I have always thought it a funny but true concept that as people, we don't know what we don't know. In fact there's bound to be much more we don't know than we do. A humble and open mind can go much further than a closed one. Anyway - that was just a not-entirely-relevant preamble.
When people are set up as experts, sometimes if they are asked a question they don't know the answer to, you see them making something up - because they feel they ought to know the answer, rather than admitting they don't know and offering to go and find out. I suspect this is similar to a need to be right and a fear of appearing not to have absolute authority over their area. I hope I am not projecting too much!
If given the choice between a fabricated answer posed as the correct one and someone who says they are not sure but will go and find out, I know which I would prefer.
Here's an example:
Recently a teacher expressed her concern for a young child that was physically born a boy who is upset if he is treated as a boy and wants to be completely treated as a girl. In fact this child insists that s/he is a girl. Now I have come across this once before - with a child that was a bit older. The teacher asked me for some advice. I said I wasn't by any means an expert in this but that I would do my best to dig out some information for her. I could only give generic advice from what I had read so far and offered to dig out some more information for her (which I did. I also used it as an opportunity to educated myself further on the matter.)
When we discussed future actions she could take, she said that the child had already been taken to the local GP but that he had said, 'don't let him dress up in female clothing for two weeks.' The school enforced this and the child was really miserable. I winced.
And there's my example.
I have no idea what the GP thought he was doing but he clearly had not read anything about this issue. But because he was a GP (and had 'authority'), the school adhered to his advice. A GP cannot be expected to know everything, but perhaps in an example such as this, some humbleness and acknowledgement that he didn't actually know what to do - would have shown more wisdom. I also suspect the GP's prejudice played a part and he assumed the aim would be simply, 'prevention.'
Next, the teacher mentioned getting an educational psychologist in. And here was where I could advise. I said that the ed psych is unlikely to have extensive experience in gender dysphoria. You, as the teacher, will need to be monitor the keeping of this child's best interest as central to any dealings.' E.g. If the ed psych makes a similar suggestion to that the GP made, you can explain that has already been tried and did nothing but make the child unhappy. Better still, you can read information about this topic and if you feel the ed psych is floundering, suggest s/he goes and investigates rather than making suggestions on the spot. This is an example of having a little background knowledge being very beneficial.
I also spoke to the teacher about helping the other children to accept this child as s/he is.
P.S. In my reading round the topic I found a great website: http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk (which set me off on more ponderings about how the web is fantastic for information and how it must de-isolate minorities).
P.P.S. I could write more on the topic of transgenderism, but that was not really what my post is about. I'd say understanding of transgenderism is ten years behind attitudes towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people - but it's all moving in the right direction.
P.P.P.S. If you feel prejudice towards transsexuals, or if you feel you'd like greater understanding...this letter might help evoke a little empathy.