By Michael Cox CSW – Youth Services Family Therapist
“My beautiful daughter was always so effeminate, and then one day she started dressing like a boy, cut her hair, withdrew from family and friends, and started using ace bandages to hide her bust. I wondered what happened to my little girl.”
“My family asked why I wasn’t uploading any recent photos of him…the truth is that I was confused and embarrassed by the way he looked.”
Many parents observe their child change their appearance as they navigate adolescence. For some teens this change may include coming out as transgender or gender non-conforming. Transgender is a term used to describe people for whom their biological sex doesn’t match their gender identity. For example, having male genitals and chest hair, yet identifying as a woman. Often the term transgender is abbreviated as Trans. A teen may identify as gender non-conforming, (GNC) meaning they don’t feel they fit in to a pre-set, male-female role. This information may be new to you and your teen, and it’s easy to find misconceptions online or through media. Below are the top three myths about transgender teens.
MYTH NUMBER ONE: “If my child really is transgender, they would have played with other toys, or dressed in other clothes as a toddler.”
REALITY: Some children perceive a difference in their biological sex and their gender from an early age, and insist on dressing in clothing which they feel better represents their gender identity. For many Trans or GNC youth, they do not know how to describe the differences in sex and gender identity until later in life. Openly identifying as Trans or GNC can be scary and not everyone is ready to show their true identity to the world by a certain age.
MYTH NUMBER TWO: “My teen is just confused.”
REALITY: Reconciling your biological sex and your gender identity is a no-brainer if they match up. Most of us don’t have to question this. If a teen IS confused about their gender identity, that may be a sign that things don’t match up for them the way it does for others. Asking questions, and learning about ourselves is a crucial part of adolescent development.
Many Trans and GNC teens are not confused about their gender identity. They haven’t had the privilege of being able to ignore this topic, and have given it considerable thought. As mentioned above, it takes tremendous courage to present your true self to the world, especially when teens are bullied and harassed for doing so. Being clear about your gender identity is an individual choice which can best be made from inside a loving, supportive environment.
MYTH NUMBER THREE: “Maybe my teen is gay or lesbian, and thinks they’re transgender.”
REALITY: Our sexual orientation and our gender identity are two different things. Sexual orientation refers to who we find attractive for love and intimacy. Our gender identity refers to how we identify; male, female, both, neither, etc. For example, a teen may have a biological sex we call female, and be attracted to men, women, both, or neither. Who they find attractive does not impact how they describe their gender. For teens whose biological sex, gender identity and sexual orientation align with the majority of their peers, little to no thought is needed to establish those parts of their identity. Not all teen’s biological sex, sexual orientation or gender identity align with their peers, and can be a cause of stress and depression. Trans and GNC youth are at higher risk for homelessness, substance abuse, contracting a sexually transmitted disease, depression and suicide.
Navigating adolescence can be hard for any teen. If you or someone you know would like more information, or a helping hand to navigate their teen years, contact Salt Lake County Division of Youth Services at 385-468-4500.
Ryan, C. (2009). Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children. California.
Simpson, A., & Mira Goldberg, J. (2006). Let’s Talk Trans: A resource for trans and questioning youth. Vancouver, British Colombia.