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KIDS
 

Queer Kids Stuff

Mother's Story: Raising a Gender Non-Conforming Child

Family Acceptance Project: Helping Families Support Their LGBT Children

Video: Girl and Boy

No Such Thing as Girl Toys and Boy Toys

Gender Creative Life


Families Supporting LGBTQ Children

Research on adolescents over the past 20 years shows that sexual orientation (a person’s emotional connection and attraction to another person) develops early. In fact, research shows that both gay and straight children have their first “crush “ or attraction to another person at around age 10. Homosexuality and bisexuality are part of normal sexual identity. No one knows why some people are gay or bisexual and others are heterosexual. But we know that no one, including parents, can “make” someone gay. Adolescents are much more likely to be open about their gay or transgender identity when they are not afraid of rejection, ridicule, or negative reactions from family and friends.

 

There are still many myths about sexual orientation. Families and providers often believe that young people have to be adults before they can know they are gay. Many assume that being gay is a “phase” that youth will grow out of as they get older. Some think that teens may decide to be gay if they have a gay friend, read about homosexuality, or hear about gay people from others. These myths are very common and they are also incorrect. Today, adolescents have much wider access to accurate information about sexual orientation and increasing information about gender identity. Accurate information helps them understand feelings they have had since childhood. And a wide range of services for LGBTQ youth helps many find peer and community support.

Adolescents in the research for the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) said they were attracted to another person of the same gender at about age 10. Some knew they were gay at age 7 or 9. Overall, they identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, on average, at age 13.4. Their families learned about their identity about a year later. Research on supporting both children’s gender identity and transgender adolescents is very limited. Most providers have had little training or guidance on how to support children who feel like their inner sense of being male or female does not match their physical body. Children develop gender identity (a deep sense of being male or female) at early ages. They express clear gender choices for clothes, toys, and personal items. And they begin to express gender identity at about ages 2-3.

 

Children and adolescents who do not look or behave the way that girls and boys are expected to behave by their families and by society are often ridiculed by others. Their behavior may also be called gender variant or gender non-conforming. Many parents are ashamed or embarrassed by their children’s gender non-conforming behavior. They often fear that these children will be hurt by others. And they need education and accurate information to support their child’s emerging gender identity. Adolescents who are gender non-conforming or who identify as transgender also have more access to information about gender expression and identity through LGBTQ community groups and online resources. Such groups and resources help them understand their gender identity at younger ages than older transgender adults who typically came out as adults. Adolescents in the FAP research who identify as transgender came out as transgender, on average, at age 16.

[Source: Family Acceptance Project Research]
 

Facts About Affirming Therapy for Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Youth

Boys Will Be Boys?

HRC: Talking With Kids About LGBTQ Issues

Dispelling Myths About Gender Non-Conforming Children

Video: Truth About Honesty and Pink Tutus

If People Think I'm a Lady, Just Let Them

 

Impact of Family Reactions on LGBT Children

Until recently, little was known about how families react when an LGBTQ young person comes out during adolescence. And even less was known about how family reactions affect an LGBTQ adolescent’s health and mental health. Groundbreaking new research from FAP shows that families and caregivers have a major impact on their LGBTQ children’s risk and well-being. FAP researchers identified more than 100 behaviors that families and caregivers use to react to their LGBTQ children’s identity. About half of these behaviors are accepting and half are rejecting. FAP researchers measured each of these behaviors to show how family reactions affect an LGBTQ young person’s risk and well-being.

 

Conflict and Rejection

FAP researchers found that families who are conflicted about their children’s LGBTQ identity believe that the best way to help their children survive and thrive in the world is to help them fit in with their heterosexual peers. So when these families block access to their child’s gay friends or LGBTQ resources, they are acting out of care and concern. They believe their actions will help their gay or transgender child have a good life. But adolescents who feel like their parents want to change who they are think their parents don’t love them or even hate them. Lack of communication and misunderstanding between parents and their LGBTQ children increases family conflict. These problems with communication and lack of understanding about sexual orientation and gender identity can lead to fighting and family disruption that can result in an LGBTQ adolescent being removed from or forced out of the home. Many LGBTQ youth are placed in foster care, or end up in juvenile detention or on the streets, because of family conflict related to their LGBTQ identity. These factors increase their risk for abuse and for serious health and mental health problems.

