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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One’s “True” Gender

What defines someone’s “true” gender? Some people would say “true” gender is defined by the genitalia one had at birth. Those of us who know better know that one’s “true” gender is the one that exists in the brain.

This concept may be different for children and adults. Children are concrete thinkers, while adults are capable of much more abstract thinking. Genitalia is concrete; the gender identity in one’s brain is more of an abstract concept.

In addition to this, as a part of a child’s moral development, the importance in “telling the truth” is given much significance. “Lying” or deceiving someone is frowned upon, and children are often punished for it. As a child gets older, there is a development of the understanding of truth, honesty, and conscience. Where does “truth” come from when we are children? For things that are simple, the truth comes from ourselves. For things that are less simple, or more unknown to us, the truth tends to come from the adults who are in charge of us.

When I was at my good friend’s daughter’s second birthday party, a bee buzzed around the child’s head while she was eating her cupcake. She exclaimed “A bee!” right as it flew away. Her mother, who had not seen it, said in a playful way, “Nooooo, that was not a bee, it was a fly!”. The child looked at her mom’s face, paused and thought a second, then got a big smile on her face and said, “Yah! A fly!”. She had been right (and her mother wrong), but she didn’t care. The smile she shared with her mom and the contentment that came from their agreed-upon reality was all she needed. How many children are told their reality from a very young age? How many children are told, “you can’t wear a dress, you’re a boy!” or “of course you don’t have a penis, you’re a girl!”. Often, those “you’re a boy” and “you’re a girl” statements are absorbed by the young children as TRUTH. Anything other than what their trusted guardians are telling them must be a lie, or something to be kept to themselves. Only the minority of transgender children will be insistent and assert their truth over the protests of their parent(s).

This moral development and ability to grasp abstract concepts can influence a child’s ability to understand their own gender identity, assert their true gender, desire to transition, and/or their desire to be read in larger society as their desired gender.

Have I lost you? Let me be clear. An enlightened, insightful transgender adult may begin the process of transitioning and being seen for the gender identity that matches what is in their brain. For example, a Female-to-Male transgender individual starts the transition process and is very pleased when a stranger in the grocery store addresses him as “Sir”. Does he feel deceitful and as though he is not telling the truth? Not likely. For him, he understands his “true” gender identity is male and it is ok to be seen as male and assert himself as male.

This is a bit trickier for a child, particularly a latency-age child who is learning the concepts of “right and wrong”, honesty, and the concept of guilt. I have heard many parents say “she gets MAD when people think she’s a boy! You’d think she’d be happy”. (On the other hand, there are kids who are thrilled when they are perceived as their preferred gender and would never tell the stranger otherwise! As I always say, everyone is different. :)) Often times, if the child gets mad, parents look to this as a possible clue that their child may not be transgender. I tend to think it has to do more with concrete thinking and the desire to be “honest”. One way to help children understand it’s ok to be true to themselves is to explain the difference between anatomical sex and brain gender identity, as well as the fact that their brain gender identity is who they “truly” are. This gives them the green light to relax and know that when they assert their preferred gender, they are in fact, telling the truth.

Some of my transgender kids, after they transition, are told by peers, “but you’re really a girl” or “you’re really a boy”. These peers aren’t necessarily being mean; they are simply asserting what they know concretely (body) and enforcing what they think is the TRUTH. Part of my work with my young clients is then to help them understand that who they “really” are is who they are in their “brain” and their “heart”, and give them language to help their peers understand as well. Of course to help everyone (kids and adults alike!), the focus has to be on a societal shift of understanding what someone’s gender really is. If gender continues to be defined by bodies, then confusion, misunderstandings and stigma will continue.

How comfortable are you in your own “truth”? Did it take you a while to fully understand who you are on the inside is who you “really” are? Was there anything that helped you come around to this understanding?

