Why counselling, helplines are crucial for teens struggling with their gender identity

One reason why teens struggle to speak up is the fear of being bullied, the fear of violence.
Why counselling, helplines are crucial for teens struggling with their gender identity
Why counselling, helplines are crucial for teens struggling with their gender identity
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On Monday morning, 16-year-old Sree* was found dead in their house in Kolar district’s KGF town. The teen, assigned male, was wearing their mother’s clothes when they decided to kill themself. And while Sree’s parents denied that their ‘son’ had any issues regarding their gender or sexuality, police believe that Sree may have been scared to talk to their friends and family about these issues.

Sree, a PUC student, was always reserved and hardly mingled with anyone in the college, according to friends and classmates. “One of their friends said that Sree was anxious all the time, and felt uncomfortable while talking to people,” an investigating officer said.

But Sree’s parents deny that their child was struggling with their identity. And while only Sree could have told us what their gender was, it is clear that they needed support that they didn’t believe they would get with their family or friends. “So far it seems like Sree did not have anyone to talk to. May be if there was a helpline that teenagers who are coming to terms with their identity could speak to, it is my belief that it would have helped,” the investigator said.

Speaking to TNM, Uma, an activist from the NGO Jeeva, which works for the welfare of transgender persons, says that one of the biggest issues faced by teens who are coming to terms with their gender identities is that they generally do not have people who would understand their predicament, especially in rural settings.

“When a person is confused about his or her identity, they may go into a shell. I have seen many cases where it has happened. They stop talking to their friends and become very quiet. This is because they feel uncomfortable in the company of people who do not understand them or what is going on in their mind,” she says.

Uma says that another reason why teens struggle to speak up is the fear of being bullied, or that they are already being bullied for being different.

“The thought of speaking up and having to face that kind of treatment from peers leads to the person closing off and living in fear,” Uma explains.

According to Magdalene Jeyarathinam, a therapist who runs the East West Centre for Counselling in Chennai, the problem lies with the lack of awareness regarding various avenues which are currently available to help people who are conflicted about their gender identities.

“They need to be told that nothing is abnormal about them. It's just that the world is not ready right now and they are not ready to be in a place where they can face discrimination. The key is to provide emotional support. They face huge issues. Some people know who they are when they are young, when they are 11 or 12 years old. But they need someone to understand them and say that they don't have to bear the pain during the internal struggle they are going through. Saying "we understand" matters,” she says.

One of the crucial steps that is required in order to normalise the fact that gender is not binary, activists say, is to begin from the bottom up – start with the schools.

“It is in schools that children learn about what society is, what friends are, what are the norms followed by the society and so on. By sensitising children to the fact that it is perfectly normal to be different, it becomes easy to bring in acceptance. The greatest struggle faced by the LGBTQ community is societal discrimination. By normalising it when they are children, makes them more accepting,” Magdalene says.

Uma adds that not only should children be sensitised, but every school – private and government run – must conduct classes about gender and sexuality.

Uma says that that state-run helplines with sensitised counsellors is very important and necessary to address the anxieties and fears of teens. “There are a few NGOs which have helplines. Even Jeeva has one, but the problem is that NGOs cannot establish so many centres across the state. The state government needs to step in and establish helplines, and most importantly create awareness about it, so that it becomes accessible. Most of the people in rural areas are not sensitised towards these issues and it is necessary so that people, especially teens who are struggling, do not take drastic measures,” she says.

However, in Karnataka, there are hardly any state run helplines for teens who may feel different, or conflicted about their identities. In October 2017, the Karnataka government approved the state’s first ever comprehensive policy for the welfare of transgender persons. Almost a year since it was approved, the policy is yet to be implemented.

Sources in the Department of Women and Child Welfare, which has been tasked with implementing the policy say that the state government has not allocated enough funds for the project.

“After the coalition government came to power, a new budget was presented. We were not allocated a single rupee for establishing the Cell for Transgender Persons. According to the policy, every district needs to have at least one such cell. This includes helplines and counselling centres. This project did not take off because of lack of funds,” the source said.

When TNM tried to contact the Minister for Women and Child Welfare, Jayamala, she did not respond to our calls. The Principal Secretary of the department was also unavailable for comment.

*Name changed.

If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. You can contact the helpline:

Sahai : 24-hour helpline numbers: 080- 65000111, 080-65000222

East West Centre for Counselling: 04442080810

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