Data clearly shows that members of the LGBTQI community endure a disproportionate amount of discrimination, abuse, harassment, and violence which can have grave impacts on both mental and physical health.
Let’s talk key terms
When we discuss gender we first need to be on the same page when it comes to terminology. Here are some useful definitions to jumpstart this discussion.
Assigned sex: when babies are born they are assigned a gender “male” or “female” based on their external genitalia.
Gender identity: how an individual personally identifies. Basically, who they feel they are and know themselves to be. A person’s gender identity may differ from their assigned sex.
Gender expression: how an individual chooses to express their gender. There are many ways gender can be expressed. A few examples are clothing, hairstyle, hair color, makeup, chosen name, etc.
How does gender identity develop?
Children develop a basic sense of gender when they are quite young, as early as 2-3 years old. At this stage of development children can generally identify themselves as a “boy” or “girl” which may not necessarily match the sex they were assigned at birth. It is not unusual for young children to alternate between identifying themselves as a “boy” or a “girl.” This is normal.
As children grow they begin to have a more stable gender identity and become aware of gender stereotypes e.g. masculine versus feminine toys. Although gender identity becomes more pronounced, it can still change over time. This may be a stressful time for children who feel their gender identity is different from their assigned sex. Especially when they notice differences between themselves and their peers.
Adolescents and teens are continuing to discover who they are as they age. It is not unusual for gender identity to change especially around puberty. Navigating hormonal changes, physical body changes, peer groups, academics, and gender identity can be a confusing and anxiety provoking time. Families are encouraged to keep an open mind and be available to provide support to their child.
How to support your child
Children thrive when the people closest to them love and accept them for who they are.
If you’re curious about how your child identifies, ask them. This will provide an opportunity to open the door for discussion.
Try your best not to pressure your child to change who they are. Rejection is incredibly painful and can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, acting out and even suicide.
If you are a parent struggling please reach out. There are many resources available including national organizations, local community resources, school services, support groups, health care providers and much more.
The most common tools/tips I share with parents of gender fluid children I see in my practice are below:
- Q Chat Space – a safe online discussion group for LGBTQI teens between the ages of 13-19. Chats are facilitated by experienced staff who work at LGBTQI centers nationally, and discussions occur at scheduled times just like regular in-person support groups.
- Gender inclusive books – organizations like Common Sense Media have a list of books that include topics like race, gender, ethnicity, and other diverse themes.
- Find your local gender resource center. In the Sacramento area we have the Gender Health Center which provides counseling, advocacy, and outreach resources for patients and families.
- Know your rights- one important aspect of advocacy is knowing your rights and where to get assistance if you need it. Lambda Legal is a national non-profit organization that advocates for the civil rights of the LGBTQI community and all living with HIV.
- Additional Resources: The Trevor Project, National Center for Transgender Equality, Human Rights Campaign.