- There are many aspects to sexuality, including natal sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.
- Supportive and accepting parents can help transgender kids figure out who they are and how they want to be in the world.
For parents who have never questioned their own sexual identity, having a child who does can be baffling and upsetting. Even very loving parents, who are determined to support and accept their child, can experience feelings of loss related to the child they knew before and their earlier dreams about how their child’s life would unfold. They may also feel scared about the rejection, harassment, and even risks to physical safety their child could encounter in a world that’s not very friendly to gender-creative people.
The many aspects of gender and sexuality
For transgender people, their natal sex, which is the sex they were assigned at birth based on the appearance of their external genitalia, does not match their gender identity, which is their sense of who they are. Not all transgender people want reassignment surgery. For some, social transition and/or hormones are enough to help them feel like they are living as their authentic selves (Pyne, 2012).
But there’s more to sexuality than natal sex and gender identity: Gender expression refers to how people portray or convey their gender identity through their interests, behavior, clothing, hairstyle, or name. Transgender people may have gender expressions that match, don’t match, or blend what society expects for different genders.
Sexual orientation refers to whom someone is attracted to. Transgender people may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual with respect to their gender identity. A 16-year-old boy explains (Sansfaçon et al., 2020):
“I knew that I wasn’t cis, I knew that, but I didn’t know exactly… it made it more confusing because I’m gay now, but before [transitioning], I would have been considered straight….”
Supportive parents make it easier for gender-creative kids to figure out who they are and how they want to be in the world.
One mom’s story
A mom I worked with once told me about a poignant moment with her college-age child, who was assigned a male gender at birth, but who came out as trans in high school and adopted the pronoun “she.” Let’s call her “Chris.” Since coming out, Chris had struggled to figure out what it means to live authentically as herself. She had started taking hormones. She wore baggy, gender-neutral clothes but had grown her hair long.
The moment my client told me about happened after she and Chris had visited a physician who specialized in caring for transgender people. The doctor’s visit went well. They had discussed adjustments to medications, and the doctor was respectful and open to questions. But afterward, sitting with her mom on a bench outside the medical building, Chris was a bit teary.
Chris told her mom forcefully, “I don’t want this!” Then she added, “But I don’t know any other way to be.”
The mom remembers looking at Chris and being struck by the beauty of her face, the delicacy of her profile. Chris sighed and said, “God really f’d up when he made me.”
The mom responded, “I think you and God have a lot in common: You’ve both been called the wrong pronoun for many years.”
Sometimes, I’m amazed by the wisdom of my clients.
Pyne, J. (July 2012). Supporting Gender Independent Children and Their Families. https://www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/RHO_FactSheet_GIC_E1.pdf
Pullen Sansfaçon, A., Medico, D., Suerich-Gulick, F., & Temple Newhook, J. (2020). “I knew that I wasn’t cis, I knew that, but I didn’t know exactly”: Gender identity development, expression and affirmation in youth who access gender affirming medical care. International Journal of Transgender Health, 21(3), 307-320.