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A note to parents of gender-exploring young people

Hey there, person on the internet (or cat that has successfully developed opposable thumbs, entered their owner’s computer, and found their way to the blog of an inclusive therapy practice...). I’m glad you’re here! 


If your child has recently sat you down and said “parent… I’m exploring my gender” or your kiddo is experimenting with trying out new pronouns or dressing in a different way, you might have questions. Watching someone you love and care for try new things is multifaceted. It's completely normal for you to have a variety of feelings about this. If you're asking yourself, “What can I do to help out?” (if you’re a cat, you're probably not analyzing this too deeply) you might consider the following advice from a therapist who specializes in working with transgender and nonbinary humans...


Here are some thoughts on what I wish parents knew about supporting their gender-exploring young adult or teen, from a queer nonbinary therapist.


  1. Gender exploration in itself is not an indicator of mental illness. Experimenting with different gender presentations, pronouns, names, and other gender-affirming actions does not require participation in therapy. Therapy may be helpful to support people navigating other challenges related to self-acceptance or dysphoria, but gender exploration in itself is not a disorder in need of treatment.

  2. Lack of support = high risk. Gender-exploring teens and young adults who receive affirming support from their family members are at a lower risk for anxiety, depression, and suicidality. Your support for your loved ones can go a long way. 

  3. Gender is not an equation. Or a math problem that can be solved. Gender is a powerful, dynamic, deeply personal social construct that can change over time. While 1 + 1 = 2,  no equation will ever equal perfect gender. 

  4. Expect imperfection. While your kiddo explores their gender, give yourself permission to also be exploring and learning. Be open to being corrected.

  5. There is no peak of gender knowledge. Stop trying to climb the mountain of perfectionism. You won’t reach it (I’m sorry!). Put down the rock-climbing gear. 

  6. Ask your kid what would be helpful. And adjust your behavior accordingly. If your kid asks you to use different pronouns or a new name, make the effort to do so.

  7. Educate yourself.  Learn about gender diversity and the experiences of gender non-conforming individuals. 

  8. Advocate for inclusivity. Act as an active ally by standing against discrimination and advocate for inclusive environments. If someone misgenders your kid, correct them (if your particular kid is okay with that). If someone makes a transphobic remark, confront them. Your day-to-day actions can let your child know you have their back.



The fact that you’re here taking the time to read this suggests that you care. Unconditional and unwavering support, love, and acceptance are the most helpful components that you can provide to your gender exploring young adult or teen.


Here are some resources for continued learning:


  • PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Offers resources, support, and advocacy for LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. PFLAG provides educational materials, local chapters, and support groups specifically for parents.

  • Gender Spectrum Provides education, resources, and support for parents, educators, and professionals working with gender-diverse youth. They offer online support groups, webinars, and comprehensive guides.


  • The Trevor Project A crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ+ youth. They offer a 24/7 helpline, text, and chat services, as well as resources for parents to understand and support their child.


  • GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Provides media resources, news, and advocacy tools to support LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance. Their website includes a range of educational materials and guides for parents.

  • Family Acceptance Project Provides research-based resources to help families support their LGBTQ+ children. They offer educational materials and guides to promote acceptance and prevent health risks.


The takeaways here? It's not a problem that your child is exploring their gender (gender diversity is part of human diversity) but it is completely normal for you, as their parent, to have feelings and questions. Taking the step to learn about transgender, nonbinary, and other diverse gender experiences and committing to affirming your child's experience is supportive (yes, even if your child is an adult). I hope the above resources are helpful and if you are struggling it's completely okay for you to connect, as a parent of a gender nonconforming kid who doesn't want to project your own messy stuff onto them, with an informed, affirming therapist.


 

Hannah Dickey, MSW

Psychotherapist at Divergent Path Wellness


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