How to Support Transgender and Nonbinary Neurodivergent Children, with Dr. Laura Anderson
I get so many questions from parents looking for more information supporting transgender, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming neurodivergent children. So this week I’m bringing back to the show Dr. Laura Anderson, a clinical child and family psychologist who has worked with youth and families for over twenty years. Laura’s areas of expertise include school-based behavioral health, assessment, support for adoptive families, as well as support for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. Laura is also a parent, and in her trainings she shares tips for parents based on the experience she has gathered from the vantage point of both her office couch and her family’s living room couch. Laura also has a new podcast out called Real World Parenting: Tips and Scripts For Families On Roads Less Traveled (I had the pleasure of being a guest!).
For this conversation, we once again focus on the topic of gender identity in the differently wired community. We talked about the new and ever-changing terminology when looking at gender, including what gender noncomforming, gender expansive, transgender, and nonbinary actually means, as well as the unique needs that differently wired kids who are part of the LGBTQ+ community have and how we as parents, caregivers, educators can support them without pressuring them. Lastly, Laura also shares some great tips on how to communicate with family and friends when a child changes pronouns.
About Dr. Laura Anderson
Dr. Laura S. Anderson is a clinical child and family psychologist who is licensed in Hawaii and California, and she has worked with youth and families for over twenty years. Her areas of expertise include school-based behavioral health, assessment, support for adoptive families, as well as support for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. Dr. Anderson is also a parent, and in trainings she shares concrete tips for parents based on decades of experience she has gathered from the vantage point of both her office couch and her family’s living room couch. She is the host of a new podcast: Real World Parenting- Tips and Scripts For Families On Roads Less Traveled. Dr.Anderson enjoys working with kids, and families as they overcome barriers, build on their strengths, and thrive.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- The definitions of gender noncomforming, transgender, and nonbinary
- What the unique needs are for differently wired kids who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community
- Whether gender exploration is a trend or a phase
- How to communicate with family and friends when kids change pronouns
- The importance of having a specialized support system
- Supporting LGBTQ+ kids who are feeling hurt by people around them not using their preferred pronouns
- How to support and love your kid without making them feel pressured to “stay” a gender once they’ve declared it
Resources mentioned for how to support transgender and nonbinary neurodivergent children
- The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney
- The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals by Stephanie Brill
- The Gender Creative Child: Pathways for Nurturing and Supporting Children Who Live Outside Gender Boxes by Diane Ehrensaft and Norman Spack
- Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft and Edgardo Menvielle
Debbie Reber 00:00
Hey there, this is Debbie. Mark your calendar for the very first Gifted, Talented, Neurodiverse Awareness Week starting Monday, October 25 and running through Friday, October 29. All virtual and powered by the documentary film The G Word, now in post production. Visit theGwordfilm.com for details.
Laura Anderson 00:22
It is very true that broadly speaking, gender identity expansion is not new. It is equally true that statistics show us now in surveys broadly of folks in the United States in particular, that like two to three times as many millennials identify as exploring their gender identity or not identifying squarely with boxes.
Debbie Reber 00:51
Welcome to Tilt Parenting. a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host Debbie Reber and boy, do I have a powerful and in depth episode for you today. I’m bringing back to the show Dr. Laura Anderson, a clinical child and family psychologist who has worked with youth and families for over 20 years. Laura’s areas of expertise include school based behavioral health assessment support for adoptive families, as well as support for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. Laura is also a parent and in her trainings, she shares tips for parents based on the experience she has gathered from the vantage point of both her office couch and her family’s living room couch. Laura also has a new podcast out called real world parenting tips and scripts for families on roads less traveled. And I will say I had the pleasure of being a guest on Laura’s show not too long ago. But for this conversation today, we once again focused on the topic of gender identity and the differently wired community. We talked about the new and ever changing terminology when looking at gender, including what gender non conforming, gender expansive transgender and non binary actually means, as well as the unique needs the differently wired kids who are part of the LGBTQ+ community have and how we as parents and caregivers and educators can support them without pressuring them. Lastly, Laura also shared some great tips on how to communicate with your family and friends when your kiddo changes pronouns. And a heads up. This is an extra long episode, but it is so so good. I hope you get a lot out of it. And a quick reminder that with this season of the podcast, I’ve also started playback Fridays whereby every Friday I’ll be re-releasing a powerful episode from my library. Tune in for episodes with people like the out of sync child author, cow kranitz, author of the explosive child Dr. Ross Greene, Neurotribes author Steve Silberman, my original Asher specials, and much, much more. If you’re already subscribed to the podcast, you don’t have to do anything. Just keep an eye out for new episodes on Fridays showing up in your podcast feed. And now here is my conversation with Dr. Laura Anderson.
Debbie Reber 03:22
Hey, Laura, welcome back to the podcast.
Laura Anderson 03:25
I’m so glad to be here.
Debbie Reber 03:27
Looking forward to this conversation. And in preparing for it, I realized it’s been over three years since you’re on the show. I felt like it was a year ago. So much has changed. And we’ll get into that. But before we kind of get into the meat of our conversation, could you take a few minutes and introduce yourself? You know, in your own words, I’ve already read your bio, but tell us a little bit about who you are and where your work is focused right now?
