perceived as female despite not feeling confident/comfortable presenting particularly femininely.
A massive improvement both in peace of mind and comfort in my body, plus it’s definitely made people treating me as a woman the default which is very nice.
On the subject of gender affirmative support and care
On the website for the Professional Association for Transgender Health Aotearoa (PATHA), there are the following position statements from international, regional and national peak bodies specialising in the health and wellbeing of trans people. These documents outline the importance of gender affirmative support and care for trans, gender diverse and non-binary (TGBNB) children and youth and their whānau.
In this statement, PATHA and its Australian counterpart AusPATH welcomed the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) advice to Minister Greg Hunt, Federal Minister for Health, regarding the care and treatment of TGDNB children and adolescents, including those seeking medical intervention. This advice was based on the available scientific evidence and the expertise of those with relevant clinical experience across sub-speciality areas of medicine and bioethics. The joint statement talks about the importance of gender affirmative care and includes links to further resources including the Guidelines for gender affirming healthcare for gender diverse and transgender children, young people and adults in Aotearoa New Zealand
This position statement is a strong critique from international, regional and national health professional bodies of the UK decision mentioned in the SUFWNZ email. The gender clinic involved in that case has also appealed that decision. That statement has also been developed into a paper that was published in the International Journal of Transgender Health in April 2021 and is available on the WPATH website here. The authors note “the current paper is an extended version of that statement including the scientific evidence and references which the necessary brevity of such policy statements precludes”.
Resources to support you
Who is this guide for?
This guide is for anyone who provides mental health support in Aotearoa, including (but not limited to) counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, tohunga (Māori healers), social workers, mental health nurses, and GPs. It will also be helpful for youth workers, group facilitators, and peer supporters.
Why do you need this guide?
Wherever you work in mental health, you work with rainbow people. Rainbow people in New Zealand face a range of complex issues, and mental health professionals don’t always receive specific training about their needs and experiences. You already have the skills to provide great support – this guide is designed to give you information to build on and strengthen those skills.
InsideOUT will soon be releasing a suite of new resources for schools endorsed by the Ministry of Education to help with making schools safer for rainbow rangatahi. Today we leave you with this video sharing the voices of rainbow tamariki from primary and intermediate schools around Aotearoa.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, concerns or wish to discuss this further or receive more support in your school.
Thank you for the work you do to affirm and uplift our gender diverse rangatahi.