At Empower Counselling Services Winnipeg we offer blogs such as this one as a resource to parents, LGBTQIA2S+ communities, transgender folks, and to folks who simply want a safe space to explore their gender identity in a non-judgmental place. And we’re so glad you’ve stopped by today.
If you’ve been trying to find nearby transgender counselling supports, we’d be more than happy to explore how we can help.
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Feeling Uncomfortable in The Body
What makes someone feel they were 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 individuals to not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
What is it, exactly, that determines whether an individual thinks of themselves as male, female, or neither, or something else entirely? According to some very limited and early understanding, it seems that a possible answer to this question may lie 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, it is believed that an area of the brain that has to do with sexuality—the hypothalamus—is larger in males than females and smaller in male-to-female transgender individuals’ brains.
There are also reports of chemical differences in female and male individuals’ brains, though there is still confusion as to how these differences, as well as size difference, relate to gender identity.
Studies have also suggested that connections between brain areas may differ between genders, yet scientists struggle to interpret these findings in a statistically meaningful way.
So, while we are a little closer to understanding this complex topic and understanding how gender identity is determined, there is still confusion and much to learn.
How You Can Support Your Transgender Child, Friend, or Family Member
When a person identifies as a different gender than the gender they were assigned at birth, many answers often don’t fall into place immediately. There isn’t one “correct” way to respond to your friend or family member who comes out, though there are many “incorrect” ways to handle it.
What NOT To Do
First, let’s start with some DON’TS when your child, friend, family member, or someone you know is coming out as transgender. While it is normal to make some mistakes in the process—since you are learning something new—it is reasonable for transgender folks to expect us all to try and do our very best.
Here are some don’ts, adopted from the University of California’s Trans Ally: Do’s and Don’ts
- call them transgendered. This term indicates that something happened to make a person gendered differently, which denies the person the dignity of being born as transgender
- out a transgender person as such without their explicit permission
- otherize them. A transgender person is as awesome and normal and wonderful and amazing and lovable as you, and as awesome and normal and wonderful and amazing and lovable as any cisgender person
- assume a person’s sex or gender identity based on appearance
- refer to a transgender person as “it,” or as a “he-she” or “she-he,” unless the individual has explicitly asked to be identified with those terms
- put a transgender person’s chosen name, chosen pronouns, or self-identification in quotation marks. Quotation marks convey a belief that the person’s chosen name, pronoun, or identity is ultimately invalid or false, or at the very least questionable
- ask a transgender person about their body, genitalia, or sex-lives in any situation where you would not ask any other person about such intimate details
- assume that, because you cannot visually identify anyone in a room as transgender, there are no transgender people present
Some Helpful Things TO Do
First, a quick shortlist:
- Accept. Accept. Accept. Did I say accept yet? This truly cannot be overstated. If you accept a cisgender person, accept a transgender person in the same way
- Work hard to get their preferred name and/or pronouns right
- Educate yourself on gender identity issues
- Examine, and then challenge, your prejudices. Ask yourself, “what about this is so offensive to me?” Or, “is this hurting them, or someone else?” Or, “what are my cultural/religious/other views that are contributing to my judgmental attitude?”
- If you don’t know how to be supportive, ask friends, do your research
- View and treat them as an awesome and normal and amazing and lovable person, because that’s what they are
Respect Their Chosen Name and Pronouns
Too often, friends and family look down at transgender persons and/or get awkward about their chosen name and/or pronouns. Ask yourself, “what about this do I find offensive or awkward?” Examine your judgments closely and work as hard as you can to accept their chosen name and pronouns. Practice saying their name and identities in the shower, during your morning walk, and yes, when you’re with the person.
Accept Their Identity
To be rejected by their friends and family can be profoundly damaging to transgender persons. Most people that come out as transgender 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 them, accept them as their transgender identity.
Follow Their Lead
Transgender people are individuals. They are normal persons like any cisgender person. Transgender people are diverse. Not all will wear the same type of clothing. Not all will want to make the full transition. Don’t assume what your friend’s or family member’s journey will or should look like. Let them lead and you follow and support them.
Don’t Mis-Gender Your Transgender Child, Friend, or Family Member
It is extremely important that you show love and respect 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 mis-gender or dead-name them. Let them know you’re trying. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you will remember if you genuinely try.
You may find it very helpful to speak with a therapist during this time. Your therapist can help facilitate good communication between you and your child, friend, family member as well as help you navigate these new waters.
If you’d like to explore support and counselling therapy options, please be in touch with me. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.
Would love to hear from you even if you’re not ready to make a commitment to an appointment. Feel free to call or email me today to request a FREE 15-minute phone or video consultation.