Home for the Holidays Edition
From A to T: a new, semi-regular feature in which I'll address questions from youth and adolescents who identify as trans*, transgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender expansive, androgynous, agender, bigender, demigender, or otherwise nonbinary, as well as from families, educators, school counselors, therapists, or any other allies.
We know that younger people in the trans* community -- our community, my community -- can be especially vulnerable. There is awareness, but confusion. It is difficult to know where to seek guidance. I'll do my best.
Home for the Holidays: My Family Doesn't Get My Genderfluidity! And The GiftGiving Guide for Parents of Transgender Youth!
Obligatory pseudo-legal disclaimer: These are for general guidance only. I'm a therapist, but probably not your therapist. Please use the better judgment I know you have, and decide for yourself if my comments work for you. If you need more specific information, seek out a therapist or counselor.
Feel free to email questions at Laura@LauraAJacobs.com so I can write future columns.
You can find other information about me at my website: www.LauraAJacobs.com.
Question #1: I'm 16 and genderfluid. My family doesn't get me. How do I survive the holidays?
A lot of deep breaths.
Holidays are always tense, and it sucks that you have to accommodate everyone else. Grandma doesn't get the pronouns right and uncle Fred inevitably says something offensive. Mom wants you to wear a dress. You're anxious presenting as your identified gender or because you can't present as your identified gender. And your family barely understands trans* people, let alone those who don't neatly fit gender binaries. It can be terrifying.
But there are things you can do.
Identify allies. Is there someone at the event you can spend time with, or turn to if you're overwhelmed? A parent, sibling, sensitive aunt, or older queer cousin? If not, try to prearrange support from a friend you can text your frustrations to throughout the day.
Speak with your parents beforehand. Discuss how they can assist, and coordinate how you and they might address the predictable, awkward questions from grandpa George. What is safe answering and what seems unsafe? Everyone understanding the boundaries is critical.
Or maybe you can use the occasion as a teaching moment. If you feel secure, maybe now, when everyone is together, is the right time to explain to aunt Sarah what gender identity actually is.
Do you even want to be out? If being open triggers too much fear, it is completely fair to not reveal your internal gender just yet.
And if all else fails, avoid. Eat, play with your phone, read a book, pretend to do homework. The day will be over soon.
Question B: My daughter told me she was really a boy a few weeks ago. It's been hard, I'm VERY confused, but I'm learning. I wanted to buy her something that shows I'm supportive, but don't know what to do. Also, not everyone in the family knows yet. Help!
First... congratulations on your child trusting you. Many youth feel alone and so conceal their emotions, giving rise to depression, anxiety, and lifelong shame. And countless are stigmatized, even by those closest. That you have a warm enough relationship to have open communication is a wonderful beginning.
Also, it's encouraging that you want to be there for [him]. (I'm guessing your child prefers male pronouns, but I don't want to be presumptuous.) One factor that most aids a transitioning adolescent is family support, which can come in many forms... respecting their choice of name and pronouns, allowing them to dress as their identified gender (who they feel themselves to be) around the home, interceding with school officials or extended family, and assisting with resources including information, support groups, therapists, conferences, and other services.
And sometimes they just need a hug from mom or dad.
I have two thoughts. Holidays can be devastating for a youth who feels invalidated, especially when distant relatives give presents your [son] might find inappropriate, and so a holiday gift demonstrating that you recognize [him] as male would be powerful. A piece of male clothing. A book or other material on transgender issues. An IOU for a chest binder that he would select for himself. It might feel awkward for you to purchase these for someone you've regarded as your daughter, but the validation would be profound.
I also understand that you don't know how to give your [son] such a gift without outing [him] to others, but not all gifts need to be public. If your ritual involves "lets all exchange presents in front of the fire", you could offer the gift privately in the kitchen or a bedroom, possibly even before others arrive. You and [he] would share a 'wink-wink' bond that he could retain within during an otherwise emotionally trying day.
If your family does another form of celebration, or doesn't have the financial resources to do the 'Hallmark' holiday, a simple message is more than enough. [He] will likely be deeply affected by a card acknowledging [him] as your [son], and may keep it with him to recall your love and support. A gesture need not be expensive to be compelling.
A great resource if you are feeling especially desperate:
Trans Lifeline- (877) 565-8860.
That about wraps it up for this installment. Feel free to email questions that I can answer in the future.
Happy, merry ChristmiChannuKwanzmikah, Winter Solstice, New Year's, or atheist time of reflection.