Laura Anderson 03:53
Yeah, sure. Yeah. And I can’t believe it’s been three years. That is amazing. And what an interesting three years, but yeah, so I am a licensed child and family psychologist. I’ve been licensed since the late 90s. Now always working with kids and teens and their caregivers. And in the last seven ish or more years and on a deeper dive into gender identity development in kids and teens, LGBTQ+ support for family so kids and families thrive in that time, do lots of supports of school home interface, and just basically really think I hang out a lot in a world where parents are raising children on different journeys from their own. That’s kind of like helping the translation of building bridges as we understand our kids paths when they’re when their identity navigation at a core is pretty different from our own as parents and I’m a mom. Perhaps most importantly informed in this and a mom who’s learned a lot about this issue for her personal and professional reasons.
Debbie Reber 05:02
Yeah, I love the way you put that because I think that is really the most challenging part for so many parents who have children on a different gender journey, even more so I think, than just having a neurodivergent kid because for most parents, it is so different from their own experience. And so there’s I love that you talk about translating that because it’s so necessary.
Laura Anderson 05:26
Yes, I think absolutely. And and one of the things I talk about, when I talk about this issue, that’s sort of a great starting point, in terms of how I discuss this is a gentle reminder to folks that we we all have, what I use the word SOGE in presentations that I do: sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. So often, when we talk about this, we sort of shine a light on LGBTQ+ folks and learn about them or try to learn about them. And one of the very first places we start is recognizing we ourselves had our own sexual orientation journey, our own gender identity journey, we make decisions about our gender expression every single day. But if you are cisgender, if your internal felt sense if your head and your heart happened to line up with your parts is how I say it, right. And for, you know, 85 to 90% of the population, as best we know, now, that does so for cisgender. Folks, if you’ve navigated a gender journey, you maybe didn’t have to think about it as actively as folks who are walking on a broader path around their gender identity. So if you’re if you have the privilege of being cisgender, so aligned, had heart and parts and straight heterosexual, then maybe as much mental emotional energy didn’t go, you weren’t as consciously aware, because it’s mainstream and around you. But I always invite parents to stop and think and get curious about how they knew what they know about their own sexual orientation, gender identity, and how they make their gender expression decisions. Because understanding that will help them understand and trust and believe what their kids are communicating.
Debbie Reber 07:21
I love all the language you use and head, hearts and parts. And it’s so helpful, because this is a new landscape for so many parents. And you talked about cisgender. And that is, as you described, when your head, heart and parts are all in alignment. I think I’m saying that right? But could you define just so we have kind of like a foundation for this conversation, the three words or terms that I think would be helpful, and please, if there are more that you think are important for this do but gender nonconforming and transgender and nonbinary for us?
Laura Anderson 07:56
Yes, those are great. And here’s a quick note about language. It’s changing, probably every nanosecond. And and, and it’s also important if this is a journey that you’re on as a parent, or as an ally of a parent, that you do try to keep a little bit in touch and abreast because because both are true, they’re changing the language changes, kids are keeping us on our toes. And it is important to try to keep learning and I appreciate the request to try to help establish an understanding. So gender non conforming, is a word that I think it’s used broadly to say like, hey, this world is gendered, before kids are born, we have expectations based on what we’re told their sex is going to be assigned at birth. We say gender, by the way, but it’s actually their sex assigned at birth, right. And so the world is heavily gendered expectations based on whether or not you believe you’re raising a girl child or a boy child are very locked in when kids are doing things that are unexpected for their sex assigned at birth. Broadly, sort of gender non conforming means not following, not conforming with the expected social rules that have been in place and passed down over time in various cultures around the world. So initially, gender nonconforming was used a lot, I would say in the community of gender professionals. And then it was sort of like, well, we don’t want to make it sound like like non white almost in a way where it became where it was sort of like I don’t know, we don’t want to necessarily want to make it sound like there’s some defiance in there that is a problem or is the exception to the rule. So the word that I hear used a little bit more often now, but it captures the same idea is gender expansive. So expanding what’s expected for and what is acceptable And what is okay? For kids of all gender identities and sexes assigned at birth, both communicate the same thing. It’s not that using non conforming is a foul anyway, it still communicates, like doing things that are. I like the word unexpected. I think it’s especially great for folks and I think we talked about it years ago as a way to talk about and especially for folks who are neuro diverse or on the autism spectrum, this idea of helping kids understand that it isn’t the what you’re doing is different or weird or unusual or like sometimes when we use language with kids will say, most boys bought about a bar kind of a thing and that accidentally communicates a normal thing. Rather than saying, Hey, we have these rules. And when you do something unexpected in your clothing choice or in your you know, friendship choices, if you do something unexpected based on these old school rules, it comes to people’s attention. So broadly speaking, gender non conforming, and gender expansive, just mean kind of like rule breaking for these expectations that have been in place so long. And and and noteworthy, transgender and non binary are interesting to talk about together. First, starting with transgender it, broadly speaking, is when your head and heart are, the way that I use it language with kids is when your head in your heart telling a different story than your parts. So your sex assigned at birth puts you into, you know, two categories, or there’s a third category intersex that happens with less frequency, but it’s important to recognize too, so there are three categories you either get put into male, female, or intersex. And for folks, the that those categories do not fit describe how masculine feminine, male, female, both or neither they feel when the part doesn’t line up with what their head in their heart tells them is their gender knowing, then we use the umbrella phrase sort of transgender, it’s become more of an umbrella, it just, I think the easiest way to understand it is that folks are not identifying as cisgender.
