What Determines Gender Identity and How Can Parents Help?
What makes someone feel they have been born into the wrong body? Gender identity is a prominent topic these days thanks to the media, many people are still uncertain about what “gender identity” actually means.
What is it, exactly, that determines whether an individual thinks of themselves as “male” or “female” or something else or neither of these two options? It seems that a possible answer to this question lies in the structure of our brains.
A considerable number of gender differences in the brain have been described and many are housed in the parts of the brain concerned with sexuality. For instance, an area of the brain that has to do with sexuality is larger in males than females and smaller in male-to-female transgender brains.
There are also reports of chemical differences in male and female brains, though there is still confusion as to how these differences, as well as size difference, relate to gender. Studies have also suggested that connections between brain areas may differ between genders, yet scientists struggle to interpret these findings in a meaningful way.
So, while we are a little closer to understanding this complex topic and understanding what exactly causes someone to identify with a different gender than they were assigned at birth, there is still confusion and much to learn.
How Can Parents Help Their Transgender Child or Teen?
When a young person develops a physical disease or ailment, tests can be ordered, a diagnosis given and a treatment plan put into motion. When a young person identifies as a different gender than assigned at birth, all of the answers don’t fall into place, and there isn’t one “correct” way to handle the situation.
So how can parents ensure they support their transgender child as they face an uncertain future?
Accept Their Identity
To be rejected by their parents can be profoundly damaging to a child or teen. Most young people that come out as trans have thought a lot about their feelings and experiences before telling anyone. Their identity should not be treated as a passing phase or something “awful” they will grow out of.
So, believe your child about their status as trans and accept them.
Follow Their Lead
Transgender people are individuals. Not all will wear the same type of clothing. Not all will want to make a full transition. Don’t assume what your child’s journey will or should look like. Let them lead and you follow and support them.
Don’t Misgender or “Dead-Name” Your Child
Undoubtedly it will be hard to say goodbye to the gender of the child you gave birth to and have known for so long. But it will be important that you show love and respect to your child by referring to them as the gender and name they now choose to go by, if you slip up, simply apologize. But don’t intentionally misgender or dead-name them (this means calling them by their birth name rather than their new name that they prefer now).
You may find it very helpful to speak with a therapist during this time. He or she can help facilitate good communication between you and your child as well as help you navigate these new waters.
If you’d like to explore options, please be in touch with me. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.