It seems like gender-bending and “pronouns” have taken a point position in society today with American teenagers. I have a stepson (who was born with female anatomy) who now goes by a different name and is called “he” or “they” as his preferred pronouns. Of course, it’s been a long road trying to remember to call him “he” or “him” instead of “she or her” since I’ve known him so long as a female. So, yeah, I slip up sometimes. His mom (with whom he lives) even slips once in a while. But we correct ourselves and apologize for the faux pas. Let’s call him “Bentley” for this article.
Anyway, Bentley was probably 12 or 13 (maybe earlier) when he realized that he’s always felt like a boy but wasn’t born with the “right” anatomy. I had always wondered if she (as I knew of her back when I met her) was a lesbian, just based on her behavior, etc., not that I judged or anything. It was just one of those things that you sometimes notice about people. She eventually did come out to me and I was so honored!
But, as the years went by, Bentley realized that it was more than that. As a therapist with 12+ years of experience, I thought I knew it all. Nothing ever surprised me. But even after 16 years of schooling (2 in graduate school for clinical psychology) and even TEACHING about sexual orientation to college kids, I realized I didn’t really understand the whole story. After I retired to become a journalist, all of this gender stuff popped up with kids, some of which are MUCH younger than teens.
My own daughter, who is in her early 20’s, is exploring bisexuality and even polyamorous relationships. I’ve never known her to date anyone but boys, but I have no judgment. I just pray that whomever she ends up with is good to her and a good influence on her.
I guess either people have struggled with this all their lives, but kept it hidden (i.e., Caitlyn Jenner) or there was some shift in society or genetics (which could even be attributed to the food we eat, as it’s full of hormones, etc. unless you can afford to go vegan or shop at Whole Foods or Sprouts) or maybe it's just a bunch of repressed kids (and adults) finally becoming comforable in their own skins.
I worked with an adult who was born male but expressed the symptoms of Gender Dysphoria. Unfortunately, he also had a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) which is basically about getting attention and maybe love, then pushing that person away because the client cannot maintain “normal” relationships or boundaries. They tend to be fearful of abandonment, so one day, you’re their savior and the next, you’re their devil. It’s quite an exhausting set of symptoms and behavior when a therapist is trying to help. Most people with Borderline are not insightful at all about their issues and tend to get mad, and even “ghost” you if you try to make them understand their behavior. And this man finally admitted he was lying about the gender issue when I said I’d take him to a local big box store with him dressed as a female (which is the attire that he had been attending his therapy sessions in for a while).
I attended a seminar once in which the Director of the program that dealt with diagnoses like BPD said, “Imagine yourself in a room, screaming for help, and nobody hears you.” That has stuck with me for decades.
The reason I expanded on this disorder is because a significant proportion of the folks who have gender issues also have BPD as a co-morbid diagnosis (that term has always sounded eerie to me, but it just means having two or more diagnoses at the same time). However, I am NOT saying every gender-issued person had BPD or is lying. Far from it.
Now, I want to point out the difference between sexual orientation, gender identity and transgender.
According to Psychiatry.com, “Gender identity is also different from sexual orientation. Sexual orientation refers to the types of people towards which one is sexually attracted. People who are transgender have the same diversity of sexual orientations as people who are cisgender (people whose sex assigned at birth matches their gender identity).”
That basically means that people with gender identity issues may honestly and truly feel like they should have been born the opposite sex and may change their behaviors, names, pronouns, way of dressing, walking and talking to match the gender that they feel like they are. Not all Transgender people get Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) because it’s expensive, scary and not absolutely necessary.
A person born with the anatomy of a girl or a boy may grow up to prefer relationships with people of their own gender, which indicates the sexual orientation of “Homosexual.” However, for people with gender issues, they could be born as a girl, but feel like a boy, and may prefer dating people of either, or both, genders. So, the labels (I HATE LABELS, but they are useful to explain certain things) of “homosexual” or “heterosexual” are becoming gray areas. Of course, there’s “bisexual,” which means that the person is attracted to both genders. And then there’s “polyamorous,” which means that someone could be in a close, intimate (sexual or not) relationship with several people at the same time, sometimes regardless of gender.
Are you with me so far?
In the last two generations, so much has changed. There’s been a bit of progress with racism, and now, people with gender issues are more represented and respected. Heck, I had to add the question, “What pronoun does your child prefer?” on my permission form for parents of kids whom I’ll be interviewing or photographing. It’s just a sign of the times.
Nowadays, hearing the acronym LGBTQ+ is not unusual, and folks that identify with it are being more accepted and less judged, though it’s been a long battle, starting with homosexual people way back in the 50’s and 60’s. There are so many more terms these days, which are constantly evolving, dropping out of, or into, use that parents, friends or caregivers may feel that they can’t keep up, when all they might want to do is understand. Even if you aren’t familiar with a term, the most important things are to use the terms and pronouns that people prefer and just be respectful. Isn’t that what we ALL want? We ALL want to be heard and respected. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if the person is open to it. For example, “I’m trying to understand…can you explain ‘polyamorous’ to me in layman’s terms?”
But the language and terms in the LGBTQ+ community keeps getting wider, which means more people who were considered “odd “or “freaks” actually have some tried and true terms to describe themselves, if they are so inclined.
I’ll stop here, but I plan to write a sort of parent’s guide to these terms because I know it can be very confusing. But if your kid comes in and says, “Mom/Dad/Whoever, I’m a unicorn,” the best thing to do, even if it sounds crazy as heck, is to say something like, “Wow! What does that feel like?” or some other open-ended, non-judgmental question.
Like I said, we all want and deserve to be heard and understood, no matter who we are.