Laura Anderson 12:22
There isn’t congruence between head, heart and parts. And there is a need to kind of…a need to have it recognized that their gender identity is broader than their sex assigned at birth, or the parts that folks think they have. There isn’t a direct connection. And that can be kind of an umbrella. So folks say to me, this is, you can already hear, I’m trying to make sure because the language changes, but it’s important. In the old days, transgender used to refer specifically to we’re born with female parts, but are telling everybody that that box doesn’t fit for them. So they needed to jump to the other box, the other binary femaleness felt wrong. Now they’re jumping to maleness that that the way to be transgender was to understand that somebody was saying, I’m not who you think I am based on my part, I am quote the opposite, right? So there was a trans of traveling across gender identities is what where that word comes from in the old days. Now, it is understood to invite people into a broader community around where I’m sorting through my identity. Some folks within the community remain highly binary, there is a subset of transgender folks who will say I did move from one binary identity from one box to the other box that does actually fully capture my identity, I am squarely binary. It works for me to be in this box of a binary clearly male felt identity. And then there are a whole other range of folks in the community who, who feel as if their identity can’t be easily boxed right. And they can also fall under a broader trans identity because it means it’s not cis doesn’t equally align or easily align non binary specifically if you if we look at the word means not of the two not binary cannot be placed in either of those boxes. So non binary specifically means like, yeah, either the way the language that I use for folks is that rather than feeling male or female or old, binary, people who identify as non binary express that they either feel both masculine and feminine energies, or neither. So the old boxes of he and she are male and female, do not resonate in their head in their heart, and they actually are saying that they may feel both masculine and feminine energies, or or neither. So those are the broad definition. And they’re those like Asterix next to transgender because it’s kind of an umbrella, non binary. Folks, don’t subscribe to any boxes generally speaking there, they would say sort of living in a place in between two spirit is some of the language from Native American cultures historically. So I know that there’s a little bit of overlap when you’re like, wait, so So tell me in a nutshell, again, I think the easiest way to recognize it is to remember non binary folks are are some they sometimes identify as in the transgender umbrella. And within that umbrella of folks whose head, heart and parts don’t fully align. They are saying, Hey, I’m both masculine and feminine energies, or I’m neither masculine or feminine energies, neither of those fit for me, I am something else that can’t be boxed. And then transgender folks kind of can either encapsulate everybody who’s questioning their gender, or they are groups of a community are more binary by nature, they for some folks within the transgender community, it does fit to be to feel very squarely male in their head and heart are very squarely squarely female in their head and heart. So there are overlapping concepts, but distinct do I hope that helps? I know, it can be tricky.
Debbie Reber 16:36
It is tricky. But no, it’s super helpful. And I also know that there are so many other terms which we will not get into. But that is super helpful, just to kind of explain the landscape here. And, you know, speaking of the landscape, so it’s been three years since we did the episode. And I’m just curious, because, you know, just in my awareness, and the conversations I’m seeing in various communities, especially in communities that are made up of caregivers, and parents who are raising neurodivergent, kids definitely wired kids. There just seems to be a lot more conversation surrounding gender identity these days, and I’m just wondering what you’ve seen in your work in your practice, is that just my perception, or is there a real shift happening here?
Laura Anderson 17:27
Yeah, thanks. That’s a great question. I think. So both are true. Gender diversity has been around, you know, throughout the ages, you can look back in indigenous cultures literally all around the world. And there are examples of, of nonbinary of these two boxes don’t fit ways of being in the world. So it is very true that broadly speaking, gender identity expansion is not new. It is equally true that that statistics show us now in surveys broadly of folks in the United States, in particular, that like two to three times as many millennials identify as exploring their gender identity or not identifying squarely with boxes, as those of us older folks in the you know, baby boomers and whatever and all in between. So young people are leading the way in saying, you know, what, I think more broadly about my gender than we used to, I think the rate I saw GLAD’s survey that recently placed it at something like 12% of the people questioned, identified as specifically gender questioning or expansive in some way. So that’s as men with the way I talk to folks about it is like, and I had mentioned before, only, it’s really only increasing, what we’ve seen is anecdotally gender clinic numbers are going up, it comes up more in case loads of providers. And then now the research is kind of catching up to that. So it was like 12 to 15%, I think upwards in one survey, almost 17% of people ages 15 to 25, or 27, or something that’s more than the percentage of folks that are left handed. I think three years ago, I would have said it’s about the same of folks. We’re like, it’s like more than left handed people now. So when we think about how small or specialized a population This is, quote, unquote, then we have to start looking at the reality that more and more young people they’re telling us, the way they’ve been taught to think about categorizing their gender into two categories just doesn’t doesn’t fit anymore for them and that they experience their internal senses of gender with a lot more expansion and possibility than then we did as older folks.
Debbie Reber 19:57
You mentioned that especially here in the United States. And I have heard that before. And I’m wondering why that is? And maybe that leads into this question of is this a trend? Is this something that’s trendy right now in the way that maybe exploring sexual orientation in high school and college became kind of trendy 15 or so years ago?
