The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non- Binary Teens

By Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney

Over the past decade or so, gender issues beyond those involving lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have gained prominence in popular culture and media. Television shows such as Orange is the New Black, Transparent, and I am Cait have brought transgender and non-binary people into the mainstream. Whereas 10 years ago many people may not have been able to define the term “transgender,” now, the notion of a gender spectrum is no longer a novelty.

The first attempt by the Ontario Ministry of Education to establish policies on equity & inclusive education came with the release of Realizing the Promise of Diversity: Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy in 2009. Since then, the strategy has been revised with the release of Equity and Inclusive Education in Ontario Schools: Guidelines for Policy Development and Implementation in 2012. Yet throughout the province, educators and other education workers continue to struggle to support their transgender and non-binary students. The recent publication of The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens marks a breakthrough for such workers.

The book is written by Stephanie Brill, Cofounder & Chair, Board of Directors and Lisa Kenney, Executive Director of Gender Spectrum, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create a gender-inclusive world. Through personal interviews and extensive research, the authors have set out to provide concrete support for families of transgender and non-binary teens, as well as for professionals who work with them. In reading this book, I developed a more complete understanding of gender, gender identity and its development throughout adolescence, and the gender spectrum. The authors devote much of the book to delineating the intersection of gender identities with the goals of adolescent development, with the aim of enriching our understanding of the many challenges facing transgender and non-binary teens.

While much of the book speaks directly to parents of gender-expansive youth, it also includes many practical strategies that could easily be adapted for use by education and mental health workers. Of particular interest are chapters 6–8, ranging from “What Keeps You Up at Night” to “Supporting Your Teen in Their Gender Journey.” One of the key messages I took away is that while the teen years are challenging enough for cisgender youth, they are exponentially more complicated, and in multiple dimensions, for transgender and non-binary teens. With consistent caring, understanding, and compassionate support, first and foremost within their families of origin and also by all members within their school communities, gender-expansive youth will develop a complete and consolidated gender identity and thrive in their post-adolescent years. Isn’t that what we want for all of our children?

About Sue Melville
Sue Melville is a teacher in District 3, Rainbow and is a member of the provincial Educational Services Committee.

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