The Importance of Gender Identity Awareness
By Emily Field – Everline Counseling Clinical Intern
Gender is becoming an increasingly hot topic around the world, as more and more people are identifying as gender diverse, especially among young people. For parents of a gender diverse person, this can be especially confusing. But learning a little can go a long way in understanding your child and creating a stronger bond.
Gender identity in the United States is typically seen as a binary of male and female, but this is not universal, and other gender identities have in fact existed for centuries in other cultures. With increasing support and acceptance, youth today have more opportunities to explore who they are and where they fit in the world. The gender spectrum is vast, and includes various identities such as male, female, a mixture of both, no gender, a fluid gender, or another gender. Some people may still be questioning what their gender identity is, while others may not have a label that fits their experience. Young people are exploring what identities best fit them, and this can be a stressful and confusing process, especially in the wake of discriminatory policies. But loved ones providing affirmation through support and acceptance is one of the strongest protective factors against depression, trauma, and suicide in gender diverse youth.
Public concerns around transitioning for gender diverse individuals center largely around a lack of information or misinformation. Gender diverse youth are at a much higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide than their peers, and alongside social support, receiving some form of gender-affirming care remains one of the best protective factors. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control emphasize the importance of transitioning in preventing suicides and improving mental health.
The transition process for a gender diverse person does not consist of only medical procedures, and actually may not include medical treatments at all. In fact, irreversible medical interventions are rarely used for gender diverse youth. A far more significant aspect of the transition process for young people are social transitions. Dressing in clothes that align with who they are and using a name and pronouns that are consistent with their identity are some of the ways in which a young person may transition socially.
As parents, using the correct pronouns and name is an easy way to show support and that you respect them for who they are. And if you slip up – it’s okay! Apologize and move on. Communicating with your child and continuing to make an effort to support them goes a long way. Show curiosity and interest in your child’s identity and let them tell you what their identity means to them. This is the time in their lives where they are exploring who they are, and being there with them in their journey can be an incredibly rewarding experience for everyone involved.
If you want more comprehensive information on gender identity, read NPR’s Guide