As we all come into the world, biology immediately assigns a role identifying “who we are” by gender. For transgender people, their personal sense of being male or female, or gender identity, is opposite or in conflict with the sex they were assigned at birth. The term transgender covers a spectrum of concepts including people who identify as a blend of both male and female or persons of indeterminate or non-binary gender. Transgender has to do with an individual’s gender conception of themselves, independent of sexual orientation which refers to romantic and sexual attraction. According to experts, transgender people can be straight, gay or bisexual. For people affected by issues associated with gender identity, the experience is very individual and experts believe that many complex factors based in biology and the brain may contribute to the state of being transgender.
Communicating gender identity through behavior, mannerisms/body characteristics/voice, clothing and hairstyle is a large part of self-expression. For a transgender person, “coming out” means allowing others to know your authentic self and actively expressing and living your gender preference. For some people, these tendencies begin very early in life. For others, a lifetime may be spent questioning gender identity. Sometimes, transgender people are not obvious. Anxiety about gender role, depression, difficult social interactions, discrimination and a sense of “not fitting in” are common.
Those who have been on the personal journey, express caution to parents who suspect their child may be heading towards a gender identity crisis. When parents are concerned about a child with gender-nonconforming tendencies, consulting with qualified mental health and medical specialists in gender issues is a good first step. Exploring all options and allowing significant time for personal growth is important.
How can you be supportive of transgender people, especially children?
- Listen to your child, and allow time to ensure this is not a “phase” that may pass.
- Avoid trying to force more gender-conforming behavior, it may create more distress. Be patient with a child who is questioning their gender identity and support their self-esteem.
- Listen to “how” the transgender person refers to themselves and use that term and pronoun. Respect the “name” the person is using currently, which may be different from their birth name.
- Address a child’s needs and ensure their safety by working with school administrators and a qualified medical professional. Be familiar with the U.S. Department of Education’s Policy on transgender students under Title IX and the policies of your child’s school.
- Don’t make assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation or individual experiences, everyone is different. Not all people who appear androgynous are transgender. Not all transgender people desire hormonal treatments or have transition plans.
- Seek out peer support from other families of gender-nonconforming children.
- Access resources to learn more about transgender people and supportive organizations.
- Learn more about the Human Rights Campaign Project – welcomingschools.org
At the Law Office of Jeanne L. Coleman we are sensitive to the individual needs of our clients. We have experience serving a range of cultural diversity among our clientele, including cases involving LGBT issues. For trusted guidance in family law matters, contact us at 813-253-2820.