Exploring Gender Identity, Safety, and Health 

Exploring Gender Identity, Safety, and Health

How to Support Your Child With the Joy, Acceptance, and Safe Space That They Need

          The best way to provide your child with an informed, supportive, and kind environment in which to explore their gender identity and expression is to empower yourself (and your child) with knowledge. In this article, we aim to provide you with information, tools, and resources that will help you to create a joyful, accepting, and safe space for your child’s gender exploration, which can bolster their overall health and happiness. 

        Together, let’s learn about: 

  • Why acceptance and joy are important to your child’s development
  • Gender acceptance, celebration, and mental health
  • What is the gender spectrum?
  • Different gender identities
  • Pronouns
  • Non-gendered words
  • Ways for your child to healthily explore gender identity
  • Ways to support your child’s exploration of their gender identity
  • Great picture books about gender identity for kids 
  • How Storypod works to support families and children in the safe, healthy, and joyful exploration of the gender spectrum
  • Further resources

Why acceptance and joy are important to a child's healthy development:

          Research has shown that playfulness and play-time can help strengthen one’s ability to respond to adversity and cope with stress. Showing children that joy can be a valuable experience early on helps them to build space for it into their lives moving forwards. When caregivers accept and celebrate children for who they are as individuals, caretakers are modeling to children that joy and acceptance are important. You’re providing them with a concrete example of how to appreciate individuality, differences, and family.

          Per the CDC, the ways in which a child’s brain develops from ages 0 - 8 will be the foundation that sets the stage for the rest of that child’s life. Providing children with healthy and supportive relationships with family and friends contributes to their overall sense of wellbeing. When a child feels seen, accepted, and loved for who they are by the people in their life, regardless of and including their gender, they are being provided with a strong foundation of acceptance and joy.

          Routinely and consistently experiencing positive emotions such as happiness, pride, joy, serenity, amusement, and hope also sets the stage for a life in which these positive emotions play a large role. For instance, when family holidays are routinely a time of happiness and celebration (rather than stress, arguments, and blame) holidays will hold a more positive space in their life moving forwards.

          When children across the gender spectrum feel accepted and loved by those in their life, this helps them to routinely experience joy. This positive and routine experience can help children healthily adapt to change, understand and value their own worth, and be more likely to experience high rates of satisfaction with their overall life and choices.

Let’s talk about gender acceptance, celebration, and mental health:

          Research shows that social systems (such as families, friends, schools, and health care) who stigmatize, discriminate against, and do not support transgender and nonbinary children increase those children’s risk of poor mental health and suicide. However, when transgender and nonbinary youth receive gender affirming care, they are 60% less likely to experience depression and 73% less likely to be lost to suicide.

          That means that what you do as a parent, caregiver, family member, friend, teacher, doctor, or other influential figure in a child’s life can have an incredibly positive impact on not only that child’s overall wellbeing but on their chances of survival. While no one person can control a child’s environment or self-acceptance, working together we can strive to provide children across the gender spectrum (especially those who have historically been discriminated against - such as transgender, nonbinary, or questioning children) with acceptance, love, joy, and a wonderful celebration of who they are as a person.

What is the gender spectrum?

          Rather than seeing gender as a strict binary (a.k.a. “girl or boy”), viewing gender as a spectrum that accommodates many different shifting and evolving gender identities and methods of expressing them is a holistic, supportive, inclusive, and positive approach.

Art by Theodora Hirms

Let’s talk about "X' spelling:

Q: What does it mean when something is spelled with an x (like “womxn” or “mxn” instead of “woman” or “man”)?

A: Per dictionary.com, “The letter X…offers greater inclusivity and fluidity to genders beyond the male/female binary, such as for trans women or others who identify as women. Womxn is pronounced the same as woman or women.”

What are some different gender identities?

Let’s take a look at some helpful definitions provided by gender spectrum:

          This list is not exhaustive. One of the beautiful things about gender identity is that it can be fluid, subjective, and can mean different things to each individual and that is amazing and grand! 

Agender: “A person who sees themself as not having a gender. Some agender-identified people see themself as being gender neutral, rather than not having any gender, but in any case do not identify with a gender.”

FtM: “A person who was assigned a female sex at birth and whose gender identity is boy/man.”