Laura Anderson 20:22
I think that’s a great question. A couple of thoughts. Even when I say here in the US, it’s largely because that’s a lot of the data that I see. It is also true that gender clinics are cropping up around the world, they’re busy in Europe, you know, cranking out numbers on kids. So I think it’s safe to say that, broadly, there is an uptick of folks exploring this in the world. But the more important part of your question, I think, which is really important for parents and comes up a lot in my work is, is this a trend is just just something to say you’re doing as part of pushing back against the establishment, you know, in adolescence, like part of adolescence is to define who you are. And a big piece of that is, is who you’re not right? Well, I’m not that expectation of me. And I’m not going to do that. And I’m not going to do that. So a lot of parents come in saying or thinking to me, you know, I think they’re seeing this all on the internet, I think this is, you know, they found this group of friends, and all of them are exploring gender at this point. And I don’t know how seriously to take it, or I’m afraid to make decisions around this stuff, because what if this is just a trend, and this is another one of those both are true statements, right? There’s a lot more in media, there’s a lot more online, there are a lot more folks giving their first hand experience around gender expansive living and knowing and so kids are exposed to the language around this stuff and the language of possibility more than they would have been in the past. The other thing that I can tell you that is equally true is that if, if permission, was the only thing that was needed to make this a thing, if this was, kids were just trying this on as trendy, then I wouldn’t spend as much time with as many young people in distress. It’s really, um, it’s a tricky topic. Because for young, non binary and trans teams who are experiencing how uncomfortable it is to go against the grain, the judgments that other people have about them, the assumption that it is frivolous and trendy from some folks is really hard to sit with and I support many young people who who are persisting around this internal knowing even when the world gives them a lot of feedback that it’s not okay, so I hear interestingly, you can hear the emotion in my voice. Interestingly, a lot of in my world, I have a lot of great well meaning progressive cisgender hetero parents and friends who are figuring out how to be allies. And I hear a lot from folks who are in that position who are doing their best to raise progressive kids who have circles that are diverse in terms of gender identity, or sexual orientation. And over and over again, I hear them say, you know what, all the kids are doing it, their kids don’t care anymore at all about another person’s gender identity. And, and yet, my caseload is full of young people who are getting a lot of pushback about living in this space in between these binary boxes, or identifying as trans so is there more information out there? Yes. Could there be that kids are getting access to could there be a percentage of kids who are adding this into a curiosity about how they’re going to define themselves and how that’s gonna you know how they’re gonna form identities? Sure. But I don’t see that as as the majority of kids right i don’t i think at a certain point, there’s a level of commitment that gets involved in terms of taking risks socially with changing pronouns are changing names or correcting folks or calling attention to your your your style, because it’s gender mixed or gender fluid.
Laura Anderson 24:41
That often comes with discord. So I don’t know if that answers your questions, I would say yes, there’s more information about it. My experiences there may be a small set of kids who are like actively trying it on in you know, to get whatever cool points and to be seen as daring but That’s not the majority of kids that we see and work with. And I would suggest that that is likely not to persist for kids and not to continue to be a thing because at a certain point, there’s pushback, and there are decisions that are made. So I think for a lot of young people in the community, the idea that it is trendy, can be painful, while kids are figuring it out. And yet I know many parents ask a really valid genuine question about that, like, help me understand, it seems like it’s everywhere. And yeah, there’s more language about it. But it can still be a really painful internal process for some kids that I see for sure.
Debbie Reber 25:44
No, that was a great answer. Thank you for that. And so you know, you talked about identity. And specifically, with regards to the core listeners, for this podcast, we are parents and caregivers, some educators supporting differently wired kids, and there’s obviously a high number of trans kids who are also neurodivergent. And so could you spend a little time talking about that unique intersection of needs, I actually heard from one parent in our community, who is an advocate in inpatient, adolescent psychiatry, and just said, a huge number of kids living in that intersection of being trans and neurodivergent. Are the kids that she’s working with, that she’s seeing in their clinic because of mental health challenges? So can you just talk a little bit about their unique needs, and maybe what they’re dealing with right now?
Laura Anderson 26:38
Yeah, and I the the way that, that I think about that, is that, that all of it, all of it, meaning, you know, wiring, mental health, gender, sexual orientation, learning styles, to me are sort of a beautiful, complicated web of neurology, neuro diversity. And that we do tend to see overlap. For folks that that are, that are neuro diverse, that there’s a broader range of ways they do gender, there are some distinct ways that mental health issues can show up I mentioned before, one of the reasons that that we spoke three years ago is that gender clinics do see a higher percentage of folks with autism spectrum diagnoses than you’d expect, given the population surrounding these gender clinics, right. So young people who sit at the intersection of an autism spectrum, diagnosis, and up showing up in clinic, more than then you would expect, particularly those assigned female at birth. So that’s the language that you can hear people will say, like, particularly people who were born girls, helpful to parents that we talked about, they were assigned female at birth, so that lets us know something about their anatomy, but it doesn’t tell us about their gender identity. So that’s a way to describe that, folks, what they’re dealing with is added layers of both beauty and complication. And I think part of the risk is silencing one to address the other or overshadowing one to address the other too often in the field of mental health. And this is helpful for parents to know. And sometimes, you know, with parents and providers, what I see is if a child has a mental health need or neuro divergence, broadly speaking, whether it’s ADHD or autism, or bipolar, or depression or anxiety, you know, some kind of presenting issue and the gender piece, the initial instinct is to say, I think if we address that other thing, if we address the autism, isn’t this just explained by isn’t it a symptom of their autism? Isn’t this a fixation or isn’t this just because their moods go up and down or isn’t this because they’re impulsive, and this is the next thing to try. And the assumption too many times in the past has been, if we treat this other thing, if we work with the depression, if we if they if people have experienced, for instance, some kind of trauma, if we treat that, then the gender stuff will resolve when this person is more comfortable with their body or feel better about who they are broadly, then the the gender stuff will go away, or if we, if we assume this is a fixation of like the next specialized interest of an autistic child, if we wait it out that and work through the autism piece, then the gender stuff will go away. That approach has done a lot of accidental harm. Because for kids who are feeling intensely disconnected and incongruent in their body, Doing nothing around their gender identities while treating depression or trying to ride out autistic autism specialized interests without taking an active exploration of gender head is doing something. So doing nothing is doing something approach, one would be assuming that gender is best understood as a side effect or a symptom of something else. And not helping a child, get clarity, not helping them live in it in a variety of ways. And we’ll talk about all the ways to help kids explore, I hope, because parents also get a little emotional and lose sight of some important things in terms of how will you support and affirm a child. But path one would be focusing on the other areas of neuro divergence, assuming that the gender will resolve itself. It’s also unfair to assume or to put all your energy into only doing affirmation of a child thinking that if the gender piece is 100%, in the clear, then all of these other issues will go away. Right? So it’s a very much a two pronged approach in my opinion, it’s possible to be affirming of a child’s exploration around their gender identity, and seek support for the way that their neuro divergence informs their decision making and their sense of self and how they understand information. So it’s really…yes, we see an overlap of kids who have neurodiversity in some way, and gender diversity are more expansive, are more open to thinking differently outside the box ways, literally, around their gender, and all of their wholeness, I would say invites support and exploration.
