Let’s be clear right off the bat, the concept of gender identity is not particularly challenging to understand, and many people are extremely familiar with it at this point. But, not everyone has been as exposed to this type of identity, and in truth, this concept’s importance has soared over the past decade or so.
Many of us know someone who is transgender, gender fluid, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming. If you are one of these people who is or knows someone who identifies with any of the terms mentioned here, the idea of gender identity is nothing new to you. However, some people may not have been exposed to individuals who identify with any of these terms before. This is totally okay, and hey, that’s why you’re here, right?
Today, we are going to talk about gender identity and help you understand how you can best support your loved ones who are in the process of exploring this identity within themselves. So, if you are not particularly confident in your grasp of what gender identity is, keep reading to learn more about it.
Mayeb you are already extremely familiar with the concept of this identity and are simply looking for tips on supporting your loved ones who may be working on discovering their own gender identity. If this is the case, feel free to keep reading or skip down to how you can show your support.
What Is Gender Identity?
It is important to distinguish between the terms “gender” and “sex” before moving forward with this piece — just so that we can all be on the same page on these concepts before diving into anything else.
Put simply, “sex” refers to the biological designation of a boy or girl given at birth. This designation is made based on the presence of male or female reproductive organs and, realistically, is only useful as a scientific designation. In other words, “sex” is used in many statistical analyses, medical trials, and other surveys that measure reactivity or effects that can be skewed by a person’s biology. For example, many alcohol surveys will ask for the participant’s sex alongside questions about their drinking behaviors because the number of drinks that qualifies as heavy or binge drinking is different for individuals of different sexes.
The term “gender” tends to be a little harder to define because, for all intents and purposes, “gender” refers to how an individual identifies as they grow older. The concept of gender is a social construction that utilizes certain behaviors and terminology to help someone describe how they feel as they grow up. This is why it is completely reasonable for someone to be designated “female” at birth but identify as “male” or “nonbinary” or any of the other terms we mentioned earlier when they grow older.
For this person, the socially-accepted and associated behaviors and mannerisms of “female” simply do not suit them, and therefore they identify themselves as something other than their sex.
How to Show Support
Figuring out what gender identity really suits you can be an incredibly long, hard, and scary process. So often, the people we love go through things that we cannot simply “fix” for them — exploring gender identity is one of them. But, just because we can’t make the struggle disappear does not mean we cannot help and support them as they go through it.
There are many ways that you can be there for your loved ones who are exploring this identity and show them that they have your support and love no matter what realization they come to. Here we have included a few simple ways that you can show them your support.
Learn About Gender Identity
The first thing you can do to support your loved ones is just learning about what they are going through. Take some time to learn about gender identity. As a person who is discovering their own identity, your loved one is likely looking for someone to talk to or even someone to just understand what they are talking about and going through. You can be that person for them if you educate yourself on the topic and are open to their choices and their journey.
Appreciate Their Trust in You
Unfortunately, certain gender identities — especially those that do not “align correctly” with someone’s birth sex — are still very stigmatized and face a lot of prejudice. It can be incredibly hard to let people in when the world around you seems like it is shutting you out and just waiting for ways to ostracize you. After all, if you let someone in and they reject you, that can be extremely hard to recover from.
Realize that this may be exactly what your loved one is going through as they explore their gender identity and if they have shown their trust in you by bringing you into their journey, truly appreciate how hard or scary that must have been for them. One thing that you can do to show your loved ones that you are there for them is simply to thank them for trusting you and including you in their journey.
Show Them Respect
One of the best things you can do to support your loved ones is to respect their choices and desires. For example, if your (previously) niece wants to be referred to with they/them pronouns, use those pronouns when talking about them. The unfortunate truth is that while our society as a whole has definitely made progress in accepting “non-conventional” gender identities, it is not as accepting as it should be.
So, if one of your loved ones wants to use certain pronouns or otherwise identify themselves in a particular way, respect that and support it by speaking up and correcting others when they do not respect your loved one’s wishes.
Ask Them What They Need
So many people overlook the simple truth that the best way to show your support is to show your loved ones that you are there for them. Asking what you can do, how you can support them, and simply how you can be there for them can be incredibly helpful and easy to do.
When you do this, you show your loved ones the support they need without imposing yourself on them. Maybe there isn’t really anything you can do at this time other than love and support your loved one through their journey. That is fine. But, if there is something else you can do, your loved one can feel comfortable telling you what that is if you show them that you are there for them.
Do Not Force Anything
Let your loved one come to you with any of their concerns, discoveries, or anything else. As we’ve mentioned many times before, this can be a rather long and stressful process, and you do not want to make your loved ones feel as if you just want them to “get it over with.”
If your loved ones want specific support from you, they will ask for it. Just show them that you are there for whatever they need and that you love them no matter what.
Consider Getting Support
Maybe some of the information you have learned about gender is new to you, and you need some time and help to incorporate this information into your worldview. On the other hand, maybe you are simply looking for more information and more ways that you can show your loved ones the support and understanding that they deserve.
Whatever the reason, talking to a therapist about what you are going through in terms of your own journey with understanding gender identity can be extremely beneficial to not only you but also the loved one you are supporting. A therapist can help you to determine the best and most effective ways for you to be the best support system you can be for your loved one while also helping you to grow alongside them. So, if you are looking for ways to better support your loved ones through their gender identity journey, please do not hesitate to reach out to us today at Love Heal Grow to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists.