Dear Dr.Eve – My daughter is 16, and declares she is non-binary

“Dear Dr Eve ,

My daughter is 16 years old and declares that she is non-binary and gender fluid.   She wants us to use the pronoun “they” when addressing her. We want to support her – or do I say “they”? But we are unsure how to do this. Your guidance is needed.

Kali”

DR EVE REPLIES :

Dear Kali,

Thank you for reaching out. Many parents, like you, are somewhat confused as to the openness of sexual and gender expression that their children are exhibiting. It is indeed a whole new world of youth and I appreciate you wanting to learn more. This could well save your child from trauma.

Stay with me as I give you some vital facts, facts that are meant in goodwill to educate you. Staying in ignorance breeds fear, fear brings anger and anger results in detachment from your child. And as you will see, your child needs a huge amount of your protection and attachment.

The terms “binary” and” gender fluid”  can be used to describe anyone who doesn’t feel they fall into the categories of either male or female.

Listening to youth they state some of these reasons for taking on non-binary/gender fluid/agender identities  :

“I have an inability to force myself to exist comfortably within the social rules surrounding gender”. 

“Changing pronouns, changing names, changing wardrobes, or, sometimes, changing nothing at all in order to feel like the truest version of myself “. 

“Not having my  body tightly regulated by one narrative , a mono-hetero-normative model”

“ Being authentic to myself “

“Being in charge of my identity”

“I have a sense of Community”

 Kali, be sure, however, to know that each experience is unique to the person. After all the motivation for your child is about they view themselves, not how society views them. And thus your learning comes from ongoing communication with your child.

The reason I am so pleased that you reached out is that trauma is a huge possibility that your child can experience if her sexual/gender identity is not recognized.

Here is what trauma looks like in LGBTIQA + youth :

  • 42% of LGBTQ YOUTH seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year (2020)
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) youth experience trauma at higher rates than their straight peers.
  •  Common traumas experienced by these youth include bullying, harassment, traumatic loss, intimate partner violence, physical and sexual abuse, and traumatic forms of societal stigma, bias, and rejection
  • These disproportionate experiences are in turn related to higher rates of PTSD symptoms as well as other negative mental and behavioral health outcomes.
  • Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as rates of PTSD possibly related to these experiences, are more prevalent in LGBTQ youth than in heterosexual and cisgender youth
  •  Children and teens who do not look or act like society may expect them to, based on the sex they were assigned at birth, tend to experience more verbal, sexual, and physical abuse than their peers.
  • Some youth actually experience victimization because of others’ perceptions of their orientation
  • 27% of LGBTQ students reported that they were physically harassed (pushed or shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation, and about 13% were physically assaulted (punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon) due to their orientation.
  • About 9% of LGBTQ youth have reportedly experienced sexual victimization, including rape and sexual molestation, based on their orientation.

An interesting and important point for you to ponder: pay attention to your home environment – how safe and secure is it ?? The reason I ask is that LGBTQ adults report having experienced much higher rates of victimization (up to 2 times higher for sexual and physical abuse and about 1.5 times higher for emotional abuse) during their childhood than have their heterosexual/ cisgender counterparts.  

How to protect your LGBTIQA + child from harm and trauma :

  1. family acceptance of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity may have a protective effect against many threats to well-being, including health risks such as high-risk sexual behaviors (e.g. unprotected sex), drug use, and suicide
  2. school safety
  3.  caring by adults in the youth’s community or church has been shown to be a significant protective factor against suicide ideation.

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