When it comes to our children we try to prepare them for everything! From etiquette to social interactions to picking your nose in an inconspicuous way – we prepare them for the world! But what about body parts, sexuality, and gender? How we respond to their exploration of self is one that requires a great deal of openness and understanding on our part.
Let’s talk gender.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Let’s Be Clear. Gender identity formation does not occur at the time the doctor shows you a blurry, black and white image of a penis or a vulva. Gender cannot be revealed regardless of how cute and creative you get for a baby shower. Babies should be honored and celebrating with family and friends can be so fun! But in the end, the importance in knowing the gender is more about the parents and the family than the baby. When the child enters this world, the importance in knowing gender ought to be one that is experienced and realized by the child and supported by the parent. Only when the child identifies their gender truth, is the gender formalized.
It gets all mucky because we are socially sculpted as young’un’s to believe and subscribe to HE or SHE assumptions about gender. The focus falls on what it means to be man or a woman versus what it means to be a human. Socially we live in such a dichotomous vacuum (boy or girl, blue or pink, Pokémon or Barbie doll) and somehow gender is projected on to all things in life, as if life is made to be mutually exclusive – folks are expected to behave as one way OR another.
I know the climate is changing and we are becoming more aware and comfortable with gender fluidity but we still have to deal with the possibility that maybe we need a little more support in order to be supportive to our child’s gender development. Sure we are moving toward a more fluid perception of life and all that is included but what can we do as parents to support our children’s budding gender identity and expression?
One thing we can do is become knowledgeable of true fluidity in our very own lives. For example, I am a cis-female which means my identity as a female matches that of my biology. I love being feminine but my femininity is not exclusively tied to my gender. I was raised by divorced parents and I definitely preferred to spend time with my father over my mother. But my doting affection for my father is not exclusively tied to my love for climbing trees as a child. I was often called a tomboy as a child. I adored JNCOs as a teenager and short hair (I really identified with Kurt Cobain back in the day) – and the idea that I was more boyish than girly continued.
But guess what, my clothing and my hair changed and it continues to change. Right now, I look like a long, blue haired mermaid, or at least that is what my 6-year old friends tell me, and when my youngest receives a good behavior report for the day, I let her dress me for the following day. I can appreciate a gorgeous gown and on the flip, I can rock a solid bow tie. My clothes are an indicator of my comfort not my gender and my gender identity and expression are not exclusively based on someone’s interpretation of my gender.
Your gender story, when reflected outside of the binary, may also shine a light on the grey – not just fully female/feminine or male/masculine. Just in case you get stuck with what I just said, gender identity is not binary. Gender expression is not binary. Clothing is an expression of the self and is not necessarily tied to gender.
See, gender is not just assigned at birth, it isn’t that simple or static. It is constructed from three dimensions: the body (our relationship with our body and how others interact with us based on our body’s presentation), the social self (how we present ourselves to the world and how we are perceived by the world), and the identity (the name we use to describe our internal self).
What else can we do as parents?
Beyond assessing our own gender narrative, we can also play with pronouns. I love THEY as singular. It is awesome and simple. But really it ain’t about me. I recognized a while back when pronoun usage became more of a conversation in the counseling world, that I had a proclivity to stick a person in a pronoun box. What I realized from these first experiences was that it was more about MY comfort than the person. And who the hell am I to impart my expectations of someone else’s gender and pronoun on that person and their pronoun? This belief suggests that I know a person better than themselves. I don’t.
It can be difficult to use a pronoun outside of one’s appearance. But that is what this blog is all about. We can’t make assumptions on what our eyes see. The pronoun is similar to that of a gendered title. I can tell you that I get super razzed when people call me Mrs. Schubert. Not only do I think “Mrs” is archaic but I don’t believe it accurately captures me as a person and my place in the world. The use of Mrs makes the assumption that I am someone’s. It makes the assumption that I am legally bound to someone. This is not Handmaid’s Tale and I am not OfSomeone. It means something to me to be properly identified. As I imagine you feel pretty certain about who you are and your pronoun, so do folks who do not subscribe to gendered pronouns.
I always remember that although it can be difficult to learn something new, it is not impossible. Piaget asserted that learning can take place as a result of accommodation, assimilation, and adaptation. But it is that damn accommodation that gets our brain in a tizzy. Accommodation is when we restructure or modify what we already know so that new information can fit in better. It is possible to properly identify a person based on their request and not your perception of their body.
Lastly (at least for this blog), parents in need of direction and support on how to best parent their kiddos who not exactly fit the grey, Brightside Counseling is offering parents a group Pride in Parenting. Parents of LGBTQ children and young adults who are seeking to provide and receive support from others are invited to join us for a time of education, sharing, and empowerment. Group size is limited, and pre-registration is required. Group fees are $25 per session, discounts are available.
__________________________________________________________ To RSVP or learn more about the group: call Dr. Angie Schubert, LPC at 720-923-2323 or email email@example.com. Or call Sarah Richards, Registered Psychotherapist at 720-923-2326 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Angela Schubert is a licensed professional counselor in Colorado and Missouri. She has a doctoral-level education in counseling education and supervision, a master’s degree in mental health counseling, and a graduate certificate in gender studies. Her clinical training is primarily in eating disorders and sexual concerns, and her doctoral dissertation examined the prevalence and acceptance of aging sexual expression in nursing homes. She has experience treating adolescents, adults, and couples from diverse backgrounds and with a range of mental health concerns. Her primary interest is working with individuals with concerns related to body image, sexuality (the umbrella term), gender identity, intimacy, and eating disorders.