Gender fluid: “People who have a gender or genders that change. Genderfluid people move between genders, experiencing their gender as something dynamic and changing, rather than static.”

Gender nonconforming: Verywell Mind says, “not adhering to society's gender norms. People may describe themselves as gender nonconforming if they don't conform to the gender expression, presentation, behaviors, roles, or expectations that society sees as the norm for their gender. People of any gender identity can be gender nonconforming.”

Genderqueer: “An umbrella term to describe someone who doesn’t identify with conventional gender identities, roles, expression and/or expectations. For some, genderqueer is a Non-binary identification, and for others it is not.”

Gender questioning: Transgender Map by Andrea James says, “How you feel about yourself and where you fit in within the gender roles of your culture.”

Man: The University of Northern Iowa defines a man as, “A person, who regardless of their sex assigned at birth, identifies as a man. The term cisgender man (or cisman) describes someone who was assigned male at birth and identifies as a man. The term transgender man (or transman) describes someone who was assigned female at birth and identifies as a man.”

MtF: “A person who was assigned a male sex at birth and whose gender identity is girl/woman.”

Nonbinary: “An umbrella term for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.”

Pangender: Per dictionary.com, “a person whose gender identity is not limited to one gender and who may feel like a member of all genders at the same time.”

Third gender: A gender other than mxn or womxn that is based on how an individual person feels about their own gender identity.

Transgender, or “trans”: “Sometimes this term is used broadly as an umbrella term to describe anyone whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex. It can also be used more narrowly as a gender identity that reflects a binary gender identity that is “opposite” or “across from” the sex they were assigned at birth.”

Two-Spirit: Per Provincial Health Services Authority, “The term reflects complex Indigenous understandings of gender roles, spirituality, and the long history of sexual and gender diversity in Indigenous cultures. Individual terms and roles for Two-Spirit people are specific to each nation. Per USAToday, “The term typically refers to a traditional role in Native American society: someone who was deemed to have a masculine and feminine spirit. The definition can differ by [nation].”

Woman: The University of Northern Iowa defines a woman as, “A person, who regardless of their sex assigned at birth, identifies as a woman. The term cisgender woman (or ciswoman) describes someone who was assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman. The term transgender woman (or transwoman) describes someone who was assigned male at birth and identifies as a woman.”

Did you know:
Per gender spectrum, gender expression is “...our “public” gender. How we present our gender in the world and how society, culture, community, and family perceive, interact with, and try to shape our gender. Gender expression is also related to gender roles and how society uses those roles to try to enforce conformity to current gender norms.”

Let’s talk about pronouns:

          Pronouns are what people use to describe themselves and to have others refer to them as. Common pronouns include:

  • she/her
  • he/him
  • they/them
  • different combos like “she/they” or “they/him
  • gender neutral pronouns like:
  • ze/hir/hirs (pronounced “zee/here/heres”)
  • ey/em/eir (pronounced “ay/em/airs”)

          A person does not have to just use one set of pronouns or stay with the same set of pronouns forever. As children (and indeed any individual) grow, evolve, and explore their gender identity and expression they are free to choose to change their pronouns, try different combinations of pronouns, or reject pronouns altogether and request to only be referred to as their name. All of those things are beautiful and lovely and show a person who is brave and who hopefully has an accepting and supportive circle of family and friends. It's ok to fluctuate between different pronouns, to change one’s mind, to grow, to evolve, and to explore!

Here is a great breakdown of understanding gender neutral pronouns from MIT.

Non-gendered words to try out:

INSTEAD OF:TRY:EXAMPLE:
Mom or DadParent
Grown-up
Caregiver
Zadi
Zaz
Zaza
Teacher: “Your grown-up needs to sign this note”.
Daughter or SonChild
Kid
Kiddo
Parent: “My child’s favorite color is orange!”
Sister or BrotherSibling
Sibster
Sibling: “My sibster helped me learn to play football over the weekend!”
Grandma or GrandpaGrandwa
Grandy
Grandparent
Nini
Bibi
Child: “Bibi is coming over
this weekend!”
Granddaughter or GrandsonGrandchild
Grandkid
Grandparent: “My grandchild’s latest art is on my refrigerator!”
Aunt or UncleZizi
Unty
Child: “Unty Sam gave me books for my birthday!”
Niece or NephewNibling
Chibling (child of my sibling)
Sibkid
Unty: “My nibling just turned 5!”
Boy or GirlChild
Kid
Teacher: “All of the children in my class are wearing red and green for holiday pictures.”
Ladies or Gentlemen
Men or Women
FolxAuthor: “Welcome, folx! Thank you all for coming to my book signing!”
Wife or HusbandSpouse
Partner
Life partner
Spouse: “My partner and I take art classes together at the Rec Center!
Girlfriend or BoyfriendSignificant other
Datemate
Paramour
Significant other: “My datemate and I have been together for 4 months and it is going well!”

