Author, Stacy Ruse LPC, EMDRIA Approved Consultant & DBT Certified Therapist
What makes someone feel they have been born into the wrong body? Gender identity is a prominent topic these days thanks to the transgender movement, yet many people are still uncertain about what causes this issue.
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, there is still confusion and much to learn.
How Can Parents Help Their Transgender Child?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, 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 and possible rejection and isolation?
Accept Their IdentityTo be rejected by their parents can be profoundly damaging to a child. 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 LeadTransgender people are individuals. Not all will wear the same type of clothing. Not all will want to make the 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 ChildUndoubtedly it will be hard to say goodbye to 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 right gender and by the name they now choose to go by, if you slip up, simply apologize. But don’t intentionally misgender or dead-name them.
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 treatment options, please be in touch.
By: Jordan Thurman, MSW, LISW-S
I have naturally curly hair. I am the only one in my immediate family that has such hair, which made it very hard for them to understand my hair care. I remember my grandmother trying to brush my hair while I screamed and then cried when I looked in the mirror at the frizzy mess before me. They had no idea what to do with it, and as a consequence, neither did I. I was taken to hair salons that would spend two hours trying to straighten my hair after they trimmed it, only for my hair to instantly curl back up the minute it was washed.
As I grew up and muddled my way through trying to discover how to best care for my hair, I found myself able to locate salons that didn’t attempt to straighten my hair, but that was really it. No one really noticed the unique needs of my hair. It wasn’t until recently, I decided I was going to go to a hair salon that specializes in curl care. It was such a unique and wonderful experience for me. I felt understood and seen for the needs I had, and everything was all customized to me. I was able to be educated on things to better help my hair, and I left with a sense of pride in this part of me. I felt more confident and empowered.
Why do I share that story on a blog post about Pride Month? The answer is simple: to help us recognize the differences between tolerance and affirming and why it is important to understand these differences. Many already know that intolerance is a bad thing. However, we think it’s enough to just say, “Oh you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community? Cool!” The reality is that this is far from enough.
To start, we need to look at what tolerance is. If you were to do a quick Google search of the word “tolerance,” you would find that it is defined as the willingness to tolerate something “in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” It is often described as an ability to endure something painful or unenjoyable. The essence of tolerance in the LGBTQ+ community is this: it sends a message that the individual makes us uncomfortable. There are many people out there that will go, “I’m okay with you being gay or whatever, but I would prefer you to not discuss that.”
Imagine being on the receiving end of that for just a minute. Imagine going to a doctor, going on a date, or just any encounter with a person where you start talking about something important to you. Maybe you bring up your family, your job, a hobby, or anything else you love and enjoy. As soon as you bring that up, the person you are talking to becomes visibly uncomfortable. Two things would likely happen: 1. You would never bring up that part of you that is essential to you and keep a wall up or 2. You will make efforts to avoid seeing this person again.
Many health care professionals, including therapists, fall into this category of tolerance citing that they do not believe it is necessary for treatment. These professionals are often left wondering why their patients stopped showing up to appointments despite doing what they believed was effective treatment for their patient’s needs. The reality is that a clinician in this mindset did more harm to a patient by promoting a sense of shame and guilt. As mental health professionals, it is important for us to remember we are to be culturally competent clinicians who embrace a comprehensive, biopsychosocial approach that meets the individual needs of a patient seeking services. When there is an aspect of a patient’s identity or culture that is not
welcomed into the time together because it makes the clinician uncomfortable, then that clinician has failed to uphold best practice standards.
The definition of affirming is simple: offering someone emotional support or encouragement. That’s like Therapy 101, isn’t it? We know taking this approach is what can help our patients believe that they are capable of growth. An affirming approach with the LGBTQ+ patient is an approach that invites that part of their identity to be part of the conversation with welcome arms. “I would love to hear more about your relationship. How long have you two been together?” “I go by Jordan, and my pronouns are she/her/hers. What name and pronouns do you go by?” In these moments, we can show we welcome that part. This is a place you can talk about that piece of you and what it means. This is important because as therapists, we should recognize that many systems can contribute to stressors as well as protective factors and resources.
The harmful culture of tolerance and the effectiveness of affirmation is evident in research. In 2014, a study conducted Durso and Meyer found that 39.3% of bisexual men, 32.6% of bisexual women, 10% of gay men, and 12.9% of lesbians did not share their sexual orientation with health care providers. Another article written in 2015 by Sabin, Riskind, and Nosek found that stigma, lack of cultural sensitivity, and reluctance to address sexuality may hamper effectiveness of care. A study in 2006 by Steele, Tinmouth, and Lu found that positivity and inquiry about sexual identity led to disclosure, and disclosure led to regular health care use.
