There are a lot of support groups around for adults, but what happens when the child you are trying to help is much younger? Tony Ferraiolo provides the answers.
Tony is heavily involved in the transgender support networks in the state of Connecticut and he has created many support groups, including the one at the New Haven Pride Center. A number of years ago, when I had already been dealing with my own gender identity, I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a transgender youth rally on the steps of the State Supreme Court in Hartford. Seeing him speak in person, especially after hearing so many in the community speak so highly of him, was incredibly affirming.
The topic was “Artistic Expression of Transgender Youth.” He talked about his work with younger children and their feelings on gender and children’s awareness of gender roles in our society from a very young age. It came as no surprise that kids develop feelings about the expectations of gender roles that are reflected onto them. In the case of children who are not completely cisgender ( identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth), this can be uncomfortable, upsetting, and, in some cases, traumatic.
When there is a child who has given their parents some indication that they might be struggling with gender identity, how do you go about getting that child to talk about it? If you are Tony Ferraiolo, you use art.
Tony has kids draw what they are feeling after giving them a high- level prompt, such as, “What makes you sad?” Then, they write the terms for the associated feelings on the back of the art, preventing anyone from seeing it, and the others can interpret their own opinions of the piece.
These small kids present the most striking art and it quickly becomes apparent how much pain they have hidden away. With messages such as “hiding myself . . . it sucks the life out of me,” it’s clear that children can struggle with gender identity and expressing themselves at a very young age and it can be debilitating.
It makes me feel good to know there are people like Tony in the world; it inspires me to help people, too. When I first started formally dealing with my gender issues, I was a confused mess with more than a little self doubt and a bit of fear. Fast forward to more than four years later, knowing that I am in a much different place, knowing myself better now than I ever have at any point in my life, and I even like myself. However, I can remember what it was like to take that first step. If I have the opportunity to take away some of that pain and confusion in someone else’s coming out experience, I am reminded of people like Tony, and know that I have to at least try to help.
If you want to see more of Tony’s experiences in both his transition and his work with kids, the documentary, “A Self- Made Man,” is available on Amazon Prime. The first two books in his “Artistic Expression of Transgender Youth” series are available on Amazon, with a third volume in the works. See more at tonyferraiolo. com