My Book: The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Gender Identity

Many of you have probably been wondering why my blog has been so inactive lately. Well, I wrote a book! F + W Media, Inc. has a series called “The Conscious Parent’s Guide To…” about a number of different topics. They wanted to publish one on gender identity, found me through this blog, and asked me to write it! I was happy to have the opportunity to write about how to best support gender expansive kids to a more wide-reaching audience. I truly hope it helps a lot of families.

The book is ideal for parents/guardians of gender expansive kids, but could also be useful for extended family members, therapists, teachers; anyone involved in a gender expansive child’s life. Click here to order your copy: The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Gender Identity: A Mindful Approach to Embracing Your Child’s Authentic Self.

I do want to add that I did not write Chapter 1. Chapter 1 is the standard chapter for all of the Conscious Parent’s Guides. I only added in the parts related to gender. So, if you don’t love Chapter 1- keep going. 🙂 If you liked Chapter 1 best, sorry. 😉

In addition to the overview in Chapter 1 about conscious parenting, there are ways to incorporate being a mindful, conscious parent throughout the book. This is so much more than just being “present”, it’s about recognizing your little human as a separate being, with their own unique will and spirit. I write about how to best connect with your child in order to be most receptive to what they are trying to tell you.

I write about the differences between gender and sex, gender identity and sexual orientation, gender expression vs. gender identity, and what gender “expansiveness” really is. This not only helps those involved in a gender expansive child’s life understand these concepts, but helps explain them to others.

I discuss the concept of getting to know one’s child for who they are from the beginning, rather than making assumptions that later need to be shifted or undone. I write about parenting gender expansive children, and the difference between being transgender and “just” gender expansive. In the book you will find practical tips for interacting with and advocating for your gender expansive and/or transgender child, while learning how to trust yourself and appreciate life at the same time.

Later in the book there is more specific information for families who have a child in need of social or medical transition: how/when to navigate interventions, coping with outside influences/reactions, siblings, extended family, schools, etc. There is a specific chapter dedicated to “helping your gender expansive child with teasing”, based on the concepts I present at gender conferences. There is also a specific chapter dedicated to dysphoria, which is important for everyone involved in a transgender child’s life to understand.

The appendixes include some resources I hope you will find helpful, including ways of looking at natal sex/gender identity/gender expression/sexual orientation on spectrums, or on more of a fluid shape. There is a list of “Classroom Rules” to help classrooms promote diversity. There is also a worksheet for children who may need some help in understanding when a friend or loved one is going through transition. Last but not least, there is a sample letter from parents informing their loved ones about their child’s social transition.

Let me know how you like the book, and leave an honest review on Amazon! Thank you so much for your ongoing support of this blog, I promise to get back to writing regular posts soon.

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Stop Trans Pathologization*: Some People Are Transgender, and Some People Are Not

Just like any variation of the human condition, some people are left-handed, and some people are not. Some people have two different colored eyes, and some people don’t. Some people are allergic to dairy, and some people are not.

Some people are transgender, and some people are not.

In some of the trainings I do, I ask the question: when is gender pathological? It’s basically a trick question, because gender isn’t pathological. Gender just is. It has neither good nor bad qualities. Yes, distress can come from feeling like your exterior presentation does not match your brain gender identity, and distress can come from society not understanding your gender, but gender in and of itself isn’t distressing. It just is, and we all have a gender identity even if that gender identity means not having a gender at all.

Some people are transgender, and some people are not.

Parents come to me with various theories for why their child may be transgender, or at least “presenting” as transgender. I’ve heard many different theories over the course of my years in working with transgender children, and many similar ones. I think space needs to be held for these parents wondering “why?”, and their theories should be listened to and considered. However, sooner rather than later there needs to be a time to take the “why?” and replace that with “OK, now what?”. In the end, the “why” doesn’t really matter. What matters is the child’s happiness.

My theory?

Some people are transgender, and some people are not.

Some people wrongly believe that being transgender is some form or sign of mental illness. In fact, even some professionals will use the term “co-occurring” when they speak of someone being transgender along with having a mental illness. Being transgender is not a mental illness. There is not a certain “type” of person with a certain set of presenting problems who is transgender.

Say it with me:

Some people are transgender, and some people are not.

***********

*This blog post is going live on October, 24, 2015, the International Day of Action for Trans Depathologization, an annual day created by Campaign Stop Trans Pathologization. Let’s stop pathologizing gender… because simply some people are transgender, and some people are not. 🙂

Trans*Forming the Dialogue

Trans*forming the Dialogue Logo

I am participating in Trans*forming the Dialogue, Simmons College’s Online MSW Program’s campaign to promote an educational conversation about the transgender community. This campaign was designed to shift the conversation away from the problematic questions that are often asked of the members transgender community and foster a more progressive dialogue. I was asked to be a “featured voice” in this campaign and provide my prospective about what TO ask and what NOT to ask trans* people. Of course, I am but one voice in the sea of many, please check out the other responses here!

The prompt: What are the do’s and dont’s when asking a trans* person about their experiences?

  • What are 2 – 3 questions that one should NOT be asking a transgender person?
  • What are 2 – 3 questions that one SHOULD be asking a transgender person?

I decided to go about this a little differently. Instead of listing specific questions one should or should not ask transgender people, I came up with guidelines for deciding which questions are appropriate and which ones are not.

Know the Basics

Before you begin asking too many questions of the transgender individual, do some research on the basics. Many times when someone is revealing their “true” gender, or their brain gender identity, others go straight for the anatomy of the individual. Anatomy is about natal sex, not gender. The transgender individual likely wants you to understand more about how they feel on the inside, not about what their body looks like. Read my blog post here for more information about Gender Vs. Sex. Additionally, it will be helpful for you to understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. If you don’t, you might accidentally start focusing on the individual’s romantic life or sexual behaviors when they are trying to tell you about who they are. 🙂 Read more about this distinction here.

Use Empathy

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It’s important to remember the transgender person is not there simply to educate you or satisfy your curiosity. They are a person, just like you, living their life. Try to figure out what kinds of questions you would like to be asked, and go from there. Would you want to be asked details about your potentially painful past? Probably not. Would you want to be asked details about your genitalia? Most likely not. See my blog post “What’s In YOUR Pants?? (They’re called “privates” for a reason) for more on this. What would you want someone to ask you about? You would probably want people to ask how you are, how your loved ones are, and what you’ve been staying busy with. Ask!

Stay in the Now

The transgender person in front of you is not living in the past or the future, they are living in the present. Stay in it with them. What name they were given at birth, the process of their transition, their plans for medical intervention in the future, etc. do not give you a sense for what that person is about, today. Ask them about their here and now, in general terms. If the transgender individual’s gender identity or transition comes up in this conversation, that means it is relevant for them in the present.

Think in Terms of Solidarity

If you think of yourself in a different category than transgender people, a separation is created that does not need to exist. We all have gender identity, and that makes us capable of understanding it. You don’t have to have gone through something exactly as someone else has to relate to that person. Many of the problems transgender individuals face is in regards to stigma, discrimination, and lack of understanding from society at large. Since we are all a part of society, we are all capable of creating change. Make sure you are using the correct name and pronouns for the individual. Speak up if you hear someone who is not. Speak up if you hear transphobic language, practices, policies, or potentially unwelcoming spaces for transgender individuals.

Think Beyond the Binary

Society tends to operate as though there are two genders, male and female. In reality, gender is on a spectrum and male and female are but two genders on it. Every person is the expert on their own gender identity. Trust what they say to be true for them, even if you can’t relate to it or haven’t heard of it before. Some people feel male or female. Some people feel both, and some people feel neither. Some people feel more one gender than another, and some fluctuate from day to day. Operate from the standpoint that you are there to honor and respect their gender, not decide what it is or what you are comfortable with. The only way to have a relationship with someone is to honor them for who they truly are.

Happy Conversing! 🙂

Don’t Poke the Dysphoria Monster

dont-poke-the-a4ghnn

There may be a monster in your child’s closet. All of the reassuring you may have done when your child was little that there was “no such thing as monsters”, checking under beds and in closets to alleviate anxiety, may not have been exactly true. For transgender kids and adolescents, and even adults, a Dysphoria Monster may be lurking nearby.

When I worked in a residential treatment facility for children, I used the “Addiction Monster” metaphor to explain addiction to children. Many children who resided there had parents who were addicted to substances, and this resulted in inconsistent visits, broken promises, and time away in jail. I would explain that when someone is struggling with addiction, they have an addiction monster that is sometimes small and manageable, sometimes huge and overpowering, but never nonexistent. When it’s huge, it has them in their grip, throwing them around, banging them up, holding them hostage. When the addiction becomes more under control, the individual may have more power over the monster, like walking it on a leash. After some time of sobriety when urges have decreased dramatically and the individual is in recovery, the monster may get small enough to tuck away in their pocket. But remember: it’s always there, and they would need to take care to keep it small.

Now that I work with transgender individuals, I have met the Dysphoria Monster. For those of you who don’t know, dysphoria is the discomfort and depression that can come with having a body that does not line up with one’s gender identity, or come from not being read as/treated as the gender one is in their brain. Dysphoria can range from unpleasant to life-threatening; it’s a force to be reckoned with.

Most transgender people experience and relate to dysphoria differently. Some have very little (tiny dysphoria monster tucked in their pocket), some have debilitating dysphoria (picture the gender dysphoria equivalent of Godzilla). Dysphoria can fluctuate on an hourly, daily, weekly basis. How much dysphoria is present on a day-to-day basis can be dependent on temperament, life experience, support, stage of transition, relationship status, triggers, and much more.

Here is an example of how the Dysphoria Monster can work: picture a female-to-male individual walking down the street with a female friend. He’s feeling good; confident, content, enjoying the day. His monster is quiet; he doesn’t really notice it. Suddenly he and his friend enter a restaurant and they are greeted with, “Hello, Ladies!”. His monster is awakened! Growling, breathing down his neck. The monster sits with them at the table for the rest of the meal as he agonizes over being misgendered.

Ever heard of the expression “don’t poke the bear”? It’s important as the loved one of a transgender person that you don’t “poke the Dysphoria Monster”. Be aware of the fact that this monster is lurking nearby and that it is in your loved one’s best interest that the monster stays docile. Unfortunately, parents and partners (and other loved ones) can fairly easily poke the monster because they are usually the ones who are around the individual the most. This can happen in any number of ways: misgendering (using wrong pronouns), using birth name, commenting on body parts, commenting on appearance, giving tips on how to be masculine/feminine, the list goes on.

Do you want to know how big and unruly your loved one’s Dysphoria Monster currently is, and how to avoid inadvertently awakening it? Here are some tips:

  • Educate yourself on dysphoria. Don’t expect your loved one to do it all for you. Understand what can be the most distressing parts of being transgender. Use compassion to fill in the blanks you don’t understand.
  • Check in. Don’t be afraid to ask, “How’s your dysphoria?” (or whatever word they would like you to use). Usually they will know exactly what you mean, and you will get the most direct answer that way.
  • Ask them what triggers their dysphoria the most. This will help you not only learn to avoid causing these triggers yourself, but will be alerted to check in after you witness one of these triggers happening.
  • Ask what helps lower their dysphoria. Ask when they feel the least dysphoric, and then try to increase or replicate these experiences/situations.

How big is your or your loved one’s Dysphoria Monster? Would you describe it differently?

Name and Gender Documentation in Schools: Update

Since school has started, and since my blog post on this topic, I’ve been working with a lot of schools and parents to hammer out this issue.

It seems that Power School (the computer system used by most schools in SD) will allow for a “preferred name” field, but it still prints the birth name next to the preferred name on all the rosters, etc. So not helpful! Also, there is no updated or preferred gender marker box. Guess what? Anyone in administration at the school can manually go into Power School and change the birth name and gender to the preferred name and gender. Simple as that. I’ve had three schools in San Diego do this now. Assertively ask your school administrators to do this for your child.

If your school still will not do this, ask how they will handle attendance sheets when there is a substitute.

Additionally, send emails to each of your child’s teachers. (This is for children who are about to transition or are currently transitioning, not those who have already transitioned.) One of my client’s mothers wrote this email to each of her child’s teachers, and I absolutely love it.

“Dear [Teacher],

My child [name] is in your first period [subject] class.

[Preferred name] ‘gender-identifies’ as a male, and I would like to ask you to make very certain that you reference him (purposely, but not obviously) with his preferred name of [preferred name] rather than his legal name and that you use he/him/his pronouns at all times, modeling that for the other students in the class.  One of [preferred name]’s biggest concerns in life is “passing,” being regarded and thought of on first glance as male. The kids look to their teachers for cues when they’re unsure, and with your leadership in setting a firm precedent from the beginning as to [preferred name]’s gender, there should be no confusion about it in your class.

Thank you in advance!

Sincerely,

[Parent]”

Email me with success stories, questions, or concerns about this issue to tandotherapy@me.com. Thank you!

