Transgender Youth

It is hard sometimes for me to read the news, to be open to hearing the latest litany of disturbing or painful events without letting it drag me down into what I refer to as my “Eeyore state.” But I do read and listen to the news, at least twice a week. It is important for me to hear and to then see what actions I can take to change myself and others to make the world a better place.

When I recently read the latest statistics on transgender youth, I was shocked. The statistics show that while we let ourselves become part of a partisan fight, vulnerable children paid a price. So, in the next paragraph are the stats. Be warned these stats are about humans – kids. And they include suicide, forced sex, and bullying. So, steel yourself, and open your heart simultaneously. These things hurt.

The CDC, in partnership with states and school districts, has administered the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and related surveys since the early 1990s to monitor the health and well-being of U.S. high school students in most states. The data from the CDC’s YRBS shows that:

  • Transgender students are more than twice as likely as cisgender students to report having been bullied at school (43% vs. 17%) and bullied online (34% vs. 14%) in the last 12 months.
  • Over one-third did not go to school at least once in the last 30 days because they felt unsafe.
  • Nearly one-third (28%) reported being forced to have sex in the last 12 months.
  • A majority (61%) of transgender students reported having felt sad or hopeless for two weeks.
  • Disturbingly large percentages had considered (45%) or attempted (29%) suicide at least once in the last year.

Across the board, these percentages are significantly higher than the corresponding percentages for cisgender students. Self-reported drug use by transgender-identifying students is also strikingly high for drugs such as heroin and methamphetamines.

About a third of trans kids attempt suicide… dang. Can you imagine? One third. This one stat alone propelled me to look for what I could do, how I could help. From one point of view, this is just a facet of a cultural war in our country, and your viewpoint on this issue can be used to signal your general attitudes about US politics and culture. Sometimes, when trying to score political points, we use our kids to play off some perceived heartstrings, to show others that our way is best because we “protect the children.”

That one stat also speaks to kids acting on what they hear from their folks and from other adults with authority. While an adult who voices transphobic or hateful things might not act upon those beliefs, the teen who hears that trusted adult may internalize their words and act accordingly. Words have consequences. Also, kids know when adults are talking about them, and they get the message when the adults in their life are saying they’re unwanted.

Transgender students, as the answers to the questions in the survey show, are especially vulnerable. We should be going out of our way to ensure that transgender students feel welcome and embraced, not excluded and ostracized.

How do we in libraries do that?

As with most library things, this answer spans quite a few areas and potentially impacts the library as a whole: from collection development to setting policies, and customer service.

One story I read recently involved a transgender teen and a circ clerk. The circ clerk asked a simple question, “What would you like us to call you?” The use of chosen names has been shown to reduce suicidal behavior in transgender youth. The circulation/catalog system had a simple box where the clerk could enter a different name, the patron’s chosen name. If your ILS doesn’t have a box built in for a preferred name, find a way to enter the chosen name, as you would for other people, like Robert ‘Bob’ Smith, or “Joe” Ann Smith, or use a non-legal name to issue a library card. Consider the ways in which your library might be able to better serve trans youth. A simple kindness can make all the difference. In the story I heard, the youth cried and said thank you to the circ clerk just for using their name…their right name, their chosen name. Do your policies and infrastructure hold you back from being kind to vulnerable kids?

Also, consider your collection. Think about how it would feel to have the only book about your identity be a “Points of View” book in the non-fiction collection. Are there materials beyond political arguments – bathrooms, athletics, etc. – that are for transgender youth? Make sure there are books and other materials in your fiction collection that have trans characters living happy, fulfilling lives. Affirmation from the community is important. It is hard to only see and hear negative stories in the same way it’s hard to only see negative statistics.

Other materials for your collection can include things like the downloadable A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth from The Trevor Project.

Keeping ourselves and library staff aware of vulnerable populations and their particular needs can help libraries provide customer service to all. Educating ourselves on the critical aspects, norms, and joys of other groups and cultures will always help us make everyone feel like they have a right to and a place in public libraries. As a matter of fact, transgender people on the whole value education. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey of 2011 reported nearly 27% of the trans population has an undergraduate or a graduate degree, which is above the national average for U.S. citizens (Grant et al., 2011). The survey also found that the trans population tended to be enrolled in higher education settings at higher age categories than the general population, with rates two to three times higher. The findings indicate that, despite facing discrimination and job loss, trans people are likely to re-enroll in college settings in an apparent attempt to increase employment opportunities in the future. Finally, the study highlighted that the trans community was likely to earn less money than the general population despite equal educational attainment

It is hard to be a young person regardless, and not only should we not make it worse, we can make it a little easier – and some of these little courtesies and moments of customer service can make things more than a little easier – they can go a long way to making things a lot easier and much happier.

Featured Image from:

Kieran Hixon