TYFA – SanFrancisco Bay Times Features
SanFrancisco Bay Times Features
TYFA Youth Advocate Shawn Dedric Pearson
Trans Youth Advocates for His Peers
By Jacob Anderson-Minshall
Published: September 20, 2007 Shawn Dedric Pearson
With a growing number of trans children vocalizing their gender identities, there’s a growing need for outreach to and services for trans youth and their families. Fortunately, efforts are afoot to do just that. GenderPAC hosted a youth summit this summer; earlier this month, Seattle’s Gender Odyssey premiered the first family-centered conference for people raising gender variant and trans youth; and Oct. 19-21, the Midwest Trans Youth Conference will descend on Ferndale, Michigan.
Increasingly, it’s the parents themselves who are making changes, as is the case with a new national education and activist organization, Trans Youth Family Advocates (TYFA), founded last year by several mothers to provide support for all transgender and gender variant youth.
One of those mothers is Kim Pearson, the group’s executive director, whose 15-year-old trans son Shawn-Dedric Pearson, also works with TYFA (imatyfa.org), as a youth advocate. Together the Pearsons have appeared on CNN and traveled the country speaking on behalf of transgender and gender variant youth.
“I answer questions about my personal experience and give information about how to be respectful of transgender [or] gender variant youth,” the teen says. “Usually people understand the topic better when I… describe my first-hand experiences with being trans. They seem to like meeting a transgender youth… it gives them something tangible.”
Pearson says he’s driven to do this advocacy because, “I know how supportive my family is, and I’m thankful for it everyday. I want all trans kids to be able to have a more positive experience… and the only way that’s ever going to change is if more transgender youth start speaking up and being public.”
TYFA believes that children have a right to be heard, especially when they address “something as core to their sense of self as gender identity.” The organization offers advice to parents and caregivers that includes, “respect your child’s feelings about their gender identity above all else.”
“The best advice I can give parents,” Pearson adds, “is to just let [their kids] be themselves, at their own pace and in their own comfort level. Don’t put your own expectations or dreams on their shoulders because it makes things all the more difficult. Specifically for parents of transgender or gender variant kids, I’d say let them set the pace and listen to what they are telling you.”
Recognizing that many adults, even within the LGBT community (especially those who experienced their own gender variance as youth), have serious concerns about children transitioning, Pearson explains that before puberty a trans child would only undergo a “social transition, which is completely reversible if the child later on decides to take a different path.”
Furthermore, he contends, “There’s a large difference between a trans child and a child that’s a little more feminine or masculine than society normally accepts. Chances are, the trans kid would feel things much more strongly and express their difference more prominently for a much longer time. What counts as a phase exactly? Trans kids tend to continue to speak out or act ‘differently’ for long periods of time unless someone pressures them to hide themselves. If the kid continually presses the issue for many years, then someone needs to consider the possibility that they are trans. It hasn’t gone away.”
Pearson identifies as a pansexual transman. “Gender, sex, body image, genitalia, whatever, don’t matter to me. It’s all about what’s in a person’s head and heart.” He says he feels like “just an average teenager,” and he plans to graduate from high school and college before going on to be a police officer, “and hopefully, I’ll eventually be a detective.”
“I also plan to continue to always be active in the LGBTQ community and keep doing this work. The path to acceptance can only be set when we stand up for ourselves and create a better environment through our own hard work.”
While the Pearsons hail from Arizona, there are also TYFA advocates in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Indiana and Michigan.
Trans writer, Jacob Anderson-Minshall, co-authored Blind Leap, the second book in the Blind Eye Mystery series, available in October. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Anderson-minshall.com for more information.
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