Working with transgender youth by David Nylund

In the first of these two clips, David Nylund describes some of the thinking that informs his work with transgender young people.



This second clip is from an interview with William, a 16 year-old transgender male and his mother, Susan conducted by David Nylund. William has just begun hormone replacement therapy as part of his gender transition. The focus of the interview was discussing William’s journey thus far, his hopes for the future, along with acknowledging Susan’s support of her son’s transition. The excerpt from the interview centers around masculinity — William’s critique of traditional forms of masculinity along with his preferences of the kinds of masculinities he wants to express and live out as a transgender man. William’s poignant critique of gender opens up space to consider how transgender men may offer up an alternative version of masculinity that cisgender men may want to emulate. In addition, William’s ideas and practices suggest that masculinity is not the private domain of ‘male’ born bodies; that he has the right to claim and perform a legitimate and credible masculinity.



Further reading (free to download)

Resisting normativity: Queer musings on politics, identity, and the performance of therapy by Julie Tilsen and Dave Nylund

Barbies and beer: Narrative therapy with a gender variant child by David Nylund

Homonormativity and queer youth resistance: Reversing the discourse by Julie Tilsen & David Nylund

Further viewing

You may also be interested in this video of our dear bi-gendered friend and colleague Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad from Norway.

Published on January 24, 2013

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Warren Whyte

    Hello David & fellow readers,

    Once again the Friday afternoons at Dulwich video resonates with the work we’re doing out here in Vancouver, Canada…and it is such important work, David, so thank you for your and William’s contribution.

    I am fortunate enough to work at a youth, residential, all-genders substance-misuse treatment centre (where Vikki also supervises, I might add), and where years ago a gender group was formed where young men and women could talk about substance-related issues separately, and perhaps more freely. Now we offer a third-space group for those who may be at any stage of transition or gender variance. The gender freedom I, personally, as a cisgender man have felt in hearing the thoughts of a young trans man about, “What kind of man do you want to be in the world?” has been profound! As were William’s responses and insights to the social construction of gender roles–“a bad habit”, for sure!

    Vikki mentions high suicide rates in the trans community as a reflection of a hate-filled society, and I would agree, adding that high rates of problematic substance use would also reflect high rates of isolation, alienation, and an overall lack of societal belonging and acceptance. Having heard your experience as a ‘gatekeeper’, David, my hope is that it could be a relief for a trans person to engage in substance-misuse therapy without having to defend their decision to transition, or even come out if they don’t want to. In order to facilitate this we try to create a safe space ahead of time through education and discussions of the importance of difference with both staff and youth.

    Sadly, once again, the common sense, Plain Courtesy norm of “what could be” is seen by “well-respected professionals” and society at large as “beyond reason”.

    To me, this only serves to emphasize the crucial necessity of the work you and others like you are doing, David, so please stay strong. I would be interested to hear more about your views on social constructionism and biology, but I don’t want to detract from the focus on the practical work at hand and insider knowledges being shared. Maybe at the next narrative conference…until then,


    Warren Whyte.

  2. Vikki Reynolds

    Greetings David, thanks so much for laying out your engagement with queer theory, and then showing us the practice- lovely. I’m the Clinical Supervisor of the Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre (CWHWC), a free interdisciplinary clinic for gender diverse people in Vancouver. Our work is to take direct social justice actions to transform the very expert gate-keeping positions you describe so well. We’re using a radical reading of an informed consent model, to allow people to have autonomy over their health care. When we consider an Amc study found over 40% of trans self-identified folks reported they’d attempted suicide we need to see this as evidence of a society that is hate-ful and not belonging of folks, not as evidence that the community of gender diverse folks are mentally ill. So I really appreciate your ally work to use your substantial privilege as a white guy and a prof to challenge a person’s right to the health care they believe they need to stay on the planet and to lessen suffering.
    Thanks also for the session you shared, and thanks to Wm & their mom. challenging what you’re calling hegemonic masculinity fits with justice-doing in so many ways, and I appreciate your invitations for therapists to ask some of your lovely questions when “gender identity” isn’t the issue of therapy. This is an example I think of what radical trans-theorist Dean Spade is talking about when they say that folks in the margins make more room for all of us. Gender diverse folks making space to belong in the world creates more liberatory spaces for all of us…
    thanks for your heart filled and ethically provocative work David
    big respect Vikki Reynolds

    1. David Nylund

      Thanks Vikki for your kind words!

      I am very passionate about doing this social justice work with gender diverse persons, especially trans and gender non-conforming youth. There is much work to be done; I can’t tell you how often I interface with therapists, youth workers, and school officials/teachers whose ignorance and flat out transphobia are so visible and predominant.

      For example I am working with a 12 yr old gender variant person (identifies as trans male) who is experiencing a great deal of harrassment in his school. I talked to the student’s school counselor to ask him to support the young person’s gender identity and expression in school and address the outright opression he is facing. This is the school counselor’s reply:

      “You would need to clarify what you mean by , “trans and gender variant youth.” To even think that a 12 year old has any clarity about their sexuality, let alone any other issue in their life is beyond reason. It is the responsibility of a caring adult to be “available” to a child and not suggest to them that they can even know they could be trapped in the wrong body.”

      The above ill-informed, transphobic, adultist (among other things) comment is from a well-respected school counselor in my community. And it’s fairly typical; the norm amongst helping professionals. The ignorance includes the counselor confusing and conflating sexual identity with gender identity. No wonder the suicide rate among trans and gender non-conforming youth/teens is so high. And it’s a calling for us as therapists, school counselors, and community workers (espcially cisgender folks) and adults to stand up against this hatred and injustice.

      I am honored to do this work. And I am grateful that the transgender persons I work with have allowed me, as a cisgender male (cisgender refers to a non-trans person), into such an intimate part of their life (gender identity, trauma and pain as a result of a gender disordering culture…). It’s helped me to examine my taken for granted cisgender privilege. And people like William and his mom offer us as cisgender men a model for a new, alternative version of manhood.

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