The members of this new club for transgender children are encouraged to be who they really are. (Photo: KTVI/Fox2Now St. Louis)
The room looks like any space where kids are hanging out: pizza boxes are scattered around, crayons and construction paper are on tables, and a princess tiara lays in a corner. A dozen or so children in the room joke with each other and gather in a circle for story time.
But the children in this conference room in St. Louis Children’s Hospital are part of something groundbreaking. They’re members of the city’s first transgender kids club, a group of about 20 kids between the ages of 5 and 12 who meet monthly on a weekday evening.
Here, they get to know other kids who are dealing with the same issues they face — about gender identity and what it’s like to know that the gender assigned to them at birth doesn’t match who they are inside.
“Teenagers who identify as transgender have support groups they can attend, but this is the only group in the area devoted to children who are gender independent,” says group co-founder Kim Hutton, referring to kids who have non-traditional gender identities.
“In their day to day lives, they might feel isolated, like they’re the only kid going through this,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “But when they get together, they meet kids just like them, and it’s freeing. They can be themselves.”
Every meeting includes a story circle (Photo: KTVI/Fox2Now St. Louis)
Hutton came up with the idea after launching Transparent, an organization for moms and dads of gender-nonconforming kids. As the parent of a transgender child who is now 12, she knows what other parents in the same situation face.
“I started Transparent because my husband and I felt so alone, and this was at a time when gender issues weren’t as out in the open,” she says of the organization, formed in 2011. “The group grew over the years and now attracts over 100 parents at a time to our regular support group meetings.”
Hutton realized that the kids need to connect with each other to feel less alone, too. “Two years ago, we began hosting a yearly event, which turned into the monthly club,” she says, noting that it’s the only group like it in the St. Louis area.
The club is a lot like any kids’ group. When the kids arrive, they make a name tag using any name they want, and they also designate their preferred pronoun, so everyone knows how they want to be addressed.
“We usually start off having a pizza party, then sit around the table and talk and play games like 21 questions,” Dr. Rachael Juehring, a psychologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital who helps run the group, tells Yahoo Parenting. “We’ll have a structured activity, like an art project, read out loud from books, then have free time for the kids to talk and play.”
Art projects help all the kids express themselves (Photo: KTVI/Fox2Now St. Louis)
Though a psychologist is on hand, the club isn’t therapeutic so much as a place for making friends and having fun. “As soon as they arrive, you can see the kids are more open, more comfortable,” says Juehring. “The group normalizes what they’re going through.”
Sometimes gender issues are discussed, especially because all the kids display their gender identity differently. Some have transitioned, some are just thinking about it. One child calls himself “gender awesome,” because he feels good about himself regardless of gender. All get to express themselves in a safe, welcoming place.
“At a very young age, many kids know that the gender given to them at birth isn’t their true gender, but no one was serving the needs of these kids to make them feel less isolated,” says Hutton. The transgender kids club, she says, fills that gap.