Gender Identity - Helping Your Child Find Their Place in the Universe
"Nature loves diversity. Unfortunately, society hates it." Dr. Milton Diamond
Over the past few years, I have had a front row seat to thousands of parents and their families struggle with the question of "Who am I, and is that person male, female and what if I do not feel like I fit into either of what society expects me to be either as a female or a male? What if I am neither?" There have been unbelievable moments of pain and sweetest victories. In this blog we will explore some of the resources and tools that are available for you when your child tells you that they are questioning their gender. So if that is you, know that this is a safe space for you to explore and ask questions, I am a mom of trans kiddos, a professional coach and servant of hundreds of LGBTQ youth and their families. I want you to take a deep breath and know these facts;
- You are not alone,
- If you prioritize having the right relationship over a need to be right, you will get through this just fine;
- This is not a new trend, this has always been a part of society that we have hidden in guilt and shame for far too long;
- If someone has come out to you, especially a child you should feel very loved that they trust you to be their ally;
- There is room for everyone in this big beautiful world.
So let's take a moment to explore the very basics of sexual orientation and gender identity expression and look at some cases of how different people identify differently.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity As A Continuum
Case 1 - Robyn
I have the sexual organs of a female, and I choose to identify as a woman. However, as a woman who loves dirt, sweat and exploration my gender expression fluctuates a lot! There have been seasons in my life I have felt a disconnect from what my body appeared as; and the judgments people made about me because of that. I identify closer to woman than gender queer today, but during my teens and twenties had gender queer have been as accepting I would have identified as much closer to gender queer. My gender expression is closer to feminine than androgynous but I do not identify as 100% feminine either. I have worked in male dominated industries most of my adult life and despise some of the feminine stereotypes I have had to confront. I am attracted to men and identify as heterosexual.
Case 2 - Joe
Joe was assigned male at birth based on anatomy. Joe identifies as a woman and expresses her feminity proudly. Joe is a mother of 4, a busy soccer Mom who loves her husband of 16 years. Joe privately identifies as transgender only close friends and family know of the transition that Joe went through to become a woman. Note, not all people who identify as a trans or that their gender differs from their anatomy go through the structural and hormonal changes that Joe chose for herself.
Case 3 - David
David was assigned the sex of male at birth. David identifies as a gender queer and feels has a deep sense of both male and female identities. They prefer the pronouns they/them and do not express identity as either masculine or feminine. David is attracted to both males and females. David is an engineer who loves wearing an array of jewelry and nail polish with their work boots.
Where do you fit on these continuum's?
Where would your friends and family members fit on these scales? Do you know someone who does not fit their gender stereotype?
Do you see that there is more to gender identity than that of your anatomy? And that having a conversation with your child about where they feel comfortable on this could be a really positive conversation to have. You can download and print a version of this chart from PFLAG here.
The complexities of what make us male and female are so much more than our anatomy. The complexity of our individual DNA produces such a variety of hormones that influence our gender expression; I think that it is mind boggling that we have only had a male or female binary world for this long! And I have not even touched on this who are born as Intersex, which where the infant genitalia is ambiguous. There are estimates that reach as high as 1 in 2000 live births are intersex. My point here is that the complexities of our genetic sex origins are far more complex than have ever been socially discussed. Our gender has nothing to do with our sexual orientation.
What do you do next, now that a loved one or your own child has shared with you that they either identify as "trans" or are questioning where they fit on the gender continuum?
1. Be kind, the golden rule still applies. In 2009, a study looked at how family rejection impacted the health outcomes of LGBT youth. By being supportive of your child, by being open to they are as a human being and not merely a male or female you have the power to create their success. Raising children to have healthy and respectful relationships is still the goal not matter where the gender identity of sexual orientation lie. Entering into the complexities of these adult relationships is challenging and complex, but it Is clear that your willingness to love your child regardless of the gender identity has a profound impact on them.
The Predictive Impact of Rejecting Families
2. Do not make assumptions, but stay curious and ask questions. (The Equality Instititue offers the ARC technique of ask, respect and connect that you can access here) If you are struggling because of the world that you were raised in or your generational expectations of gender then I strongly encourage you to work through your own issues with a therapist or a coach. Your questioning child is not asking if they can be your ally, they have shared that they are questioning because they are counting on you to be their ally.
3. Educate yourself, PFLAG is a wonderful organization with resources for families. As well as The Trevor Project check out their resources here and READ!! Nothing educates like a good book, so for yourself and your child check out the Rainbow Book List or check out the 10 Back-to-School Tips for LGBTQ Students
4. Connection - the community options for support are growing stronger everyday. Find a PFLAG chapter near you or get involved with the Trevor Project. There is a growing number of gay straight alliances (GSA's) to find one near you check out the GSA Network
5. Professional Support - by connecting with the networks listed above they may be able to refer you to local professionals in your area. Or you can find specialist through psychologytoday.com if you have insurance or if not there are lots of providers at the Open Path Collective. Both will allow you to search for professionals that specialize in LGBTQ youth.
Please email me if you need further support, my door is always open to you or schedule free 30 minute consult here.
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