Growing up isn’t easy. The teenage years are particularly tough. Those are the years when we confront our own adulthood, and they can be scary, confusing, and upsetting. Our teenage years are full of threats and questions that come from around us and inside of us. Teens deal with social stresses and school work as well as important questions about their own identities and the ways in which they will define themselves as adults.
All of this is hard to get through — you probably remember more than a few stressful incidents from your own teenage years. Being a teen is tough even under the best of circumstances, and some things make it even harder. And few journeys of self-discovery are as fraught as the one that comes with questioning one’s gender identity.
Gender identity and the teenage experience
Many of us grew up in an era when gender was presumed to be a very simple concept. Gender was the same as sex; the organs on a person determined it. Even back then, of course, it was clear that things weren’t quite so simple — then, as now, some people were born with both or mixed sexual organs — but it was often presumed to be a straightforward thing.
Science tells us that this view was oversimplified. We now know that the way our brains define our gender and the way our bodies define our sex are sometimes out of alignment. We’re still learning more about the science of gender identity, but it is now clear to scientists what some, through lived experience, knew all along: Sex and gender are different.
Of course, there’s no way to know from just looking at a baby if that baby’s gender aligns with his or her sex. So children are generally raised in the gender they display. For transgender individuals, this can make for a difficult but important period of awakening to a gender identity, a “coming out,” and, if they so choose, transitioning to the sex that better suits their gender identity.
Parents, teens, and big decisions
Exploring and questioning one’s gender is difficult, especially when it is combined with all of the other stresses and fears of the teenage years. And it’s not easy for parents, either. Parents want what is best for their children, of course, but it’s sometimes hard to know what is best. And parents are quite literally of a different generation than their own children. Supporting a child can be tough for parents who don’t themselves understand what the child is going through.
That’s why it’s so important to call in the pros. Transgender teens are at a terrible risk of depression. Transgender individuals are far more likely to attempt suicide than cisgender individuals. If your teen has questions on gender identity, provide support.
Serious depression should be treated seriously. Turn to psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, and consider transgender treatment centers for depression.
And a mental health professional can be of invaluable help to teens questioning their gender identity regardless of whether or not they suffer from depression. Working with the professionals can help both you and your teen better understand what is going on. A true professional will not deny your child’s feelings or lived experience, nor will they rush your child to transition. Proper and modern care will mean allowing your teen to explore and question before making small but important steps to keep their options open.
The day may come when gender identity is not as fraught a subject as it is today. That will be a beautiful day, but teens going through this today deserve support from parents and the help of trained professionals. The teenage years are tough, and few have it tougher than teens questioning their gender identity — but with your love and the support of the people who know this subject best, your teen can get through these years and become the adult he or she was meant to be.