“It felt like they were trying to destabilise us”: Parent assessment in UK children’s gender services

Horton, Cal. 2023. “It felt like they were trying to destabilise us”: Parent assessment in UK children’s gender services. International Journal of Transgender Health, 24(1), pp. 70-85. ISSN 2689-5269 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Background: Pediatric gender clinics have a long history of analyzing and scrutinizing parents of trans children. At present, gender services in countries like the UK continue to hold clinical sessions with parents of pre-adolescent transgender children, sometimes extending over many years. Clinician viewpoints dominate the limited existing literature, with little analysis of the perspectives of parents of trans children.

Aims: The study aimed to understand the experiences that parents of socially transitioned pre-adolescent trans children have had in UK gender clinics.

Methods: Data were drawn from semi-structured qualitative interviews with 30 UK-based parents of socially transitioned trans children – children who socially transitioned, for example, changed pronoun, under the age of eleven. This article analyzed a subset of a wider dataset, focusing on data from 23 parents relating to parental engagement with UK NHS gender clinics before their child reached adolescence.

Results: Themes emerging from the dataset included parents feeling under a microscope, and parents finding gender clinic sessions judgemental, intrusive and inappropriate. Interviewees reported clinician discouragement of listening to and validating their children, as well as a lack of emotional support.

Discussion: The article presents evidence of continued pathologisation and problematisation of childhood gender diversity in parental engagements with UK children’s gender clinics. It concludes by contrasting current UK practice as described in parental accounts with gender affirmative approaches to supporting parents of trans children.

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Additional Information:

This study was conducted as part of the author’s PhD. The PhD was self-funded, with a Goldsmiths University of London Department of Education bursary covering half of the PhD fees.


Transgender; children; parent; qualitative research; clinical care

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies


7 November 2021Accepted
13 December 2021Published Online

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

22 Dec 2021 09:50

Last Modified:

27 Jan 2023 10:40

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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