Teens and Gender Identity

Gender Affirming Therapist Brett Peppe MA, LPC, LCADC

When people think about the LGBT* community often their minds go directly to issues related to sexuality, but LGBT* is really an umbrella term that reaches far beyond issues of sexuality. The “T” in LGBT* stands for transgender: when an individual’s gender identity and expression differs from the one assigned at birth. The * encompasses the many other groups that are under the umbrella.

Youth who are transgender are not making a choice to be another gender, but are the other gender. They do not just want to play dress up or be called by another name, but they wake up and live each day feeling miserable in their own bodies. Often youth may want to change their bodies through the use of hormone therapy or surgical intervention called gender affirmation surgery.

Transgender teens experience a unique type of stress called gender dysphoria which comes from the disconnect between an individual’s gender assigned at birth and their gender identity. Individuals born biologically female and identify as male are transgender males and individuals born biologically male and identify as female are transgender females. There are also individuals who identify outside the binary of male and female and may identify as non-binary.

Individuals that live with gender dysphoria often find themselves in extreme amounts of pain and those in the transgender community are at a higher risk of attempting suicide or developing co-occurring mental health and/or substance use disorders. Transgender youth are often vulnerable to rejection; lacking the social and family support needed during this very difficult transition.

Below are some important tips to support trans teens.

    Don’t make assumptions: find out the teen’s pronouns if you don’t already know. You can do this by listening when their friends or others speak with them or ask them directly. This may feel uncomfortable to ask, but it communicates that you care enough about them to find out. If you’re meeting the teen for the first time you could introduce yourself and say something like, “My name is Brett and my pronouns are he/him. What about you?”
    Be patient: keep in mind that transgender youth are more likely to experience rejection by peers as well as their family. It may take some time for them to figure out who they are and what their true identity is. It’s not uncommon for an individual to see what pronouns feel right or what name is theirs. Allowing them space to explore provides them with powerful support!
    Sexual orientation is not the same as gender identity. It is wrong to make an assumption about a trans-person’s sexual orientation based upon their gender identity. The only thing that gender identity can communicate is how much an individual identifies as male, female or non-binary.
    Affirm their individual choices: there is no one way that an individual should transition and each teen’s transition will be uniquely theirs. A transgender teen’s identity is not dependant on medical procedures…some people will want their gender identity to be recognized without hormones or surgery. Never ask about surgical status. Would you ask anyone else about the status of their genitals? Probably not.
    Don’t offer unsolicited advice: while you may feel that you’re offering good ideas and support, often these comments can come across as being insulting and may be hurtful to the individual.

While these tips are not exhaustive, my hope that this was helpful in getting you to think in a different way and in leaving I ask you to do your best. If you are genuinely honoring the teen’s gender identity, they will likely tell you how you can best support them in this transition. Remind them often that you truly love them and that you’ll be there for them no matter what.

What if I Want Help?

I am a counselor based in New Jersey that specializes in treating those in the LGBT* community living with gender dysphoria as well as sexual identity confusion. I also specialize in treating youth (14+) and adults following a trauma to learn how to begin the healing process and effectively cope by working toward their personal wellness goals. If you would like a partner in your recovery, book a complimentary 15-minute consultation or appointment through the client portal or contact me at [email protected] or (908) 248-2762.

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