Gender Vocabulary: How do I talk about my teen’s gender?
Gender has always been a pretty basic topic in most households. There are boys and girls. Males and Females. But it’s not always been “basic” in how individuals experience their own gender identity. More and more young people are becoming more vocal and “coming out” to their parents. If your teen has said they don’t feel like the gender (male or female) that you’ve always known them to be. Let’s start by talking a little about gender vocabulary.
Whether your teenager has told you they are transgender, gender fluid, questioning their gender or anywhere else on the gender spectrum, you may be feeling a little lost. On the other hand…you may not have even had this conversation. Perhaps you’ve noticed some things and are reading this post hoping to find the right terms to even begin a conversation about your child’s gender. Regardless of where you and your family are on your journey, hopefully this will help.
Fitting into the Gender Box
If you’re reading this blog post, it’s likely you’ve heard at least one term along the lines of “transgender,” “non gender binary,” “gender non conforming,” or “gender fluid” spoken by your child or someone else in your life. The first and most important thing to know about any of these vocabulary terms is that ht most important thing is that the individual person who is gender nonconforming to choose(or not choose) the label they feel most comfortable with. Just because your teenager feels like they aren’t the male or female you thought they were at birth doesn’t mean that they even know what box they do fit in yet.
Specific Gender Related Terms to Know
New terms for gender are becoming popular every day. A few terms to know (definitions taken from this article on gender identity terms) when talking about gender
Cisgender: A term used to describe someone whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth. This means that when the baby was born (or maybe even earlier on the ultrasound) people saw the physical features and announced, “It’s a Boy!” or “It’s a Girl!” Someone who is cis gender feels that they are indeed the male or female the doctor and/or their parents thought. *You’ll also hear people occasionally say non cisgender which means the individual does not identify with the gender assigned at birth.
Gender dysphoria: Clinically defined as significant and durational distress caused when a person’s assigned birth gender
is not the same as the one with which they identify.
Gender expression: The external appearance of a person’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined masculine or feminine behaviors and characteristics.
Gender fluid: A person who does not identify with a single fixed gender, and expresses a fluid or unfixed gender identity. One’s expression of identity is likely to shift and change depending on context.
Gender identity: A person’s innermost concept of self as man, woman, a blend of both, or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. Gender identity can be the same or different from one’s sex assigned at birth.
Gender non-conforming: A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.
Gender questioning: A person who may be processing, questioning, or exploring how they want to express their gender identity.
Genderqueer: A term for people who reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientation. People who identify as genderqueer may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female or as falling completely outside these categories.
Non-binary: Any gender that falls outside of the binary system of male/female or man/woman.
Queer: An umbrella term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations.
Sex: The classification of a person as male or female at birth. Infants are assigned a sex, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy.
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural and social expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth.
Language changes. Words that were acceptable 10 years ago may now be offensive. Words individuals identify with and find affirming now may actually feel offensive in the future.
For example GG or genetic girl… this was once the term for cis female or someone who feels like a female and was assigned the female gender at birth. Cisgender is the term that clarifies simply that the person identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. Afab (assigned female at birth) or amab (assigned male at birth). The term GG or generic girl now implies that women who are transgender are not genetic (interpreted FULLY) female and is insulting. Transgender women are no less a woman than an other woman, so cis gender is currently the accepted term.
It’s hard to predict what will change in the world of gender in the future. So, be aware of some of the current terms listed above. But also understand that language is fluid and ever evolving. The most respectful thing you can do is ask your teen how they identify and what pronouns they would like to use.
It’s OK to Not Know Everything
It’s ok to ask if someone uses a term that you are unfamiliar with. As long as you are respectful in how you ask and are clear that you want to understand because you care, most of the time your teen will be grateful you were looking for definitions.
Wondering How to Support Your Child After they “Come Out”?
Once you’re child has identified that they aren’t cis gender (remember, this means that they don’t identify with the male or female gender they were assigned at birth), what’s next? How do you support your child? Stay tuned for a post next week on steps parents can take to fully assess gender!
About the Authors
Jessica Tappana started Aspire Counseling, a Columbia, MO counseling clinic in May 2017 to provide effective treatments in a caring, accepting environment. She carefully chooses therapists who are both caring and provide evidenced based treatment. Aspire Counseling frequently works with teenagers and young adults struggling with anxiety, trauma, grief, coming out, depression or a variety of other mental health concerns. We also work with parents and preteens particularly around gender and sexual identity concerns. Jessica has sought out trainings on LGBTQ issues and wants Aspire Counseling to be a safe space for people from all walks of life. Seeing a need in the Columbia area, Jessica added a therapist, Stephenie Carlson, to Aspire in Spring 2018 who does specialize in helping transgender individuals gain confidence and live as their most authentic self.
Amy Stewart is a woman who happens to be transgender who believes education breeds acceptance. She was a facilitator for a transgender support group in St. Louis, MO and now offers advice and education through her own Q and A forums. She welcomes your questions. Her email is AskAmyAnythingCOMO@gmail.com