When my husband and I learned we were expecting our first child, we were ecstatic, and, admittedly, a little nervous. I was among the first in my friend group to start a family, so I didn’t have anyone to share notes with, or learn from. What To Expect When You’re Expecting, by Heidi Murkoff, was the most popular pregnancy book in 1999. I can still remember going to buy it. I was anxiety ridden because we had not yet told a soul we were expecting, and I was afraid of running into someone I knew at Barnes & Noble! Ah, how life has changed with the advent of Amazon! Knowledge is power. When I am unfamiliar with something, I need to find out as much as I can about it. I was nervous about the nine months ahead of me and I delighted in reading anecdotes like, “your baby is the size of an apricot and weighs a quarter of an ounce.” I liked knowing exactly what was going on inside my body. This pattern would continue as my children grew outside my body. At each stage of their development, I would read everything I could find about parenting, potty training, developmental milestones, pediatrician visits, schooling, etc.
At the time my daughter confided in me about her gender identity, she was already seeing a therapist. The therapist was helping her navigate high school based on the results of a psychological education evaluation (a.k.a. “psych-ed” evaluation) which revealed ADD Inattentive, Executive Order Dysfunction, and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). Her grades were improving, but her depression and anxiety were not. I was disappointed to learn our daughter had confided in her therapist about her gender identity a full year before she shared the information with us! I was disappointed for two reasons. First, I considered gender dysphoria to be a serious matter that was outside the scope of the therapist’s expertise, not to mention our reason for seeing her. Second, we live in small town (when compared to Chicago) so finding specialists can be difficult, and, when you do find one, the wait to see them can be long, which was precisely our experience. I’m not going to speculate about why or what the therapist did or did not do, I’ll just say it should not have taken an entire year to convince our child to share this information with us.
The reality of parenting a transgender teen is this – by the time your teen informs you about their gender identity, they have already known for a long time, have done research, and have decided they need to take the steps necessary to be their authentic self immediately. You, on the other hand, must play catch up! Not only was I a year behind on a subject I knew nothing about, but there was a two month wait to see the psychologist (one of only two in our insurance plan, I might add) who specialized in gender dysphoria! This made our daughter’s depression and anxiety worse, and, created tension in our home. Those two months felt like an e t e r n i t y. My husband and I did what had come so naturally to us throughout our previous sixteen years of parenthood, we searched for information so that we could become more knowledgeable. We scoured the internet for information about gender dysphoria. The amount of information we found was overwhelming. It was difficult to figure out the difference between valid information and mere opinion. In the end, we had more questions than answers. So, we eagerly awaited our first appointment with the psychologist.
In our attempt to become more knowledgeable about the topic of gender dysphoria, we discovered words that we were unfamiliar with. I am providing some basic definitions to these words here for those who are beginning this journey, and those who may just be interested in learning more about the topic. I struggled with a title for this list, so you won’t find one. These words are not just nouns, some are also adjectives that people use to describe who they are or their experience as a human being. It may be different from your experience as a human being, and that is okay.
Lesbian – a woman who is attracted to other women
Gay – a man who is attracted to other men
Bi – short for bisexual; person is attracted to both sexes
Trans – short for transgender; a person whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned at birth
Queer – a term used to describe fluid gender identity or sexual orientation
Cis – short for cisgender; a person whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth
Agender – no gender; a person who does not identify as male or female gender
Gender Dysphoria – a person identifies as the opposite gender and experiences discomfort with their assigned sex which results in significant personal distress
Gender Identity – a person’s innate understanding or feeling of who they are; can be male, female, a mix of both, or neither
Sexual Identity – how a person thinks of themselves in terms of who they are attracted to; sexual orientation
Gender Non-Conforming – a word used to describe a person who does not adhere to society’s expectations of how they should behave, or dress, based on their biological sex or gender assignment
Deadname – name assigned at birth
Transition – word used to describe taking steps to change a person’s gender appearance to align with their gender identity
Blockers – drugs used to halt puberty and/or prevent the development of a person’s inherent sex characteristics
HRT – hormone replacement therapy
MTF – short for transition from male to female
FTM – short for transition from female to male
T – short for testosterone; male sex hormone
Top surgery – common surgery for FTM transition; may include bilateral mammogram and/or chest contouring
Bottom surgery – surgical procedure performed on a person’s genitalia, so their physical appearance is compatible with their gender identity
If you are beginning this journey with your gender non-conforming child, or simply would like to learn more about the topic, I recommend visiting websites such as GLSEN or HRC. These sites will provide you with helpful information and resources. Again, these are not paid endorsements, just websites I found on my journey that provided useful information about gender dysphoria.