Tell me if this sounds like your inner monologue, “Did I handle that correctly? Was I supportive enough? Does she-oops! I mean, do they feel supported? Am I doing this right? Does this mean we need to go clothing shopping?”
First of all.. I want you to take a second and take a deep breath.
You handled that situation as best you could in the moment and if it didn’t go as you wanted it to, you have time to pause, apologize, and try again.
Secondly, I want you to put all the information about identity, transitioning, gender, and sexuality, into a big mental box and label it “Not Applicable”, because, the truth is, unless your youth told you something directly about themselves, the rest are all assumptions and may not apply to your youth’s incredibly individualized process. I know this is no simple task, but the next step will help.
Once you have closed the box, (it may need a few layers of emotional and mental duct tape to keep it closed) start creating and establishing the space to talk to your youth directly. They may need some time, but saying something along these lines, is a wonderful place to start,
“I do not want to assume anything about your gender expression or experience, can we talk so that I can understand what this means for you, specifically? When works for you?”
By saying this you are reiterating that you care, and you are establishing that you want to learn to see them as they see themselves, instead of as you might assume based on stereotypes and other people’s experiences.
And truthfully? How they see themselves now might be very similar to how they have always seen themselves. It is important to remember that your child is still the same person, they have just found new language to describe their experience and, while this can be a nerve-wracking process from the outside, in my experience, your child may just be relieved and excited to have found a more accurate way of telling the world who they are. Here are a few things to consider:
Step One: Pronouns, Names, and Practice
Firstly, ask your youth what their pronouns are currently and if they would like you to start addressing them by a different name. There is potential they do not want anything to change, or they may want some stuff to change but only with people they deem appropriate, safe, or part of this transformation. It is entirely possible they may not want to use different pronouns or, on the other hand, pronouns you have never heard. Both are valid and will take time and practice to get used to. The best practice when you mess up (and we all do), is to say oops, correct yourself and move on. Like this “...He, oops, Ze wants to get a cat next year.” Continually saying sorry or expressing how hard it is for you, although accurate to your experience, often makes the person feel like they are a burden for making you learn something new. It is a tricky situation all around, but having clear communication, some practice, and a genuine desire to support them is all you need to do to get it right.
Step Two: External Representation and Expression
Secondly, personal identification is not necessarily tied to external presentation. This means that your youth has no obligation to change their external representation of themselves.
Contrarily, they may begin or continue to mold their external self-expression into something that more accurately represents who they are. This might mean a new shopping trip is in your future, additionally, a haircut, and complex metamorphosis of identity may await your youth. If they feel uncomfortable with their body and it’s societal associations with their assigned gender at birth (AGAB) they may wish to purchase a binder (for flattening the chest) a packer (for… “un-flattening” the groin), breast prosthetics or other temporary body applications. They may also wish to begin the process of corrective surgery.
Step Three: Beautiful, Messy Joy
Lastly, just like step one, take a deep breath and consciously try to put aside all your previous assumptions. Gender expression, identity, and self-identification can be a messy, complex, and intense situation, but that is the price that many people pay when they decide to put aside personal assumptions and pressures and begin to live authentically. Even at its messiest, the goal is unapologetic, shivers-down-your-arms, raw-with-happiness, joy and they have chosen to include you in the process. Take a deep breath, put away any assumptions, and ask your youth how you can help along the messiest, most beautiful, journey I have ever seen.
Good luck my friend, and thank you for your dedication to your youth. They are lucky to have you, and they probably know it.
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Mallory Woods Youth Coaching was formerly branded as Into the Woods Coaching.
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- sex equality
- gender equality
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