Parents need to look within, support siblings, and navigate the wider community in your journey with your gender expansive child
Examining Your Gender Story
Everyone has a gender story, including parents. Every person in our society has been affected by gender norms, either positively or negatively, in their lives. If we make our gender stories part of our family conversations, then gender identity and expression becomes about all of us, not just about the one child who is “different.”
Gender norms and expectations are different now than when we were growing up and will continue to change. Many teens and young adults today define their genders in ways we didn’t even know existed. It is important for parents to accept this new frontier of gender identity and gender expression and to take the time to think about how our children’s experiences relate to our own experiences growing up. What assumptions do we make about gender based on how we were raised and the messages we received? Are these the only way to think about gender? How have gender norms affected us in ways we do or don’t want them to affect our kids? These questions will help us in understanding our child’s gender story, as well as our own, which can only help us be better parents.
Our exercise for parents, "My Gender Journey" takes you through these and other questions to reflect on gender in your life.
Supporting All of the Children in the Family
Sometimes the gender diversity of a family member can create a sense of perpetual crisis in a family. Because of society’s discomfort with gender diversity, we may unconsciously bond with our Cisgender children more than our gender-expansive child. By doing this, we may inadvertently place siblings in a position of choosing loyalties to us or to their gender-expansive sibling. Alternately, we may focus on the exceptional needs of a gender-expansive child, overlooking the sibling as a result.
A sibling may act out in an effort to gain our attention, possibly in ways that are hurtful to their gender-expansive sibling. For example, the sibling may “out” or disclose personal information about the gender-expansive sibling at inappropriate times or in a disrespectful manner.
Gender diverse children may be teased and bullied, even by their siblings. Siblings may participate because they feel pressure from their peers to ostracize or be critical of their gender-expansive sibling. On the other hand, siblings often feel obliged to defend their gender-expansive sibling from bullying by others. Siblings may be teased and bullied themselves.
One strategy to avoid the division between gender-expansive kids and their siblings is to make sure we discuss gender as it relates to all people (see Examining Our Own Gender Stories above). This not only avoids treating the gender-expansive child as if they are the “problem,” but also helps support siblings in their experiences as well.
Navigating Religious Communities
Depending on the religion or religious community, acceptance of gender diversity can vary tremendously. It can be helpful to take stock of your religious community’s influences. List the overt messages and messengers about gender and Sexual orientation issues, as well as how LGBT people tend to be characterized. You might be able to identify people who you perceive as “safe.” Approach these members first about your situation and seek their counsel on how to approach others.
It is also important to remember that gender diversity cuts across all racial, cultural and religious lines. With sensitive exploration, you may find people in your religious community who are more tolerant than others. Some people find they can educate their present religious community about gender. Other families find they need to seek new religious communities that are more welcoming of their family. In the process of supporting your child, you may well lose important people in your life, but more than likely you will also gain some important new people to replace them.