Debbie Reber 31:56
Okay, let me share something that came in, in my facebook group, when on a thread regarding gender identity. And this was from a parent of an autistic assigned female at birth child said, “I hate to say the word phase here, I don’t know how else to describe it. This was our experience. It’s a difficult path for everyone.” So how can parents really support their kiddo and show unconditional love without making them feel pressure to stay a gender once they’ve declared it? So this is a child who was assigned female birth declared being a trans boy, and now is back to identifying as female. And so how can we support our kids through this in that way, you know, talked about affirming while also staying open, how do we show up to that?
Laura Anderson 32:48
Yeah, I think one of the biggest things and it’s so beautiful in terms of like the tilt parenting community, right tilt, we live as I’m sitting here, you can’t see me, but I have my head tilt. As I’m thinking about how to explain this, because it really begs for grownups in a young person’s life, to be open to reimagining what they thought they knew. It literally means being able to shake this image in your head of boxes, or a line, we used to say that gender was two boxes that’s limiting. Even when we talk about gender, spectrum and gender anybody listening here now needs to hop right into the gender spectrum, and whatever social media they can, genderspectrum.org is the epicenter of a lot of information that supports young people. And, and so but even calling their late sort of chuckle, even calling gender a spectrum suggests it’s a line and I hear people all the time talk about going to one place. And then what if they go back? Right parents’ primary fear around this stuff is fears in the extremes, I get fears from parents that are I don’t want to say no to things that my child needs. But I don’t want to say yes to too much either. Like, where is that sweet spot in the middle? Where I say yes, in ways that will support my child in the long term in their life, not just in the next three months, I don’t want to say yes to irreversible things, or to setting my child up to be an outlier in society, or to always live in a space in between and get targeted for that, right. Our parents’ worries get in front of our kids’ experience. And one of the ways that we talk about gender now is instead of a box or a line, imagine that it’s a web and that and that a change in direction is a change in direction. It isn’t going back, it isn’t hopping into another box. It isn’t backpedaling on this same line, it is actually moving through the world and getting data on your gender from two key sources.
Laura Anderson 34:57
One? Young people Get identified information about their identities when there’s no audience, when it’s them themselves, their bodies, how do they feel in their gendered body when there’s no one around? You know, for some young people bathing is really a time of high dysphoria. dysphoria is a word for discomfort specific to gender. So they feel incredible angst around bathing around mirrors. Interestingly, online classes have been really difficult for kids. Because when you’re sitting in seventh grade, in real life school, you don’t see an image of yourself all day, when you’re looking at your face all day. For a lot of gender expansive kids, that can be tricky. So no audience This is them in relationship to their own body, and all the ways that bodies become gendered as we go through puberty and our gender. The second piece of information that they are, how they integrate identity is what the world does with their gender, how are they read in the world as masculine, feminine, you know, both, or neither. And kids are sort of factoring all of that in. And I think, if we imagine that this course that they’re on, if they’re telling us, hey, it doesn’t feel as straightforward as I thought it supposed to be, I hear what’s expected of me, it doesn’t fit for me, I want to walk forward and figure this out. The parent’s task is to be able to manage our own anxiety about what it means to break rules to do unexpected things. And in some ways, parenting neurodiverse Kids kind of prepares us for that, too, right? Like many of us have earned our chops, supporting kids who are doing unexpected things in classrooms, or playdates, right, we sort of are practiced in the art of like, other people are gonna think this is an interesting choice for my child and family. But here we go kind of a thing, right. And so in some ways, we’re a perfect pool of folks to be able to think through how to walk with our kids, and to let go of our fears about ambiguity. And that is some of the hardest stuff that I see for parents is sitting with the ambiguity about the outcome of this stuff. The percentage of folks who do I mean, there’s even the the word that you’re describing is d transition is really small, that folks who are headed in the clear direction, and then change and had an equally clear, but very different direction, are very, very small, especially for kids who express a desire to expand their gender identity, post puberty, more younger kids will say things about feeling different than their gender. And then that shifts before puberty begins. But if a child is into puberty, and they’re asserting that they have a gender identity need, the percentage of kids who undo that, in a big way, is very, it’s infinite testicles, like 1%, something no folks who do so the parent work around how to support kids, this was another piece of that, I hope it’s helpful to talk about not an eight out of 10 times when people come into me, and their, their child has said to them, I think I’m trans or I think I’m non binary. Immediately people go right to surgery, or horn. It’s an emotional reaction that parents have, especially those of us who didn’t know much about it. That’s what we think about. We think about the old model of one box to the other surgery, changing your body forever. Oh, my gosh, wheels are spinning, hearts are racing. And, and I want to really, you know, sit with parents to understand that there are a myriad of ways that young people can be supported to learn about their gender identity, that don’t race straight to the medical interventions, there are absolutely young people who need them to feel safe and settled. And okay, in their bodies.
Laura Anderson 39:10
There’s also a subset of folks for whom medical intervention decision making doesn’t come for a long time in the process. If it comes at all. That’s another important thing to say about the definitions. If a person tells you they’re transgender, you don’t know what that means about their parts, you don’t know what it means about if they’re taking hormones or not. There are some people who identify as trans who’ve never taken cross sex hormones. There are some people who identify as non binary who do not have any medical interventions. There are others who are taking hormones and still identify as non binary so you know very little from the label itself. And there are all kinds of ways for a young person to explore their gender, with immediate Family, can they try pronouns? Or names? And then find out? How does it feel to live in it? Not because they’re flippantly trying things on like an outfit, but what data are they getting? With no audience when they’re by themselves? How does it feel to think about using a different name or, or pronouns or to experiment with their gender expression? How do they show their gender? It’s not their identity, it’s how we express our gender? Do they? You know, what’s it? Like, if they’re in their room, and they’re trying on hairstyles? Are they using makeup when they haven’t before? Or these things that are gender coded? Right? Would they wear clothing that would be considered more feminine or masculine? Try that at home? How does it feel? Can you? Does it resonate with the young person? Does it not? Can their two closest friends use pronouns? Can they, you know, can a slightly larger bubble of the immediate family help this child explore and live in this gender, because they gather data from themselves in private and from the world around them. And all of that is affirming, without racing, in a certain direction, toward the medical stuff, because that’s the emotional place parents go. And certainly there are kids who need it, I don’t want to minimize the fact that there are kids who get to the need for hormone blockers so that puberty doesn’t progress or cross sex hormones. But I want to also assert for folks that those decisions should be made really carefully with a team of experts and endocrinologist, doctor, a therapist who really understands gender, and can help you assess and decide when and what is right for your child. So I want to reiterate, sometimes, I think people feel like it’s a matter of walking in, you know, a child announces they’re trans and then they’re on hormones. A week later, it’s so much more complicated than that for all kinds of reasons that really serve kids and families. So I don’t know if that helps answer. I think there are a myriad of ways that parents can help a child walk on a journey, by being open about what the world is telling them what they’re learning about themselves. Parents combat their need to know, combat your need to have it fit in a box, or stay on a line. And be prepared to support your kid. If, if there are regrets I want to quickly talk about regret. The majority of people do not have regrets. The data is very clear. with adults. I mean, I’m sure we’ll get more data over time now as this young, younger generation goes through. But in the data that we have around regret, there is very, very little regret at large in the trans community of folks who’ve followed through with procedures or hormones or anything, but a lot of life and I don’t mean to make this sound flippant. Regret is a part of life, right? We can regret the college that we went to and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have gone, we can regret a marriage that we had. And it doesn’t mean we never should have gone into it. We can regret decisions we made about ending the relationship, and yet we incorporate all of those decisions into who we become later in life. And yes, there may be challenges evoked through some of these decisions around gender. But so much more harm has been done when kids aren’t centered and listened to and trusted around what needs to happen with their gender. far greater mistakes have been made in the name of silencing, squashing, waiting, hiding, then Have there been mistakes in like overdoing something, if that makes sense.
Debbie Reber 43:54
Well, this is just so interesting. And I know it’s gonna be so helpful for many, many of our listeners and I want to be respectful of the time, just listeners, we had a little bit of a rough start, we had to try a couple of different recording techniques. So tell me how you’re doing timewise Laura because I don’t want to…
Laura Anderson 44:12
Oh, I have a set I’m set for whatever you need from me I can do for the next bit. I got half an hour.
Debbie Reber 44:18
Debbie Reber 44:21
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Debbie Reber 45:04
You talked about working with a team of people to help make these decisions. And that was one of the questions that came in from a parent in the community is how important is it, to have our child work with a therapist who really specializes in gender identity.
