GLPG Clinician Shari Slebodnik, LLP, PhD Candidate
Anatomical Sex vs. Gender Identity
Even before a child is born, most people are curious as to whether the baby will be a boy or a girl. Pregnant women and their partners hear far too often, “What are you having?” The baby shower is themed in colors associated with a particular sex. The baby’s room is designed based upon the sex. Because of socially accepted gender-roles, or stereotypes/expectations, knowing someone’s sex seems like a simple way to understand the person. The opposite may be truer. While gender has mistakenly been considered an either/or, boy/girl characteristic, we have evolved socially. We have begun to re-think our idea of what gender means and how it is determined. The sex of a person is based on physical, anatomical characteristics visible at birth. A person’s gender is based on that person’s psychological perception or “sensed” identity.
Gender Variance & Transgender
Gender variance. Non-conformity, and Non-Binary are terms that refer to a person’s desire to express their gender in ways that do not fit the socially predetermined masculine/feminine expectations. Sometimes those identities are expressed through clothing and outward appearance, while other times through name and pronoun preferences.
The term Transgender refers to a person’s perception of their gender identity as being incongruent with their anatomical sex at birth. Often the person will journey through a process during which the person alters their physical identity to be more aligned with that perception. Some people accomplish this through voice therapy, surgical interventions and surgical restructuring, but this isn’t necessary to identify as Transgender or Trans* (this is the minority, in fact). According to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), a consortium of medical experts, the least that can be done for a person who identifies as trans* is through hormones to prevent puberty or to aid in developing physical features of the sex with which the person identifies.
Most parents are unprepared for and uneducated in the appropriate ways to help their child (or adult child) navigate gender non-conformity or transgender related issues. Parents often find themselves needing to work through their own shock, grief, shame, etc. so that they can best help their children. Parent support through individual, couple, family or group therapy can reduce the parents feelings of isolation and shame and can assist in providing skills and tools to meet their child’s and family’s needs.
Help through Therapy and Support Groups
Since identifying as Non-Binary, Gender Non-Conforming, Variant, or Transgender is not a mental illness or a condition requiring treatment, there are no therapies to “cure” an individual. However, because being diverse in these ways can result in abandonment, rejection, bullying, hate, violence and discrimination by others, depression, suicidal thinking, anxiety and traumatic stress are all too frequently experienced. Depression, anxiety and trauma therapies can all be very beneficial.
A knowledgeable counselor is tantamount to navigating the transitional process, and developing coping skills and abilities. The Trans* community has a current suicide rate of 48%. That percentage is the highest of any community and is a very serious concern. Being with others who understand, can relate to, and who have had similar experiences is instrumental to a person’s mental health. Support groups are also designed to provide encouragement, resources, and assistance through many feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety.
Referral Letters for Hormones and Surgery
While not required by law, most physicians require a psychological assessment and professional letter from a licensed therapist to provide hormones and/or sexual reassignment surgery. The letter writing process typically involves an appointment with a gender specialist who assesses the person’s understanding about the procedures and their ability to make an informed decision. A letter is then written on the person’s behalf.
Gender Identity Counseling
If you would like to talk about your gender, your child’s gender identity, or to find support for yourself, or a friend or a relative, I’m here to help. Call (800) 693-1916 to schedule an appointment soon.