Ways for your child to healthily explore their gender identity:

    Per Mayo Clinic, “A social transition is a reversible step in which a child lives partially or completely in their preferred gender role by changing:

  • Hairstyles
  • Clothing
  • Pronouns 
  • Names 

…research suggests that social transitioning might help ease a child's depression and anxiety.”

Ways to support your child’s exploration of their gender identity:

Per Mayo Clinic, “It's important for parents and children to determine:

  • The extent of the transition
  • To whom to disclose it
  • How to handle challenges such as which bathroom or locker room to use
  • Whether transitioning at school or in the community will endanger your child
  • Seek the advice of a social or advocacy agency to help you make a safety assessment.”

PBS recommends:

Other suggestions include:

  • Calling your child’s friends “kids” or “children” or by their names instead of “boys” or “girls.”
  • Avoid assigning others’ genders and use they/them pronouns unless someone has already identified other pronouns or gender identities that they use.
  • When potty training at home or daycare, be sure to use anatomical terms for body parts in order to promote healthy knowledge and safety.
  • Have conversations with leadership and teachers at your child’s school about gender expression.

          Remember: It's not just how you treat your kids, it's how you treat others as well. Kids are observant. If they see you laughing along to old TV shows that make transphobic or homophobic jokes, or making derogatory comments about the gender identity or gender expression of others, that can undermine the trust they place in you to safely and positively support their own gender identity and expressions.

Great picture books about gender identity for kids:

Even more:

How Storypod works to support families and children in the safe, healthy, and joyful exploration of the gender spectrum:

         We know that families can look like many different things. Maybe your family is several generations all living under one roof: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Maybe your family is chosen and not blood-related. Maybe your family has two dads or two moms. Maybe there are no moms or dads but grandparents who act as the main caregivers. Maybe your family includes foster children, with you for short or long term time periods. Your family could include adopted children, biological children, or both. Your family could include one parent or four parents. Families can look similar to one another or can look different. Families are diverse, unique, and beautiful. No matter what your family looks like: All families benefit from joy, laughter, and valuing each other for who they are.

Conclusion

          Whether you agree with gender expression and identity or not, our children's generation is likely the most openly gender-diverse in history. We should strive to equip children to thrive in the evolving world they are going to live in more than the one we're leaving behind. We'd like to encourage our community to be a part of the change for inclusivity, acceptance, growth, and joy - not only in our children's lives but in all of ours.

References

  • From PBS: Exploring Gender Identity and Expression with Children
  • Understanding Gender (From gender spectrum)
  • From The New York Times: How to Support a Child on the Transgender Spectrum
  • From Mayo Clinic: Children and Gender Identity: Supporting your Child
  • From the National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement: Healthy Gender Development and Young Children
  • From Children’s Hospital of Chicago: How to Support Transgender & Gender-questioning Youth
  • Parenting Resources from gender spectrum
  • Explaining and understanding the gender spectrum (From Human Rights Campaign)
  • gender spectrum: a fantastic website full of amazing resources for parents, family members, educators, and more!
  • Gender-Neutral Pronouns 101: Everything You've Always Wanted to Know (from them magazine)
  • From Storypod: The Benefits of Spontaneous Family Dance Parties!
  • From Storypod: How Strong Literacy Skills Support Children’s Wellbeing
  • From the American Library Association: Libraries Respond: Protecting and Supporting Transgender Staff and Patrons
  • Transgender Map by Andrea James
  • From Time magazine: How to Raise Happy Kids: 10 Steps Backed by Science
  • The Trevor Project
  • 5 Ways You Can Support Your Child Who Is Exploring Their Gender or Sexual Identity (From Parents)