Tolerance alone is not enough and could potentially cause more harm, particularly in a health care setting as it could lead to patients disengaging from services. If we want to keep patients engaged in treatment, we must embrace an attitude of affirmation. If we want to be a better ally to our friends and family, we must embrace an attitude of affirmation.
Durso, L. E., & Meyer, I. H. (2013). Patterns and predictors of disclosure of sexual orientation to healthcare providers among lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 10(1), 35-42.
Sabin, J. A., Riskind, R. G., & Nosek, B. A. (2015). Health care providers’ implicit and explicit attitudes toward lesbian women and gay men. American journal of public health, 105(9), 1831-1841.
Steele, L. S., Tinmouth, J. M., & Lu, A. (2006). Regular health care use by lesbians: a path analysis of predictive factors. Family Practice, 23(6), 631-636.
Jordan works with a variety of clients, but has a passion for working with women, the LGBTQIA+ community, survivors of trauma, and individuals who have experienced loss. She specializes in working with new parents, as she is certified in perinatal mental health, and she has specific training in working with perinatal and infant loss.
Author, Stacy Ruse LPC, EMDRIA Approved Consultant & DBT Certified Therapist
The world is calling for more inclusive and compassionate ways to communicate and understand the full spectrum of gender, sexuality, and relationship preferences. Let's explore what "inclusion" means - it is about welcoming, accepting, and advancing a diverse mix of peoples.
It is imperative that as a parent, teacher, counselor, or anyone caring for children that we expand our knowledge and scope of understanding to the wide and beautiful spectrum that exists in terms of topics on gender, inclusivity, sexuality, and LGBTQIA+.
And yes, it is changing fast, with new belief systems and language coming all the time. At times it may seem daunting when you worry about knowing everything or getting it right, yet when we relax into changes we can feel the excitement of witnessing the broadening happening across the world. And our children will have so many more opportunities to love and accept themselves and others, and all parts of them, rather than having to ignore, suppress, question, and shame natural feelings, urges, questions, and seeking and exploration behaviors.
If you or a loved one has experience suppression, oppression, confusion, shame, and/or other traumas around sexuality, gender, inclusivity, etc., compassionate and inclusive counseling from qualified licensed professionals can help.
Many people fear changes, and have anxiety children will be hurt, confused, or judged. And are scared to talk about these subjects at all, fearing something bad will happen and yet, in truth, it is quite the opposite. It allows children and the upcoming generations to find a greater sense of acceptance in their own sense of self and authenticity in the world.
If you need coaching or want an inclusive setting to have healthy conversations, counseling can help. Also, it is important that if you have a child or teen who having difficulty with any of these topics and more, counseling with a licensed professional can be a crucial step
Our younger generations, and ALL who have for too long been ostracized, marginalized, and judged are speaking out and demanding that we have difficult and real conversations that promote change. This includes with each other, and with our children.
As a parent, caregiver, or teacher, it can be difficult to know the right thing to say when kids question what we deem to be adult topics. Broaching topics of sexuality can be awkward for both parties; however, it is a necessary and very important conversation to have. And it is crucial to have some knowledge and understanding and to approach it with an open heart. It takes willingness, openness, and compassion.
Want to learn more skills, develop great empathy and compassion for self and others, and become more mindful. Try our DBT Skills Groups for adults or teens.
When it comes to talking about gender and sexuality, and the wide spectrum that continues to expand in preferences, children should be given truthful age-appropriate information so they can better understand and empathize with themselves and with others. Regardless of whether your child identifies now or in the future with LGBTQIA+, having a conversation about LGBTQIA+ issues will help reduce prejudice while teaching compassion and empathy.
This is powerful, as it can, directly and indirectly, reduce tensions, anxiety, social awkwardness, interpersonal difficulties, and enhance wellbeing, inclusivity, and acceptance.
When to Talk
It’s never too late to start a conversation on issues of sexuality with your children. While there may be initial discomfort and reluctance from preadolescent children and older, ultimately having these discussions with your children will help them develop a sense of safety and security with you, while it teaches them tolerance and acceptance.
For young children, the age of 5 is generally a good time to begin discussing these topics by sharing some basic information with them.
What to Say
For very young children, keep the conversation simple and focus on basic concepts. When talking about sexuality, you can explain to your child that just as a man and a woman can fall in love, so can a man with a man, and a woman with a woman. When talking about transgender individuals, you can explain that how a person looks on the outside isn’t always how they feel on the inside. You can refer to the familiar adage about “not judging a book by its cover.”