Research from FAP shows that family rejection has a serious impact on LGBTQ young people’s health and mental health. LGBTQ young people who were rejected by their families because of their identity have much lower self-esteem and have fewer people they can turn to for help. They are also more isolated and have less support than those who were accepted by their families. LGBTQ teens who are highly rejected by their parents and caregivers are at very high risk for health and mental health problems when they become young adults. They have poorer health than LGBTQ young people who are not rejected by their families. They have more problems with drug use. They feel more hopeless and are much less likely to protect themselves from HIV or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). And this behavior puts them at higher risk for HIV and AIDS.

Compared with LGBTQ young people who were not rejected or were only a little rejected by their parents and caregivers because of their gay or transgender identity, highly rejected LGBTQ young people were:

--More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide
--Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression
--More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs
--More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs
 

Children on Gender Roles

8 Things Not to Say to Boys Who Wear Pink

Gender Roles: Interviews With Kids

The Whittington Family: Ryland's Story

The Genderqueer Kid I Never Expected

Kids Explain Gay Marriage

 

Many LGBTQ youth and those who question their identity feel like they have to hide who they are to avoid being rejected. Many hide so that they won’t hurt their parents and other family members who believe that being gay is wrong or sinful. But hiding has a cost. It undermines an LGBTQ adolescent’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Being valued by their parents and family helps children learn to value and care about themselves. But hearing that they are bad or sinful sends a deep message that they are not a good person. And hearing this negative message affects their ability to love themselves and care for themselves. It increases risky behaviors, such as risk for HIV or substance abuse. It also affects their ability to plan for the future, including their ability to have career or vocational plans. And it makes them less likely to want to have a family or to be parents themselves.

 

Uncertainty and Concern

Many parents feel uncertain when they learn that their child is gay. They are unsure how to react. And they don’t know how to support their child. They love and want to help their LGBTQ child. At the same time, however, they don’t want to encourage their child’s gay or transgender identity. And they don’t want to push their child away. Parents and caregivers often fear that others may try to hurt their gay or transgender child. So fear motivates many parents and family members to try to protect their LGBTQ children by reacting negatively to their gay or transgender identity. For example, they say: “Tone it down.  Do you have to wear those clothes?  Can’t you wait until you graduate to tell others you’re gay?” Youth often hear these comments as rejection, but too often parents use them to mask their anxiety and fear of what can happen to their child in a hostile world.

Families are motivated to learn how to support their gay or transgender children when they realize that their words and actions have a powerful impact on their LGBTQ children’s survival and well-being. Parents are shocked to learn that how they react to their LGBTQ children can increase these children’s risk for suicide, HIV infection, and other health problems. But they are relieved to learn that behaviors like talking with their gay children about their identity, and expressing affection for their gay or transgender children, can help protect against health risks. These supportive behaviors can also help promote their children’s well-being.

 

Family Acceptance

FAP researchers also studied families who openly accept their children’s gay or transgender identity. Accepting parents and foster parents express support for their LGBTQ children in many ways. They tell their children they love them when they learn about their child’s LGBTQ identity. They require that other family members respect their LGBTQ child. They stand up for their LGBTQ child when their child is mistreated or harassed by others. And they work to make their own religious institutions more supportive of LGBTQ members. Or they find supportive congregations and faith communities that welcome their family and LGBTQ child.

[Source: Family Acceptance Project Research]
 

Raising my Rainbow: What Gender Non-Conforming Kids Want You to Know

Celebrities Who Lovingly Embrace Their LGBT Kids

Let Them Be Who They Want to Be

Pink & Blue: Communicating Gender to Children

Clothing Store: Just for Girls?

Raising Owen: A Genderqueer Love Story

 

Supporting Our Gender Creative Child

I know there are people who don’t understand why, or don’t agree with the fact that my family is out & proud, advocating publicly for our youngest, gender creative child. That’s okay. They don’t need to understand or agree with us because it’s our family, and it’s what’s right for us, right now. But we know there are people who don’t understand (though they might, if they cared to simply ask us). And we know there are people who disagree (though they’re judging only what they can see on the surface, and are all too happy to tell us).