Published in: on September 4, 2014 at 10:59 am  Comments (3)  

Name and Gender Documentation in Schools

It’s that time of year… school is starting or is about to start! If you have a transgender child or teen, it’s time to be discussing with the school what name and gender marker is going to be on the rosters, computer system, and “Power School” fields if the school uses it. Only those close to transgender children and teens realize the distress that having their birth name and/or gender marker on school paperwork can cause. I’ve seen the panic in their eyes firsthand. They are often petrified of having their peers learn their birth name. They are worried about being “outed”. Every time they log into the computer system at school, every time attendance is called (especially in the beginning of school or by every single substitute teacher), every time a schedule or report card is passed out, even sometimes buying lunch and having their birth name and gender pop up on the computer letting them into the cafeteria… I can only imagine the tension and anxiety every single one of these instances brings up for them. This is an unnecessary stressor for these kids and we all need to do our part to be educated and speak up about this issue. The following is an excerpt from Guidance for Massachusetts Public Schools: Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment; Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity: “The 2011 National School Climate Survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), found that 75.4% of transgender students had been verbally harassed in the previous year, 32.1% had been physically harassed, and 16.8% had been physically assaulted. Educators play an essential role in advocating for the well-being of these students and creating a school culture that supports them.” I believe changing the documentation that circulates around school and on attendance rosters is a crucial part of creating a school culture that supports transgender and gender nonconforming youth. I recently learned at the Gender Spectrum conference that the school is only legally required to keep the legal birth name and gender marker somewhere in the permanent file, but they can change EVERYTHING ELSE to the preferred name and gender before a legal change. Before spreading the word, I did a little research on this topic to back up this claim. The following quote is from the California Safe Schools Coalition Model School District Policy Regarding Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students: “Official Records The District is required to maintain a mandatory permanent pupil record (“official record”) that includes a student’s legal name and legal gender. However, the District is not required to use a student’s legal name and gender on other school records or documents. The District will change a student’s official record to reflect a change in legal name or legal gender upon receipt of documentation that such change has been made pursuant to a court order. In situations where school staff or administrators are required by law to use or to report a transgender student’s legal name or gender, such as for purposes of standardized testing, school staff and administrators shall adopt practices to avoid the inadvertent disclosure of such confidential information. Names/Pronouns A student has the right to be addressed by a name and pronoun that corresponds to the student’s gender identity. A court-ordered name or gender change is not required, and the student need not change his or her official records. The intentional or persistent refusal to respect a student’s gender identity (for example, intentionally referring to the student by a name or pronoun that does not correspond to the student’s gender identity) is a violation of this policy.” The following are excerpts from California School Boards Association (CSBA)’s “Final Guidance: AB1266, Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students, Privacy, Programs, Activities and Facilities“: “Upon request, districts should prepare data systems to list a transgender or gender nonconforming student by his or her preferred name and gender.” “Privacy Rights of Transgender or Gender Nonconforming Student A student’s decision to inform the district that his or her gender identity differs from his or her biological gender is extremely personal and private. In addition, transgender and gender nonconforming students may face bullying and harassment as a result of other students or staff not understanding or tolerating the public representations of their gender identity. At the same time, the decision may potentially involve very public components if, for example, the student starts to go by a different name. Despite this potential for public awareness, districts are still legally responsible to maintain the students privacy according to the students wishes.” The following is an excerpt from Know Your Rights – Transgender People and the Law; Name Change and Identity Documents “Can a person change his or her name to reflect his or her gender identity? Yes. In some states [and California is one of those states], through what is called “common law name change,” people may change their name simply by using the new name in everyday interactions. It is free and easy, but does not create the kind of solid paper trail needed to change identity documents.” If you are interested in pursuing the legal name and gender change, know it takes at least 6 weeks to go through. Those of you who reside in San Diego can find the packet here.  Click here for the Transgender Law Center’s comprehensive page with links to all forms needed. For those of you not in San Diego, simply Google your county and “name and gender change”. PLEASE NOTE, DUE TO AB1121, YOU NO LONGER HAVE TO PUBLISH ANYTHING IN THE NEWSPAPER. If the court is unaware of this, educate them. Filing the packet costs $435 (at least in San Diego), but the fee can be waived based on low income. (Ask for the “In Forma Pauperis“.) Here is the Transgender Law Center’s awesome resource that includes UPDATED information on changing name, gender, etc. If you are interested in pursuing a name and gender change, start on page 9. If you ONLY need to change your child’s gender marker (keeping birth name), and your child was born in California: click here. Any other tips from those who have been down this road greatly appreciated!