Children should understand the basic concept that there are all kinds of people in this world, and that is what makes us all special and beautiful, like the colors in a rainbow. Allow the colors to be different, each one is amazing on its own and when combined to form a rainbow is magical.
Encourage them to ask you questions as they explore the world. Stay curious with children, they have a sense of wonder that we all need and should be encouraged and validated. Just as they see a rabbit for the first time, they ask "what is that"? This is from a place of curiosity and wonder, not judgment.
If we allow them to ask, explore, and provide back loving, truthful, age-appropriate, and compassionate feedback they will learn to engage in the world from this place. How powerful and wonderful is that?
Our own willingness, openness, and curiosity go a long way and will foster that in children. Or maybe it is the other way around, if we let them, they can foster it in us. Either way, it is transformative and healing.
Stay mindful, and be careful to not consciously, or unconsciously, give answers or communicate verbally or nonverbally in judgmental, confusing, and/or biased ways. Nor ignore a child's or your own curiosity. For mental health and wellbeing, you want to communicate in a way that celebrates all people. We all are and equally deserving of love, acceptance, and respect. And if we all treated each other, and ourselves, this way, what a world it would be.
The research shows it all starts with self-compassion, and it can totally transform us and the world around us. “Compassion is, by definition, relational.
Compassion literally means 'to suffer with,' which implies a basic mutuality in the experience of suffering. The emotion of compassion springs from the recognition that the human experience is imperfect.”
― Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
If this is difficult for you to do, due to what you have experienced in your life, please seek compassionate support. What happened to you and how you were communicated may have impacted you and left you judgmental, in pain, angry, or hateful. If you are mindful enough to recognize this and willing to explore it, wonderful. Please don't beat yourself up to more, or hate yourself more, as that created more of the problem in the world. Counseling can help, so you can move through pain, trauma, and open your heart to more wellness as well. This will help you and the children and others in your life tremendously.
Remember You Don’t Have to Know Everything
Your child may have questions that you can’t answer. It’s okay to admit to your child when you don’t know the right answer. This could be a discussion point for later after you’ve done some research, or it could be a good opportunity for you to learn from your child.
Take time to explore, ask others as well, stay humble and you will build a stronger relationship with yourself self and the children in your life.
Author, Stacy Ruse LPC, EMDRIA Approved Consultant, DBT Certified Therapist, IFS Intensively Trained
We can all make a difference, even in small ways, to help uplift, support, and be an ally for LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized communities.
We believe in empowering and advocating for ALL persons and beings and supporting marginalized groups by standing up against systemic bias and oppression for LGBTQIA+ and ultimately for everyone.
We believe in more inclusion, and that at the deepest level we are all connected. We open our hearts and creative energy centers to welcome a full spectrum of ways to identify with in terms of sexuality, gender, and beyond, including but not being limited to queer, intersex, asexual, pansexual, non-binary, and more.
We believe we are all connected, energy is fluid, and that we all are empowered to have our own unique ways of expressing ourselves. So it is best to be in the present and to have ways to describe what we experience creatively among one another, and if we learn to accept and love ourselves, we will love and accept others and vice versa.
Some Ways to Empower and Ally
Other ways you can help may include volunteering at shelters and participating in and/or donating to groups like the Trevor Project in providing national resources.
PFLAG (formerly known as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) connects parents, families, friends, and allies of LGBTQIA+ community members to support one another and the members of the LGBTQIA+ community members in their lives.
Looking for compassionate and supportive counseling services, Contact Us. Learn more about our services & our specialties or join one of our DBT Skills Groups! Check out our Trauma Talks YouTube Series & Blog
Read Article "How to talk to children About Gender, Inclusivity, Sexuality, and LGBTQIA+
Author, Stacy Ruse LPC, EMDRIA Approved Consultant, DBT Certified Therapist, IFS Intensively Trained. Stacy is a modern-day Light-Worker, Trauma-Crusader, Shame-Untangler & Star-Seeker.
Home for the Holidays…Or Not
For some, going home for the holidays is the most wonderful time of the year. But for others, it can be a mixture of stress, anxiety, excitement, fear, and a whole host of other emotions.
For members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the choice to go home for the holidays may hinge on whether they feel safe, accepted, and/or welcome to celebrate with their family of origin. For others, the choice may simply be to celebrate with their chosen family instead. Either way, developing a Cope Ahead Plan can be an effective way to navigate the holidays and keep your mental health intact.
4 Elements to Include in Your Cope Ahead Plan:
However and with whoever you celebrate this season, we wish you a happy and safe holidays!