Social Worker Opens Center for Transgender Children
For the past three decades, Dr. Diane Ehrensaft has been working with and writing about gender-nonconforming children and their families. She has seen a new crop of issues emerge for transgender children and their families as more of them explore their gender identities at an earlier age.
These changes have prompted her and her colleagues to open the Child and Adolescent Center. Calling it a "center" is a bit of a misnomer, as it is really a collection of professionals throughout the Bay Area. These include mental health and medical professionals, educators, attorneys, activists and researchers who provide comprehensive services to enhance gender health within a gender-affirmative model.
The clinic has no doors or a singular address, and instead operates at each individual location of the members that comprise it. The center is a partnership between the local professionals and the University of California-San Francisco that has been open since May 2011.
"Gender has always been the chief focus of my academic work, and then later my clinical work," said Ehrensaft. "I am also a dyed in the wool 1960s feminist who has been an activist around issues of sexism, gender ism, homophobia and transphobia. My fire was also lit by my experiences as a mother with gender non-conformity in my own home."
Even with great strides in recent decades, some families are not accepting or educated when a child is expressing their gender outside of traditional norms. Their reactions can range from ignorant to downright violence.
"As little people trying to establish a positive sense of self and trust of the world, it is a tremendous challenge to strengthen one’s gender resilience and stay gender creative," said Ehrensaft. "That challenge can be best met if there is a supportive village to receive them."
The center hopes to be that village. And as word spreads about the services her organization offers, Ehrensaft said the community has responded with open arms.
"We have so far received an overwhelmingly positive response from the community and requests for information and services from both within the Bay Area and far beyond," she said. "We hope that we can train others in our model so that we can become a consortium of centers just like ours both nationally and internationally and are extremely grateful to the gender centers, clinics, and agencies that have come before us to pave the way for gender-affirmative practices for children and youth of all genders."
Ehrensaft spoke with EDGE less than a week after she read from her book Gender Born, Gender Made at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.
"Children need to have space to establish their authentic gender identities and expressions," she said. "To achieve that, we need to advocate that the "unfair" world transforms into a gender accepting world ready to receive all the diverse genders that our children are showing us is possible."
In her book Ehrensaft carefully considers outmoded approaches to gender nonconformity that may harm more than help. She also offers a new framework for helping each child become their most gender-authentic person.
Log onto Ehrensaft’s website for more information.