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Gender Identity: Stephen Stathis at DFTB18


Associate Professor Stephen Stathis has fellowships in both paediatrics and psychiatry. As Medical Director of the Child and Youth Mental Health Services in Brisbane, Australia. He heads up the gender dysphoria service at Queensland Children’s Hospital, and in this talk, he expands the DFTB queericulum.

In 2017, Aidan Baron started a conversation about the challenges and rewards of communicating with all colours of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow. In this talk, Stephen talks about the development of gender expression and helps clarify some of the misunderstandings about being gender diverse. By improving our knowledge and allowing these conversations to take place, we hope we can provide a safe environment for children to be able to explore their concerns without fear of judgment.

What Is Gender Identity?

Gender identity is the subjective sense of whether one identifies as male or female. It’s a deeply personal and often subconscious feeling that develops around the age of four or five. It can be challenging to articulate why one identifies as a particular gender. Even as an expert in child psychiatry, Stathis finds it hard to explain why he identifies as male. Imagine the difficulty a child or teenager may face when struggling with their gender identity.

Gender Expression and Orientation

Gender expression or gender orientation is how individuals demonstrate their subjective gender identity to others. For example, Stephen identifies as a cisgender heterosexual Anglo-Australian male. He highlights the importance of understanding that gender identity is distinct from sexuality. Gender identity pertains to how one perceives one’s own gender, while sexuality relates to whom one is attracted to romantically or sexually.

Gender Variance and Cultural Differences

Stephen also draws attention to the concept of gender variance, where some individuals may engage in activities or behaviours stereotypically associated with the opposite gender while still identifying with their birth gender. For instance, he mentions the term “tomboy” for girls who exhibit traditionally masculine behaviours. It’s important to recognize that cultural norms can influence gender identity and may vary across different societies and cultures.

Factors Influencing Gender Identity

Gender identity is a complex phenomenon influenced by various factors. While genetic factors likely play a significant role, there’s also evidence of hormonal influences during fetal development. However, it’s essential to dispel myths that gender identity can be solely influenced by social or psychological factors. Encouraging children to explore activities associated with the opposite gender does not change their innate gender identity.

Prevalence of Gender Diversity

Stephen Stathis shares data on the prevalence of gender diversity in the Australian population. Studies indicate that a substantial number of children and adolescents may experience some degree of gender diversity. For example, approximately 4% of boys and 8% of girls may exhibit interests stereotypically associated with the opposite gender. Additionally, around 1% of young people may identify as transgender.

Predicting Gender Diversity

Predicting which children will experience persistent gender diversity is challenging. However, children who present with severe gender dysphoria symptoms at an early age may be less likely to desist from their gender questioning. Nevertheless, up to 90% of gender-diverse children may continue identifying with their birth gender once they reach adolescence. It’s crucial to approach each case individually.

Mental Health and Gender Diversity

Stephen emphasizes the importance of addressing the mental health challenges that gender-diverse young people often face. Studies reveal alarmingly high rates of suicide attempts, self-harm, and mental health issues among transgender individuals. Discrimination and lack of support in various settings, including schools and workplaces, contribute to these problems.

Supporting Gender-Diverse Children

Medical professionals and caregivers can make a significant difference in the lives of gender-diverse children. Providing a safe, supportive, and non-judgmental environment is crucial. Stephen encourages open and honest conversations with children about their gender identity concerns. Additionally, he stresses the importance of understanding the risks these young people face daily and being aware of available support resources.

Understanding gender identity in children is a complex but essential aspect of pediatric healthcare. Stephen Stathis’s insights shed light on the challenges and experiences of gender-diverse young people. By promoting inclusivity, providing support, and respecting each child’s unique journey, medical professionals can contribute to the well-being and mental health of gender-diverse children. Embracing this understanding of gender identity is a crucial step toward a more compassionate and equitable society.

This talk was recorded live at DFTB18 in Melbourne, Australia. With the theme of ‘Science and Story‘ we pushed our speakers to step out of their comfort zones and consider why we do what we do. Caring for children is not just about acquiring scientific know-how but also about looking beyond a diagnosis or clinical conundrum at the patient and their families.

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