Today, GATE joins the observation of World Mental Health Day, instituted by the World Health Organization with the purpose of “raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health”. This year, the theme is ‘Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World’.
Young trans and gender diverse people constitute a growing and increasingly visible population around the world; everywhere, they are making a critical contribution to the way in which bodies, genders and sexualities are lived, understood and communicated about. They are also leading political organizing against all forms of oppression, discrimination, exploitation and violence.
However, as expressed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHRC), “trans and gender diverse children and adolescents are also more vulnerable to school-related violence (bullying) and exclusion in the classroom, playgrounds, toilets and changing rooms, on the way to and from school, as well as online (cyberbullying). A hostile environment can regrettably force trans and gender diverse students to drop out of school and push them out of their families at early ages. They become vulnerable to homelessness, informal job markets, criminalized economies, police profiling, and leading to a cycle of poverty and marginalization and further discrimination and violence as a life-long predicament”.
Access to legal gender recognition and/or to appropriate gender affirming procedures is still quite limited for trans and gender diverse youth; in many countries, people under the age of 18 can’t make informed decisions about their own bodies and gender markers in identity documents, or even to be guaranteed basic respectful treatment from teachers, doctors, judges and other authority-invested adults. Their age is too often used against them, to diminish or deny their credibility, even regarding their direct experiences of human rights abuses. Yet they are the ones who are often portrayed as violating human rights, just by using a school bathroom or locker room.
Trans and gender diverse young people are also exposed to increased levels of psycho-medical scrutiny and intervention; forced into conversion therapy to “correct” their gender identity and/or expression, required to provide specific diagnoses to enjoy their basic rights, denied self-determination of their sexual and reproductive health and even denied access to the vital information they need to enjoy their sexual and reproductive rights. Just recently, a pseudo-scientific term (rapid onset gender dysphoria, or ROGD) was used to collectively attack young trans and gender diverse people as ‘victims of delusion’. Perversely, depression, suicide and other mental health consequences of the structural violence perpetrated against trans and gender diverse youth are continuously portrayed as evidence of an intrinsic disorder.
The world is, indeed, changing, and many of those changes pose their own challenges to everyone’s mental health. For trans and gender diverse youth, however, the most challenging reality right now is that the world is either not changing fast enough, or it is not changing at all. They keep struggling to survive and to find the supporting, welcoming and celebrating places that they need in order to thrive. On World Mental Health Day 2018, let’s build together a time of change, one in which all of us can thrive, not just survive.
The GATE Team