“Every individual is different, every journey is different”: a look at gender identity services in London

London is home to a highly specialised service commissioned by NHS England, called the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), for young people. Run by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, the service is designed for under-18s, and their families, who are experiencing challenges in the development of their gender identity.

It is important to remember those exploring their gender identity need a range of support networks, both from mental health professionals and their families, friends and schools. Young people like Colin, use the service alongside their family to talk to experts about the range of options and choices available to them.

The service is for young people who are experiencing difficulties in the development of their gender. Some young people who identify as non-binary, do not associate with a specific gender identity. For many others, their experience of gender identity is far more complicated.

Modern definitions of gender are becoming less binary, less clear cut, and talking about how we ‘identify’ has shaken off historical stigma and led to more open conversations about gender-based issues - and not just in the UK.

“Nationally, globally even, we’re seeing a real shift in how we talk about gender. We seem to be moving to a less binary world,” said Polly Carmichael, Director of the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock and Portman.

“The young people referred to our service come here with their own unique experience. Our job is not to make assumptions about what they are going through. Instead we look at each child and their family individually.”

The gender service has seen an unprecedented rise in referrals. While no single reason for the increase can be identified, the cultural shift and greater acceptance of, and recognition of transgender and gender-variant people may be a factor.

“We have to keep the increase in referrals in perspective,” explains Polly.

“Against current census data, around 0.01% or one in 10,000 young people, are referred to our highly specialised service. Not all of those will fulfil the criteria for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and not all of those will decide to transition to another gender.”

“The take away messages from our service would be: every individual is different, every journey is different, there are no pre-determined diagnoses or fixed outcomes and physical intervention is not the focus of our under-18s service. Our service allows young people and families to explore the best way forward as individuals, as they develop.”

To read Polly’s full blog, visit the Tavistock and Portman website.

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