Laura Anderson 45:21
Bias acknowledged, I think it’s pretty important. So so. So as I mentioned, when I began specialization in this work, I’d already been practicing almost 20 years. And there are lots of things in the world of therapy and psychology, that you can sort of just tweak a little bit of the knowledge that you have and learn as you go. And, again, I’m not cavalier about pretending I know stuff. I don’t otherwise either. But I will say that this area feels to me, in my humble opinion, like a real area of specialization, it’s a lot to understand. And it takes a lot of specialized knowledge about both the gender pieces, what language do we use with kids so that they will talk to us? How to understand their inner experiences? What is responsible for me to know about the implications for, you know, what’s likely to happen if somebody takes tea? How does that impact fertility? How does it impact, you know, learning and attention? There’s a ton of concrete knowledge to have, in order to be able to help people make informed consent decisions. I’m not a medical specialist, I’m not responsible for understanding the ins and outs of the medical parts of this. But I do help parents and families make informed decisions, and understand the implications of what they’re deciding. And I think it’s really important to have a specific pool of knowledge around the decisions, and the dilemmas and the possibilities that come with aspects of the gender identity piece of the medical decisions. I also think it’s really important for folks to be able to do some, some supporting helping helping parents figure out like, you know, it, my kid is an impulsive decision maker, that it has always been and now they’re really pushing this and how do I know if this is impulsivity? That I just need to kind of sit with them for a bit or do we go with them? And how fast and And what about the fact that my kid has an autism spectrum diagnosis, I don’t want to negate this, but they make decisions differently because of it, they don’t understand or see safety cues the same way. And I’m worried for them. And, and so how can you help me take what you know about autism, and tie it with what you know about gender, and let’s come up with a plan to keep my kid you know, informed and safe and seen and supported. And so, for me, it feels really important to be able to have a supportive person who understands the art of gender development, how that shows up at different ages, what kind of access you need to specialists, medically, where are the clinics really doing good work around this stuff, and then also be able to do just kid stuff, you know, kid and teen and parent communication. So I think it’s really important to find folks who aren’t going to either minimize the gender piece, or throw themselves into it, you know, headlong with just a little bit of information. So I think it’s really important for folks to find specialists who do this a lot, because it’s complicated work. It’s complex, it’s beautiful. And it’s nuanced, and complicated, too.
Debbie Reber 48:51
I want to talk for a moment about pronouns. And I know a lot of people talk about the language of preferred pronouns. I also hear people say it’s not preferred, it’s the pronoun. But two questions here, you know, one parent wanted to know how you suggest families tell people if their child has changed pronouns, or has come out as being gender non conforming, or trans, and then also how to support kids advocating when the adults teachers and coaches are not actually respecting their pronouns and and using them. And you know, that takes a hit, especially on some of these really sensitive kids to feel like they’re not being seen. So can you talk about that?
Laura Anderson 49:36
Yes, absolutely. That’s another piece of what a gender specialist will be able to help with, is exactly because this is what happens, right? The whole family is on this journey. And once you’ve allowed your child an opportunity to explore or you’re willing to say aloud, once there is you’re living in it and you’re exploring. There are a lot of decisions to make about how to communicate this stuff to other folks and That takes really open communication with the young person in your life because No, there isn’t one version of how to do that, right? It is saying, “ Hey, who do you think should know in our circle? I’d like to tell, you know, Auntie Mary, because she’s a part of our life every week. And so what language Am I using? Am I telling them that you’re on a gender journey, and we’re using these pronouns? Am I saying, hey, my child uses these pronouns right now. And so when you’re around, you know, we’d love for you to use them kind of a thing. And I think the key conversations are to have with your child, because it is their story. And you want to be clear, some kids that I know will say, Tell them I’m transgender, and this is my new name and pronoun. And other kids will say, Ah, I don’t need that word yet, that word might freak grandma out, or that word is definitely going to freak uncle so and so out. And so let’s just say I use those pronouns, I don’t need to label it. Let’s just say that advocacy is really important in this role, the data is very clear that when names and pronouns are important to trans kids they live may make a huge difference in depression and anxiety. When a child is asserting that this is something that is very important for their congruence and their alignment, and that it is actively upsetting when they are misgendered is the word for folks using the incorrect pronouns, right? We say the correct pronoun or just your pronoun instead of preferred. So when, when kids are misgendered, and it’s uncomfortable for them, this is another time for those of us parents who’ve been advocating for our kids in what they need to differentially in the world. This is the time where we go to bat. And we say, this is really important for our family. If you have a learning curve around this, you know, you can ask me any questions that you want, I’m learning to part of it’s your personal style, you know, some people are cheekier in those situations, and come up with, you know, one liners to say, versus just saying, Hey, you know, this is what we’re doing. And thank you for joining us. And if you can’t, you know, that makes me sad. But here’s what we’re going to do, because I’m all in it with my kid right now, I don’t know where we’re headed. But I know I’m all in. And we’d love to have you along as a support and an ally. And so that means using these names and pronouns. And if you slip, I know people sometimes feel like they’re going to be under the gun, if they make a mistake. If you slip up, I will always ask the young person, Hey, I’ll talk to young people and say, usually, it takes a little while for brains to switch gears if there’s been an automatic association around how to, you know, address you. So when folks mess up, let’s just remind them to just make a quick correction. Well, you know, why don’t you take that over to her him and then keep going, don’t have to stop, not like the needle in the old days dragged across the record, but recognize that there was a mistake, fix it quickly, keep moving. Schools. Gender Spectrum has a gender support plan, which is super detailed. Don’t recreate the wheel, go check it out on their website. They have thought of all the places where gender in schools, rubber, and ways to talk to schools about it. I can tell you that again, some kids in the community are like, I don’t really care if the PE teacher gets it wrong. Honestly, I just want my closest circle to know that does not cause me distress, whereas other kids are deeply impacted when anyone Miss genders or, or uses an old name. And so if your child is saying that this is a source of stress for them, and you and people, that’s one of the reasons I have a team is that I know to assess we know to assess, how’s that working? What is not working? Where is misgendering? happening? What do you need that isn’t happening? What do you need more of, what do you need less of Talk, talk to us, let’s stay in communication about this, then there really is a need for advocacy. One of the most protective things that we can do for non binary and trans kids is get their names and pronouns right? And gently but firmly hold people around them accountable for doing the same.