There could be many reasons. Maybe they don’t know that my son Charlie encouraged me to write more publicly about him, something beyond my little blog with 2 subscribers. I’d been keeping journals my entire life. I always loved writing, and called it my brain-purging; my therapy. My youngest child actually wanted his story told. Before I ever went public, he heard the first piece I wrote about him and said, “Mom, I not only want you to do this; you have to do this.” Charlie, though very young at heart, has always been wiser than his years. So I listened. And I auditioned. And then I read some of my writing for an audience for the first time ever, in the Listen to Your Mother Show.

 

LTYM was a turning point in my life. The thanks all goes to mom blogger and humoritst Ann Imig, LTYM founder, and local producers Marty Long and KeAnne Hoeg, who heard something in my audition piece they found worthy of a larger audience. LTYM was a place of tremendous growth for me. I was collaborating for the first time with powerful women who were published and accomplished writers in every genre from young adult lit to poetry. At the core of it, though, we were all mothers. Political differences aside, we all understood the literary theme of unconditional love.

This cast of writers changed my entire outlook on life. I began to understand the importance of hearing individual stories. Really hearing, without judgment, without envisioning things through the rose tinted lenses of cis, hetero, white privilege. There was a special kind of juxtaposition in peacefully sitting and hearing someone else’s narrative, and then agonizingly sitting and feeling quite a bit of my own discomfort that needed confronting.

Maybe people don’t know that Charlie also wanted to meet other kids out there just like him. And that’s exactly what has happened, in spades. First, with the launch of our (now official) program of the LGBTQ Center, S.E.A.R.CH. (Safe Environment for the Acceptance of Rainbow Children), Charlie has met several local gender creative and transgender children. More than anyone would’ve thought are out there.
 

Martie Sirois: How I Chased Away the Bullies of My Gender Creative Child

LGBTQ Positive Books for Kids

My Genderqueer Kid's Awesome Dad

 

As a result of our support group and advocacy, Charlie has gender creative and transgender 10-year-old pals across the world now. Conversely, because of my child’s bravery, hundreds more kids and adults have reached out to us in confidence, or have “come out.” Just this weekend, Charlie received a large envelope of “fan mail” from the Prospect High School GSA, in San Jose, California. Charlie’s “viral” story from September had reached them, and they were compelled to reach out to us. Inside were dozens of handmade cards relaying messages of love. He nearly cried tears of joy as he thoroughly read each one. When he got to the last two, he said, “Oh no… just two left… I don’t want this to end.”

Thankfully, the messages of love on this family journey from acceptance to advocacy have spoken SO MUCH LOUDER than the messages of hate. But the hate is still out there, and we know that.

But here’s the thing. We continue to be public advocates because you can’t be a silent advocate. Just like you can’t unconditionally love your child, but then tell them you “don’t accept” the part that they are LGBTQ. And also, we do it because someone has got to stand up to the bullying, and in the process, “fish” for other advocates. If you sit idly by and watch someone get bullied, and you do nothing to stop it, you’re just as guilty as the bully. We teach that lesson in elementary school.

And here’s the other thing. Ever since we went public with Charlie’s story, that was the moment that localized, to-his-face teasing and harassment ended. Sure, he still gets asked “are you a boy or a girl?” by the younger kids at school. But I’ll take that any day over what was being said to him before.

Most importantly for us, though, was this: the moment we went public was the moment that Charlie came out of a year-long battle with crippling depression and crisis-mode anxiety. At 8 and 9 years old. You can’t imagine how excruciating it is to watch a child so young be in so much distress because the universe is trying to put them in a box where they don’t fit.

You may not believe a child is capable of such “adult” emotions like anxiety or depression. But I’m the one who kneeled beside him, up to three times a week at the toilet in the school’s health room bathroom, for 45 minutes a stretch, holding a cold, wet paper towel on his neck as my baby shook and vomited relentlessly from the anxiety he had been holding in all morning. Were you there? If so, you would’ve seen firsthand that anxiety and depression can indeed thrive in children.