Transition is an INTERVENTION, Not a Decision

In my post “What are you going to do about it?”, I discuss two very separate concepts: one’s gender identity and one’s “decision” about what to do about it. However, I made it clear that “deciding” not to transition is not usually a positive choice for a transgender individual. Today let’s break it down one step further and clarify what this “decision” means. Deciding to transition often means acting upon something that already is. That is, someone can be transgender in that they feel the brain gender identity they have is different than their assigned gender based on their natal sex. Is being transgender a decision? Absolutely not. You cannot decide to be transgender, just as much as anyone cannot “decide” on their gender before birth. I think talking too much about the “decision” to transition undermines what just simply exists; one’s brain gender identity. I want to acknowledge that there are some people who are transgender and who choose not to transition. This is a valid choice and one that is completely within their right. Let’s just say, for argument’s sake and the sake of this blog post, that transitioning is the natural response to one being transgender. If that is true, let’s stop thinking about transition as a decision and more as an intervention. I suppose this distinction has become more and more clear in my work with transgender youth and how different their process can be. Adults have the tendency to overthink everything, and so sometimes my work involves sitting with a client while they agonize over the “decision” to transition. Some of this includes not just IF they are going to transition but when, how, etc. It is somewhat different with transgender children. Because of their luxury of not yet having a brain trained to overthink things, they typically know just what they want to do about it. It is their parents/guardians, those in charge of their care, who typically stall the transition. They want their child to be SURE. They want their child to know all aspects of transition prior to “deciding to do so”. I have heard this statement so many times: “I just want him to be sure he knows what he’s getting into if he decides to transition” or “I just want to be sure she is mature enough to make a decision like this”, and “I told her if you’re going to make this decision I just want you to know what the consequences could be”. (If you have made a statement like this in my office, please know it is not about you specifically. I have heard these things too many times to count or to connect to one person or family. 🙂 ) Because children don’t overthink things, being transgender and transitioning* are fluidly, easily connected. Let’s try not to infringe our overthinking brains upon them. Let’s start looking at transitioning as an intervention, not a decision. If your child had a medical condition, and a doctor recommended an intervention that could make their lives a whole lot better, or potentially save your child’s life, would you put the decision on the child? Would you present the options to your child but then warn them to consider the financial implications, social implications, family implications on said intervention? Of course not. (For a similar concept covered in a different blog post, see “Oxygen”.) We are so used to warning our children of possible outcomes that we forget some are natural consequences to a circumstance, not something to avoid at all costs. Will there possibly be difficult times ahead for the transgender child who opts to transition? Yes. Will you be there to help them through it? Yes. Given how debilitating and dangerous dysphoria can be, I can assure you any stumbling blocks post-transition will likely be easier to overcome by the distress of not transitioning at all. Adults reading this who identify as transgender, what if you were to think of transitioning as an intervention instead of a decision? Would you give yourself more permission to act on how you feel and what you know you need? Would you be more willing to assert what you need from others, knowing this is something that is necessary for you?

*I want to clarify that for the sake of this blog post I am speaking of transition in fairly binary terms, that is someone transitioning from male to female, or female to male. However, plenty of people do not identify within this binary; some are gender fluid, some are genderqueer, some are bi-gender, some are agender, some are gender nonconforming. For these individuals, the “transition” and “intervention” may be somewhat different. It could just include having those around them understand them better, possibly change pronouns, and advocate for the use of proper treatment and pronouns. Those in charge of their care/their loved ones should also look at their stated preferences as interventions to how they feel, not “decisions” they are making to be a certain way gender-wise.

Feelin’ The Love: Watching the journey of parents

My work with my transgender clients often includes not only the transgender individual, but the family as well. As important as it is to be an advocate for my clients, it’s also essential I understand the process that is being undertaken by the loved ones of the individual. (See “It’s Hard for Moms”.) Many parents of my adult clients are very resistant to the idea of their “child” being transgender or transitioning, and are initially quite wary of me for supporting this venture. Typically with my adult clients I only hear of the resistance expressed by the parents without witnessing it directly. In session, I am privy to the intense longing of the individual for support and acceptance by their parents, no matter how old they may be.  This is yet another reminder that unconditional love from parents is crucial at every stage in one’s life.

When I work with parents of transgender youth, it’s a little different story. These parents are willingly seeking gender therapy for their children, searching for answers and a roadmap for this unforeseen journey. Fear and resistance are often still a part of the work, but there’s so much more than that.

I have seen parents evolve in the journey with their transgender/gender nonconforming child from tearful and terrified to peaceful and resolute. I’ve seen parents give their child space to express themselves in a way that allows the child to be honored and embraced, even if the parents are scared by the possible ramifications. Some parents accept very quickly while others fight to hang onto what feels safer and more familiar. Some become advocates, others are willing to share their stories, still others remain very private; all of them intensely love their child. To see a parent accept something they never wanted or saw coming is a source of true inspiration for me, and a very touching part of the work I do. I respect and admire these parents more than they know.

The passion I sense from these parents for their child can be expressed in all sorts of ways: fear, anger, pride, doubt, guilt, sadness, grief, bravery; the list goes on and on. I’ve always loved children, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I could truly understand the passionate love a parent has for their child. The kind of love that makes you willing to do anything for another’s happiness, willing to sacrifice, fight, and conquer all for the sake of your little person even in the face of your own anxiety or trepidation.

Sometimes I feel hot tears spring to my eyes* in the middle of one of these sessions with parents, especially with those early in the journey. What brings on these tears? Is it sadness? No. It’s not quite something I can explain. It feels like a mixture of compassion, inspiration, and awe at the intense love I’m witnessing, along with honor that I get to be a part of such a life-changing journey.  I’m definitely feeling the love, and in the end, I know the child will too.

*Not a robot.