Debbie Reber 54:18
That’s great, thank you. Yeah, and listeners, just know that I will have an extensive show notes page for this episode where there’ll be a list of resources, including gender spectrum, and, and other places to learn more some books to read. Laura had recommended a number of resources for us in the last episode. And actually, I would love it if you could tell us about the way that you are now supporting families who are on this journey through the offerings and the work that you do.
Laura Anderson 54:47
Yeah, thank you and I and that’s perfect. I will be happy to talk about what I do. And I also want to say this is a great time to be. I think it’s really important for parents when they start poking around on the internet. About this stuff, there are a few resources that have been really highly publicized recently that are in the community accepted as intentionally or unintentionally anti trans, even though they’re sort of packaged differently. So you know, there’s one that talks about this, the folks assigned female at birth, as like a craze where we’re losing girls, and I just, it gets a lot of media attention. And so folks find it pretty quickly in Google searches. And this is a nod to say to parents, start with the known places that are affirming and thoughtful. It doesn’t mean that if you’re seeking a gender specialist, that the answer is always going to be full speed ahead, and that gender specialists do not think critically about your child as a whole. So check out Gender Spectrum. There’s Mind the Gap — a list of providers that’s associated with the UCSF Clinic and Diane Ehrensaft has written a lot of books, any book by Diane Ehrensaft is fabulous. Stephanie Brill has done the transgender child and transgender teen. And then I have some online courses for folks at Thinkific, if you just look up Dr. Laurie Anderson and Thinkific on exactly some of these things, how to talk to extended family, how to talk to your child, how to understand the differences in language and things. And so there are some courses you can find on my website, Dr. Laura Anderson calm. And I rolled out a new podcast too, in the last couple of months, which I’m happy that we get to chat about there too. So that is real world parenting, supporting families on paths less traveled. And so all those links can be found on my website. And I’m going to continue to roll out sort of offerings and things for parents to join me because I know this is a tricky, confusing, new, beautiful, complicated journey for the whole family.
Debbie Reber 57:03
Yeah, thank you for all of those resources. Again, I will have them also on the show notes page for this episode. So definitely go check those out. And, you know, I’m just so grateful. I was thinking how we met, we both spoke at an event in The Hague, through families and global transition many, many years ago. And I’m just really happy that our paths have crossed, I really respect and appreciate the work that you do.
Laura Anderson 57:30
Well, I’m thrilled to be able to overlap in community. And since we met, I’ve had several people who are overlapping with your world and it’s so I just think this, this, this parenting journey, just if we do we need our folks, and we need to be able to lean in and lean on and walk with each other. So it’s an honor. Thanks.
Debbie Reber 57:51
I’m going to ask you one last question. That would have been such a perfect note to end the episode on but I, I’m gonna ask one last question. And that is just for a parent who is listening to this, who is so grateful to hear your advice and your calm message of support and affirmation. And they’re feeling scared, overwhelmed, uncertain and afraid of what might lay down the road in this journey? Do you have maybe just one word of encouragement or support for those parents?
Laura Anderson 58:25
I do. I think I first of all, I want to say, I get them. And this is one of the things I talk about a lot. And why I sent her, the parents a lot of my work to is that even the most loving, affirming, flag waving, you know, p flag chapter opening parents on the planet. Recognize that, when kids are doing unexpected things, when kids are living on the edge of the envelope of a learning that many of us know resonates and feels right. But others really haven’t had the exposure to the openness or willingness to learn about, we do worry for our kids walking that path. And I think what I would say is it’s really important to find space for yourself to get support in those worries that you have to have a place in space to be real about what you’re worried about. Even if you don’t want to be worried about what you’re worried about. or to be sad about the parts that you’re sad about. You’re not sad, your child is who they are. But you’re sad maybe that people around them are going to be flexible or that they may experience more rejection or there can be parts of this that are sad. It’s okay to feel sad about the sad parts and not be sad that your child is who they’re telling you they are. You need space to sort through that stuff in community with other parents who get it and with professionals who can support you through that so that you can come out, but it only means that there’s another side that you can keep moving forward having mucked Through the very real hard and uncomfortable feelings, to be able to recognize there, there’s literally Oh, you know, like a whole world of, of new resources for you to connect with new people, your child will bring people places and things into your life on this journey that would not have been there, that will enrich in it. And that will allow you to think and be different and learn new things, and accept challenges and find fascinating stuff that you didn’t know existed. But, but you need space for both, I find that if parents rush too quickly toward it’s going to be okay, there’s a fabulous community there. And they’re not spending time with what is a part of this process, that it’s harder to actually welcome in the cool new things and the new people and the allies that you’re going to find on this path. So there is a beautiful community of growing parents learning how to do this, and ways to connect with them. online and in person pretty much wherever you are in the world is my experience. So this is an invitation to, to make space for the hard parts and then dust yourself off and connect.
Debbie Reber 1:01:15
I’m so glad I asked that question. Thank you. It was wonderful. And, Laura, thank you again, so much for spending so much time with us today. This is an extra long episode, but I know it will be so appreciated by our listeners. So I just want to say thank you for being a part of this community and for sharing with us today.
Laura Anderson 1:01:34
Debbie Reber 1:01:38
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