Since 2010, boys and girls from Ireland have been referred to a specialist NHS clinic in London which treats transgender children, but in the last two years, there has been a sharp increase in referrals of children feeling unhappy about their biological sex.
The children, who range from the age of eight to 17, are initially psychologically assessed in the Tavistock Clinic in the UK while treatment, which can involve puberty blockers, is mainly carried out in the Crumlin Hospital in Dublin.
The increase in Irish referrals in the past two years is attributed to the growing recognition of gender dysphoria, the distress from feeling there is a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity.
The number of children travelling for assessment outside of Ireland increased from 12 in 2015, to 33 last year.
Around one-third of the children treated in the Tavistock Clinic from all over Britain and Ireland are born as males while two-thirds are female at birth.
The clinic said young people in Ireland who proceed to the endocrinology clinic post-assessment are seen at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Dublin where some children are put on puberty blockers, which are reversible.
Permanent steps of surgery can only be carried out at the age of 18.
Around the country, some 300 families are receiving support to help their children with gender identity.
TransParenCI, a peer support group, helps parents, family members and relatives of children and adults who are questioning their gender identity.
Catherine Cross, family support and education officer of TransParenCI, said that, with growing openness around gender, there has been a big increase in attendance at their support groups around the country over the past few years.
“There are 300 families around Ireland. We run support meetings for families in Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Kerry,” she said.
“It started in 2011 and there were about six couples.
“We support the family. With a lot of the young children, it’s gender expression.
“It may or may not be more significant later on in their life but we support families in what they need at that time.
“The biggest cohort would be around puberty, so the 13 to 17 age group.”
The country’s first ever helpline for family members of people who are transgender was launched last week.
The volunteer-led service will operate twice a month on a Sunday between 6pm and 9pm.
The Gender Identity Family Support Line (01 9073707) is an initiative of Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) and LGBT Ireland.