Vanier scholar wants to improve social support for transgender youth

Photo courtesy Jes Sachse

Transgender people are those who feel the need to move away from their assigned sex at birth, in order to express who they are. But what happens when a child or youth wants to do this?

While some trans people change their name or appearance, others choose medical options that will help them become their new gender identities. Unfortunately, these steps aren’t always accepted at a social level. Trans people can face both rejection and violence from others due to a lack of understanding. This can be even more challenging for youth - particularly those aged 12-16. They may not only face rejection by others, but also resistance because of their parents’ views and opinions of medical professionals.

This is the primary focus of Jake Pyne’s research.

“I have focused on trans youth because I think some of the very entrenched problems that face trans communities are best addressed through improved support at a younger age.” says the 2014 Vanier Canada Graduate scholar. “This current generation of trans children and youth are making it quite clear that they are able to tell us what they need… it’s our job to listen.”

Jake received a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in social work from Ryerson University, in 2011 and 2012 respectively. He is currently a PhD candidate in Social Work and Gender Studies at McMaster University.

As a trans man himself, Jake was fortunate to receive a great deal of acceptance when he transitioned. But he also encountered professionals who were unable to offer him support from time-to-time. Jake’s advocacy and research work have since centred on building better policies, practices and ideologies that will help trans communities get some of their own support, if needed. Jake has coordinated two national meetings regarding gender non-conforming children and youth. He is also a co-investigator with Trans PULSE, a 10-year research project that responds to the health and social services problems identified by Ontario trans communities (particularly social exclusion).

Social rejection faced by trans youth often leads to mental health issues. In 2015, the Canadian Trans Youth Health Study (where Jake is an Affiliate Researcher) demonstrates that 65% of 14-18-year-old trans youth considered suicide. However, Jake’s findings for the Trans PULSE study demonstrate that parental support of gender identity could reduce this suicide risk by 93%.

With support from the Vanier scholarship, Jake will continue to review policies that are in place for medical transition among youth and improve their ability to transition if desired. He will also conduct interviews with parents of transgender youth, physicians who provide transition-related care, and youth who have been or tried to be approved for transition.

While some may be intimidated about becoming a researcher, Jake thinks it’s a natural career path open to people with all kinds of backgrounds.

“Overall, research is the process of asking questions, working through puzzles and being curious,” he says. “In this way, it is something many people already do.”
— Vanier Scholar Jake Pyne, McMaster University

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