Youth (minor) name and gender change sample packet HERE: minornamegenderchange

Adult name and gender change sample packet HERE: adultnamegenderchange

Gender Lesson: For Schools

I created this “gender lesson” for teachers to present in schools based on the needs of gender nonconforming children I see in my private practice and those I read about online. Please share with any and all classrooms/teachers! Below is the lesson, and following that will be a PDF with the lesson and a list of “expectations” that can be posted in the classroom.

This lesson was created in particular for those teachers who have gender nonconforming children in their classrooms. However, it is my belief that this curriculum is needed in ALL classrooms, to change society’s stereotypes, reduce stigmatization of children, decrease bullying, and increase acceptance of each other.

This lesson is to be presented at the very beginning of the school year to set standards of expectations for behavior, and can be reviewed as needed throughout the school year. It should be appropriate for grades K-5; please modify as needed. Role plays are included at the end of the lesson for comprehension reinforcement. Give the child the scenario and have them attempt the correct response first; give suggestions as needed. Lastly, please hang the attached rules in your classroom as a reminder of the acceptance that is expected.

For a very long time, people have been separating things into what girls like and what boys like. A lot of people think these things are very different, and call them “boy things” and “girl things”. Have YOU noticed that?

What are some things some people might say are “girl things” or “boy things”?  What might some people say are “girl toys” and “boy toys”?

The truth is, all children get to pick what they like, and everyone likes different things.  Repeat after me: There is no such thing as a “boy thing” or a “girl thing”. Some kids are boys who like things that other people think are for girls. Some kids are girls who like things that other people think are for boys. It can hurt their feelings if you or someone else says something to them about it, or acts like there are rules about how someone should be. That would be like saying only girls can eat ice cream, and only boys can eat jelly beans!! That would just be SILLY! Sweets and treats are to be enjoyed by everyone, just like most things in life. 🙂

Are there certain colors that some people think only girls like and colors that only boys like? Most people think girls like pink and purple, which is ok, but it’s silly to think that ONLY girls like pink and purple! There are plenty of boys out there who like pink and purple, too. Lots of people think only boys can like blue! Girls can like blue, too. All the colors of the rainbow are for everyone, and it’s fun that we all get to pick our favorite. You don’t want anyone telling YOU what your favorite color should be, do you??

Some people also have very strong ideas about how boys and girls should look and dress. Is it ok for some girls to have short hair, and some boys to have long hair? Of course it is!  How someone chooses to dress is up to them, too. Some girls wear skirts and dresses, and some girls wear shorts and pants. Some boys wear shorts and pants, and some boys wear skirts and dresses.  This may surprise some people, but it certainly isn’t wrong.

How someone dresses and wears their hair is a part of their “style”. Everyone’s style is different! What if everyone were to dress and look exactly alike? BOR-ING!  The next time you see someone who wears their hair a little different than you expected or is wearing something that surprises you, be kind and say, “I like your style”.

How wonderful would it be to have a classroom (or a WORLD) where kids just get to like what they like? Are you ready to help create a world like that?

One of the most important things to remember is to be KIND to one another. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were the other person. Be sure to avoid saying anything that would hurt someone else’s feelings. If you can see another kid likes something, don’t tell them why they shouldn’t. Remind yourself, “different people like different things”, “it’s OK to be different”, and “I am accepting of others”.

If you hear someone telling another kid there are rules about how to play, how to be, or how to dress, stand up for them! Remember, you are helping create a world that is more accepting. Nicely tell the other person what you have learned from this lesson. You can say something like this:

“That’s their style, and I like it.”

“Anyone can play with anything.”

“Everyone is different. Different people like different things.”

“Please don’t tease my friend. I like him/her just the way he/she is.”

Remember:

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “BOY THING” OR A “GIRL THING”!

All toys are for all children.

Colors are for everyone.

People are different, and everyone likes different things.

Everyone gets to pick how they wear their hair.

Everyone gets to pick the way they dress.

Everyone gets to pick their own style.

Role Plays:

Act out the RIGHT way to handle the following situations:

You are playing house, and a girl wants to be the dad.

You hear someone teasing a boy about wearing a skirt.

A group of boys playing soccer tells a girl, “You can’t play! No girls allowed!”

You’re having a tea party and a boy wants to join in.

You see a girl getting teased for having short hair.

You see a boy wearing a pink backpack.

In Our Classroom…

We are kind to each other.

All toys are for all children.

Colors are for everyone.

Everyone gets to pick their own style.

Being different is OK.

We stand up for others.

GENDER LESSON PDF