“It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” These words bring joy, and expectations of the new life yet to unfold. Parents are already imagining what their child may be like when they grow up. But, things don’t always turn out as we expect…
- * Assigned sex is determined at birth when the baby’s genitals are examined and the sex is declared male or female.
- * Gender identity is a person’s inner sense of being female or male, or neither, or a blend of the two. Usually our gender identity matches our assigned sex, so we don’t give this matter much thought. Since this is the case for most of us, our society expects it to be true for all of us.
- * Gender expression encompasses how we present our gender to the world, on a spectrum of feminine to masculine, as these qualities are understood within our nation or culture. Clothes, manner and grooming as well as, for children, preferred toys, playmates and activities are some of the ways we express gender.
- * Transgender refers to people whose gender identity or gender expression does not conform to societal expectations based on their assigned sex.
- * Affirmed gender identity is the gender identity a transgender person discloses. It’s the one that feels right for them, even though it differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.
All cultures have expectations regarding the interests and behaviors of those who are assigned male or female. Those who grow up with a gender identity or gender expression that doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth are stigmatized for being different.
As a result of stigma, transgender people may be treated with disrespect and harassment or physically harmed by family members, teachers, peers, and strangers. The fact that this harassment can come from those who are supposed to be caring for and protecting us is especially hurtful. In fact, the Family Acceptance Project has shown that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) youth who are rejected by their families are at much higher risk of depression, substance abuse, low self-esteem and health problems. Providing a child with the greatest freedom of gender expression, and the least amount of societal or familial disapproval, allows the child to develop an authentic sense of gender identity, free from shame. GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, advocates for “every student, in every school, to be valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey concluded that “Schools nationwide are hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBT students, the overwhelming majority of whom hear homophobic remarks and experience harassment or assault at school because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.”
B Stigma Free emphasizes fostering understanding and respect to combat stigma. How does this apply to reducing stigma about gender identity?
Understanding: This article provides you with an introduction to transgender identity. You can learn more about transgender identity and the lives of transgender people from articles, books and films by and about transgender people. Understand that the gender identity an individual affirms is their true gender identity, whether or not it fits with your view of their appearance and manner or your expectations about human nature.
Respect: If you know someone who is transgender, honor their chosen name and pronouns (whether they prefer female, male or gender-neutral pronouns such as “they”). Include them in same-gender groupings with people of their affirmed gender. Graciously accept their use of gender-segregated spaces (such as public restrooms) in accordance with their affirmed gender identity. While some of these steps may seem difficult for you at first, you will find them easier with time and practice. It’s helpful to remember that an individual’s affirmed gender identity is authentic for them, even if it seems surprising to you.
Schools: Advocate for acceptance of differences and freedom from bullying. Get rid of gender-segregated groupings when possible. Include positive representations of LGBT individuals in the curriculum. Respect transgender students by honoring their preferred name and pronouns. Welcome them to make their own choices about the use of gender-segregated spaces such as bathrooms and locker rooms.
Employers: Make sure your policies prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. Include coverage of transgender health care in the health insurance you offer. Hire and retain employees without regard to their gender identity or gender expression, including when these change in the course of a person’s employment.
Taking these steps we can reduce stigma, live more authentically, and make our society safe and welcoming for people of all gender identities.
Irwin Krieger, LCSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in New Haven, CT and a member of the B Stigma Free Advisory Council. A graduate of Yale with an MSW from UConn, he has provided psychotherapy for LGBT individuals, couples and families for over 30 years. Since 2004, Irwin has been working extensively with transgender teens and young adults and their parents. With the goal of expanding the base of knowledgeable providers for transgender teens and their families, Irwin provides training for mental health and health care professionals, as well as school personnel. Irwin Krieger is the author of Helping Your Transgender Teen: A Guide for Parents. You can find information about the book and an extensive list of resources for parents at HelpingYourTransgenderTeen.com.