You need to know – I write this as a parent of non- binary teenager, which means that it might not come from a place you are at, but it comes from one parent who has struggled to another.
Our family story, like yours, began a long time ago. I gave birth to a female and a male; 18 years later I now have one that identifies as a male and another who doesn’t identify as either gender. People have different names and boxes for it – in our house, it’s called being ‘non- binary’ or ‘trans’.
Because there is no unique manual that goes with your unique child and your unique parenting journey; no –one will have the same set of circumstances as you; no family will have the same set of rituals, routines and quirks as you; no other family will have a story that matches yours. What happens in your home is yourfamily story.
For some families their transitional story becomes apparent at a very young age – perhaps a child who identifies as a different gender than the one they were born with; perhaps a child who chooses not to be gender stereotyped at all…or perhaps something in between and you aren’t too sure where things will land yet! All of them are ok – there are in fact 63 different gender types, so don’t be surprised if it all takes a while to get your head around!
There is a clear correlation between gender questioning and poor mental health.
We saw for ourselves the tension of ‘gender dysphoria’ – living as one gender but having the sex organs of another. The rates of self-harm and suicide amongst those struggling to live in a body they don’t feel comfortable in, are very high, about 50% of gender dysphoric young people will self-harm, with 59% considering suicide. We saw first-hand the impact of those statistics in our child’s life as they knew what it felt like to live in the confusion of not knowing what felt wrong, but knowing something did.
Sadly, self-harm, anorexia and suicidal thoughts are ‘normal’ for teenagers feeling unable to name their emotions relating to gender confusion; feeling scared of rejection; anxious about ‘coming out’ and fearful of bullying. According to the NHS over half of gender dysphoric teenagers report bullying, it’s quite possible the remaining half haven’t felt able to report it.
Questioning your gender is different from questioning your sexuality but, it would seem, they often begin the same. For many young people, they first assume that maybe they are gay. They may live with that feeling for a while until that is then questioned as it still doesn’t fit their mental, physical and emotional needs.
The development of self- identity in teenage years is key to personal and social growth as teenagers find their place in a peer group that suits their values, identity and preferences. So, what happens if you don’t ‘fit in’?
Isolation easily leads to depression, which in turn, sparks deteriorating mental health. The physical signs of poor mental health are not obvious for some time as, outwardly, there might not be any indication of the inward emotional turmoil.
If your child is questioning their gender or sexuality, the most important thingyou can do is to support them. Perhaps keep any thoughts or opinions to yourself (you will have them I’m sure, and they are valid, but perhaps in the early stages your child needs you to be their advocate rather than anything else? ); outwardly show love, compassion and make home a place of security, because, very often your child will be facing discrimination on a daily basis outside.
Secondly get in touch with these amazing people: https://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk
They offer support for your child and for parents through local meet ups and online support sessions. Breaking the isolation will help your child’s mental health a great deal.
It will also help you – being the parent of a gender or sexuality questioning young person may make you feel a little more isolated too – Mermaids do great parents support too, consider joining up?