Identity begins to take shape at an early age. Although unconscious at first, identity can become a source of questioning, change and upheaval in adolescence. Every child is unique and develops at their own pace. Today, as parents, we need to be informed and equipped to deal with gender identity with our teenagers—without any taboos or prejudices.
Familiarize yourself with the vocabulary
Some terms seem complex at first glance. Familiarizing yourself with a few essential key words not only facilitates discussion and exchange with your teenager but also helps you feel more at ease when the subject comes up.
The sex assigned to a person at birth is based on the appearance of the genitals. Generally speaking, the sex assigned to a person is either female or male.
A person's sexual orientation is defined as the sexual or emotional attraction they feel towards others, whether to the opposite sex, the same sex, both sexes, or any other gender expression.
Gender identity is based on a person's deep and intimate sense of their own identity, i.e. the gender category to which they consider themselves to belong–for example, boy, girl, both genders, somewhere in between, or no gender at all—regardless of the sex assigned at birth.
Gender expression is the way in which a person expresses and represents their gender to those around them and in society. This is usually revealed through a person's appearance and behaviour.
The expression of gender identity
As your child grows, they will experience certain gender-related gestures and behaviours. In adolescence, the identity or desire to define oneself as a unique person takes on increasing importance and tends to be expressed in various ways, for example, by:
- Speech (saying it clearly)
- Dress code
- Haircut and style
- Choice of activities
- Choice of sports
- Social interaction
- Preference for a first name, nickname or personal pronoun (she, he, they, etc.).
Gender dysphoria is a term used to describe the anxiety or emotional turmoil experienced by a person whose gender identity does not correspond to the sex assigned at birth. Some children feel no discomfort whatsoever about their anatomy and gender identity, while others feel deeply troubled, particularly in adolescence, when puberty arrives and the body begins to transform.
Tips for supporting your teenager
Although the situation may seem delicate at times, the best thing you can do as a parent is to remain open to discussion, starting at a young age. Here are a few suggestions to help you help your teenager through this period:
- Talk openly with your child about gender identity (it's never too early to broach the subject)
- Ask your child about their thoughts on the subject
- Keep an open mind
- Read books or listen to films on themes related to gender diversity
- Take every opportunity to meet people of different genders
- Use inclusive words and phrases
If you're having trouble assimilating or accepting your child's gender identity, don't hesitate to ask for help. Resources are available to help you, whether through organizations, self-help groups, a family doctor, a mental health professional, etc.
The greatest gift you can give your child is to listen to and support them in affirming their identity. Your parental support is essential!
Text written in collaboration with Vie de Parents