I was there when the teacher came to get me and let me know my child was having what she thought was an anxiety attack. He was. I took him out of the room and talked him off the ledge. Many times. I wiped his tears and hugged him tight, I reassured him, “no, you’re not gay. You’ll figure that out when you’re older, and if you are gay, still, there’s nothing wrong with that, and we will still love you no matter what.” Were you there for that difficult conversation?

I was there helping comfort him during eight years of very painful encopresis. Which I had to figure out all on my own because the pediatrician kept saying, “just give him more Miralax.” I didn’t know then that it was behavioral. I didn’t know then it was typical of gender creative and transgender children. But I knew his pain wasn’t normal, despite what the doctors said. I carried his extra clothes and cleaning/sterilizing supplies everywhere we went, every day, just in case of accidents. Were you there offering help?

Every morning as I drove him to school, my once chipper, non-stop talker of a child became more and more withdrawn, until he was eventually curled up in a ball on the seat next to me, not wanting to live another day because his life felt so incongruent with his mind and his reality. After months of this, I realized it was more important to have an alive child than a stereotypically conforming child.

I offered him medication. I told him there was helpful therapy and medications for someone with such severe depression and anxiety. But, this child was terrified of pills and at age 8 1/2, had still not taken a single pill his entire life. We had to specifically request oral antibiotics for this reason. One particularly violent anxiety-laden vomiting episode when I was holding his head so he wouldn’t bash it on the toilet, I was there when he looked up at me afterwards with bloodshot eyes and said, “I think I’m ready to take the pills now.” In that moment of realization, that moment where my baby child realized he would need to conquer some pretty huge phobias in order to get better, were you there?

When we embraced Charlie and spoke publicly, affirming all the things that our son is, when we began advocating for him, and giving love without conditions, that was the moment we took back the bullying language. Yes, he is feminine. No, there’s nothing wrong with that. No, it’s not related to sexuality. He’s not even thinking in those terms yet. But however he ends up – whether that’s hyper-masculine jock, swishy gay, or asexual – we will still love without conditions. And he will not look back on this time with embarrassment, but with pride, because we’ve taught him to take pride in his whole self. We’ve taught him that “feminine” does not equal “less than.”

[Source: Gender Creative Life by Martie Sirois, 2016]

Impact of Family Reactions on LGBTQ Children

BEHAVIORS TO AVOID

Some Family Behaviors that Increase Your LGBTQ Child’s Risk for Health and Mental Health Problems:

--Hitting, slapping or physically hurting your child because of their LGBTQ identity
--Verbal harassment or name-calling because of your child’s LGBTQ identity
--Excluding LGBTQ youth from family events and family activities
--Blocking access to LGBTQ friends, events, and resources
--Blaming your child when they are discriminated against because of their LGBTQ identity
--Pressuring your child to be more (or less) masculine or feminine
--Telling your child that God will punish them because they are gay
--Telling your child that you are ashamed of them or that how they look or act will shame the family
--Making your child keep their LGBTQ identity a secret in the family and not letting them talk about their identity with others

BEHAVIORS THAT HELP

Some Family Behaviors that Reduce Your LGBTQ Child’s Risk for Health and Mental Health Problems and Help Promote Their Well-Being:

--Talk with your child or foster child about their LGBTQ identity
--Express affection when your child tells you or when you learn that your child is LGBTQ
--Support your child’s LGBTQ identity even though you may feel uncomfortable
--Advocate for your child when he or she is mistreated because of their LGBTQ identity
--Require that other family members respect your LGBTQ child
--Bring your child to LGBTQ organizations or events
--Connect your child with an LGBTQ adult role model to show them options for the future
--Work to make your congregation supportive of LGBTQ members, or find a supportive faith community that welcomes your family and LGBTQ child
--Welcome your child’s LGBTQ friends and partner to your home and to family events and activities
--Support your child’s gender expression
--Believe your child can have a happy future as an LGBTQ adult

 

[Source: Caitlyn Ryan]

 


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