Being a teenager is hard work at the best of times. Imagine going through all of those challenges while living in the ‘wrong’ body, all the normal self-image issues facing adolescents amplified.
For young people like Scarlet, this is their reality. There are thousands of trans and gender-diverse young people in Australia, kids who have known since childhood that the body they were born into meant they were assigned a gender they never belonged to.
“Things are often harder for me than for my friends,” said Scarlet.
“Going out, or getting a job is quite daunting. To be around other people in clothes I’m probably not even really going to feel comfortable in for several hours a day – other kids don’t need to think about it. I think that that’s something that a lot of these stories don’t really focus on, like, jobs and stuff, feeling safe at work.”
For those who wish to transition to their chosen gender, there are two stages of treatment, inventively titled stage 1 and stage 2 hormone treatment. Stage 1 involves ‘puberty blockers’; drugs which prevent the onset of bodily changes that come with adulthood, such as boys’ breaking voices and the development of breasts in girls. Stage 2 is the application of ‘cross-sex hormones’ – oestrogen or testosterone – which encourage the body to develop traits characteristic of the new gender.
Unfortunately, due to Australia’s Family Law Act, young people like Scarlet are required to receive the court’s approval to access stage 2 treatment, even when parents, child and medical practitioners all agree that it’s right.
“The stress as a parent is kind of a loss of control. And for your child, going through adolescence is always complicated, but you don’t have to go to court to confirm your identity,” said Madeleine, Scarlet’s mum.
“The idea of going to court was a very confronting one. The choice is taken out of your hands, so imagine how that feels for a child going through this, for whom it’s their own life and their own future that is being literally put on trial,” she said.
“Through this whole process what we care most about is quality of life for our child. I think that’s what every parent wants,” said Scarlet’s dad, Nigel.
Seeing more and more families trying to deal with an unnecessarily stressful process, Justice Connect this year launched the Stage 2 Access project. By matching families with pro bono lawyers well-versed in expediting applications, and by working with the Family Court to further streamline proceedings, we hope to take the trauma out of accessing necessary treatment.
Since the launch, we have seen a doubling in the number of people coming to us for help, as more families learn they can access this support.
“Working with Justice Connect has been fantastic. Right from the first phone call that I made to contact you we were just treated with a lot of respect and dignity. And that’s something I care about a lot for ourselves and for our child,” said Madeleine.