This article originally appeared on VICE Belgium.
As a teen, your relationship with your body can be stressful even if you’re not questioning your gender identity. Couple that with starting your transition while living with your parents, and the situation can be even more difficult – especially if your parents or school are not supportive.
Despite these challenges, data in certain countries suggests more teens than ever feel comfortable identifying as transgender. For instance, the UK’s Gender Identity Development Service, an NHS clinic aimed at under-18s, has reported a steady growth in referrals since 2014.
We spoke to three Belgian teens about their coming out process and what they’ve learned along the way.
Sam, 14. She/her
Ever since I was 11, I knew I was somewhere on the transgender spectrum. Initially, I identified as genderfluid, but last summer I felt my body was beginning to change. That made me realise I wanted to go in the opposite direction of what was happening in my body – that I was a girl. I told my psychologist, but I didn’t confide in anyone else for a long time because I didn’t know how to tell them. I knew everyone would respond well, but I was still hesitant.
Eventually, I told my parents. They were glad I could be so open about who I am. In those moments, I’m very happy with my family, especially since many other young people aren’t accepted. I was afraid my grandpa wouldn’t take it very well, because he’s older, but when I told him he gave me a hug and joked that he wouldn’t be able to tell me and my sister apart.
I came out on social media in December of 2020. Before then, about 30 people knew. Then, suddenly, thousands of people saw my message. That was quite intense, especially since social media is less personal, which makes it easier for people to be mean.
I changed my name on my ID card during the Christmas break, but I have to wait two more years to officially change my gender marker, even though I have my parents’ permission. It’s very frustrating not to be able to take that last step. When I have to show my passport or other official documents, I get weird looks sometimes, because people see an “M” [for male] on the paperwork. It leads to feelings of gender dysphoria.
After the Christmas break, I also came out at school. I sent an email to all the teachers and the student body, so that everybody knew. The school responded well and immediately made the necessary changes.
My school wants to be progressive, but stuff still goes wrong from time to time. Earlier in the school year, when I identified as non-binary, I used the girls’ locker room because I didn’t feel comfortable changing with the boys. Nobody had an issue with that. But after a few classes, the PE teacher said that it was against school protocol, so I had to change in the bathroom or the teacher’s room. I was still allowed to change in the boys’ room, because “biologically, I was a boy”. But when I came out as a girl, suddenly my school was completely fine with me using the girls’ locker room and bathroom.
I believe that schools should share extensive information about gender early on, so that people know what they’re dealing with. My advice to other young trans people would be to definitely talk to others about what you’re going through – don’t keep it to yourself.
Robin, 16. He/him
I knew something was up with me, but it took me a while to figure it was about my gender identity. Last year, I realised I was a boy. I learned about gender dysphoria from friends I met online and realised it was how I felt. Choosing a label is the hardest part, but right now “male” is what aligns the most with my identity.
I told my parents in September, and their response wasn’t great. After that, I came out to my close friends in an Instagram story because I was too afraid to tell them in person. At school, a few of my teachers know, but I don’t feel comfortable coming out to everyone because I’m the only openly queer person in my year.
Having to spend so much time at home is pretty hard at the moment. Luckily, I can handle it when my pronouns and my name aren’t used consistently at home, but I can see that my mum sometimes struggles with my gender identity. It’s become a big deal at home, which actually makes the whole process less comfortable for me.
My dad is Catholic. He’s against abortion, for instance, but when it comes to me being trans, things have been better than expected. Initially, when both my sibling and I came out, he did have a problem with it. He once said my sibling would burn in hell, but he’s changed a lot since then – he still thinks it’s weird, but he’s trying.
I’m on the waiting list at UZ Ghent [one of two hospitals in Belgium offering trans-specific healthcare to minors], but it’s so long that it would be easier for me to wait until I’m 18 and go to a different hospital. But my mum refuses to look into other options right now. They don’t understand that, for me, things aren’t moving fast enough. I think it’s because they hope that it will all blow over with time. I asked my mum for a chest binder, but she kept changing the subject and wanted me to wait. Finally, my sibling, who is also trans, gave me two binders I can wear until I qualify for top surgery.
Watching web series about trans people played by trans actors has been really helpful for me. They’re very accessible – I can just watch them at home on my computer.
Coe, 16. They/them
When I was a kid, sometimes I wanted to be a boy, but other times I felt more like a girl, or non-binary. Now, I know that I am genderfluid.
I first came out to a friend who is also trans. When I talked to him, I noticed I thought more about my gender. And when we spoke less, I pushed my gender issues away. I also talked to a lot of people online.
I told my mum after I decided I wanted to cut my hair. She was understanding and used the correct terminology when she referred to me. I’m lucky there are more queer people on her side of the family, including a trans aunt and cousin. My stepdad is having a harder time with it. A while ago, I also came out to my step-mum as non-binary, but now I want to clarify I identify as genderfluid. My dad and I don’t have a good relationship, so I don’t want to come out to him.
A few people know at school. Some friends are helping me figure out a name that fits me. When it comes to pronouns, I prefer they/them. He/him is also OK, but I don’t like she/her, because I was assigned female at birth.
Trans representation in the media is improving, but could still be better. Being transgender should be normalised. I’ve seen more trans content on TikTok – it’s nice to see people who are open who want to talk about it. Generally speaking, sex education should be more inclusive of trans and queer identities. If it had been, I might have figured out that I’m trans much sooner. It should also address what you can do when you find out your own partner is transgender.
Being trans is normal and OK. Labels are not necessary – if you do want to pick one, you can always change it later.