Understanding Your Transgender Child
When your child comes out to you as transgender it’s only natural to have endless questions about what to do as a parent. You will want to understand what your child is going through, first and foremost. The most frequent question parents of transgender children ask me is “what does this mean for my child?”
Understanding Gender Dysphoria
The first key part of understanding gender dysphoria is understanding the difference between sex and gender. Sex is a biological characteristic determined by chromosomes and primary reproductive sex characteristics, such as having a uterus and/or vagina vs. having a penis and/or testicles. However, biological sex is not a binary category. Some people are born with non-binary genitalia or chromosomes that don’t align with their other sex characteristics. These people are often referred to as intersexed individuals and may identify as a variety of different genders. This brings the next subsequent question to the forefront; what is gender?
As a society, we created two genders of feminine and masculine. While this dichotomy of feminine and masculine appears in most of the cultures we know of, there are some cultures who widely believe in more than two genders. Gender is therefore a social construct that is culturally introduced and not a set of hard facts based on biology of sex. A man can be feminine and a woman can be masculine.
Gender dysphoria occurs when a person experiences extreme discomfort with the gender they were assigned at birth, and the social pressures that come along with identifying as that gender. A person with gender dysphoria may or may not have symptoms of body dysmorphia, which is a severe discomfort with their physical features. A person can have gender dysphoria without body dysmorphia, and likewise have body dysmorphia without gender dysphoria.
Gender dysphoria can manifest in numerous ways, including disgust with feminine or masculine clothing, behaviors and ideologies, discomfort with their primary or secondary sex characteristics such as chests, body shape and other perceived physical masculine or feminine features.
How to help
A therapist who is experienced in transgender health is vital to supporting your transgender child and can help both parents and children understand what’s happening from a developmental and psychological perspective. The goal of therapy for transgender children is not to change how the child feels about their body or gender, but to decrease the psychological impact of the dysphoria by validating the child’s experiences and creating a supportive environment through involving the family in treatment.
Studies show that when transgender children feel more accepted via their family using their preferred pronouns and names, symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation drops significantly (Stephen T. et al). To help your child feel more accepted, a curious and understanding approach should be used when discussing your child’s gender.
For more guidance with supporting your transgender child please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services at 407-443-8862 to set up an appointment with one of our transgender specialists.
Stephen T. Russell, Amanda M. Pollitt, Gu Li, Arnold H. Grossman,
Chosen Name Use Is Linked to Reduced Depressive Symptoms, Suicidal Ideation, and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Youth,
Journal of Adolescent Health 2018
ISSN 1054-139X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.02.003.(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X18300855) Keywords: Transgender; Youth; Depression; Suicidality