Talking with your Children about Gender Identity Issues
Emblazoned with various social, moral and religious opinions, disclosing and discussing one's transgendered status with adolescent and adult children is frequently one of the most difficult issues brought up by clients in my counseling practice. Because our western society is polarized with gender and sexual stereotypes transgendered individuals survive relatively closeted familially and socially making these issues all the more difficult to talk about.
During our individual exploration of transgendered issues we must decide how much of a public face we wish to reveal to others. Additionally we must decide which values we wish to incorporate into our private lives and ultimately extend to children. Agreed, every parent wishes to provide their child with safety, nurturance, education and the opportunity to build self and social acceptance skills.
Firsthand before disclosing to any relationship of importance, establish the facts, understand how being transgendered affects your life and theirs. Talk with your counselor regarding disclosure options and relevancy. In some cases not disclosing or limited disclosure may be optimum. One frequently overlooked necessity for those who are unable to disclose, is dealing with the feelings surrounding having to keep something hidden from family members, this is another subject that would be appropriate to bring into discussion with your counselor.
If at all possible, choose disclosure when you feel revealing will increase the quality of the relationship.
Being able to speak effectively about gender issues is important. Defining the distinction between sexual and gender identity is a frequently misunderstood process, as well these definitions are commonly misrepresented socially through stereotypes. However, explaining the distinction does not have to be difficult. Sexual Identity or Orientation basically indicates where sexual attraction may lay, whether it be toward the same, opposite or both sexes. Gender Identity basically indicates an internal sense of self and an outward presentation of masculinity or femininity, not necessarily reflecting one's biological gender which is assigned at birth. To simply carry these concepts a step further, Primary Identity reflects an individual's needs in both gender and sexual identification although experience and presentation may not always reflect what actually exists on the inside.
Young children in particular may have some difficulty grasping gender and sexual concepts, thus disclosing with moderation is best. One age relevant option I encourage, is beginning easy-to-understand disclosure when children begin asking gender-related or "personal" questions. "Daddy, why are you wearing Mommy's lipstick and earrings when other Daddies don't," is a pretty obvious indication the child is curious about your behavior.
Because initial comprehension of gender and sexual identity concepts may prove difficult for children, reframing this information into "safe dialogue" is a valuable disclosure tool If creative, you may wish to create a story disclosing healthy gender concepts. Sadly few fairy tales implement such important information. A wonderful alternative I reviewed and recommend is the children's story Fluff the Bunny, which easily understood by children and adults alike, beautifully illustrates Fluff's search for healthy experience and individuality. (Note: The Fluff the Bunny book may be ordered for $12.00, postpaid, Creative Design Services, POB 1263, King of Prussia, PA 19406)
It may be anticipated that not all adolescent, teen and adult children are going to be immediately accepting of your transgendered phenomena. Not pushing the issue on an uninterested or resistant individual has its merits. Sometimes just being able to talk about the issue, if the child wants to, is enough. Finally, one vital disclosure point which needs to be emphasized here and in conversation with your child is...
Regardless of age, the transgendered issue is the parent's issue, not the child's, and that your love for the child remains the same.
As a rule of thumb, if it can in any way be avoided, I do not encourage parents to lie about their gender identity issues when questioned by adolescent or adult children. There is a big difference between choosing not to disclose one's transgendered identity and lying in response to questions originating from a child who sees something going on. In the short term lying may cover up the discomfort you may feel surrounding disclosing your transgendered issues. However in the long run, lying may solely serve to foster disrespect toward a parent's inability to discuss self-acceptance issues. Lying also serves in perpetrating the myth that gender and sexuality are somehow dirty or shameful. One option I suggest for parents who have inquisitive children, yet are not ready for disclosure, is to make an appointment with the child and deal with the issue when you are ready.
One important point easily overlooked in some counseling processes during discussion of child/gender-identified parent issues is the examination of the level of support offered by a non-transgendered parent or partner. All to often I have heard of a non-transgendered parent using gender issues as ammunition during disputes or as a means of estranging the child from the transgendered parent. Sadly as much persuading as the transgendered parent might attempt, it is not infrequent that the non-transgendered parent may remain inflexible in their opinions. Whatever the case may be it is not in the best interest of any child to have one parent undermining the love another. I strongly encourage transgendered parents to remind themselves and their partners that their first responsibility as parents is to provide love for their adolescent, teen and adult children.
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This Website Created ...... Saturday, 20. May 2006
Last Updated: Tuesday, 22. January 2008
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