fbpx Supporting Your Loved One in Gender Expression
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on June 8, 2023

Here at Nexus Family Healing, our staff serve all youth, including trans and non-binary youth. Supporting these youth in their gender expression is a critical part in the care we provide, and we hope we can offer some advice for anyone looking for ways to support their gender nonconforming loved one. It’s important to understand that someone’s gender identity and sexual identity are two different concepts.

Gender identity is the personal sense of one’s own gender, while sexual identity is a person’s conception of their sexuality and who they are attracted to. For some people they are related, for others they are not. When people experiment with different styles, dress, and pronouns, it can be related to their gender or sexual identity, or it may simply be a fashion statement or a strong belief that fashion is not gender specific. A person’s gender and sexuality identity are very personal experiences. Here’s some tips on how you can support your loved one: 

Examine Your Own Fears and Biases

You may feel uncomfortable about the way your loved one is choosing to express their gender, or maybe you don’t understand it. You may worry about the struggles they will face or worry about them being bullied or harassed by others. 

Strive for understanding your loved one. You can prepare for acceptance by working on your own fears and biases. Right now, your loved one needs to trust that they can discover who they are in a safe and supportive environment. They will know if you accept them or not, which can help or hinder their ability to successfully self-discover. As they continue to discover themselves, they may change in many aspects of their life. If they are expressing interests that you find difficult to accept, now is the time for you to now is the time for you to learn more about their new needs and interests, even if it challenges your own beliefs.

Walk through Worst-Case Scenario

To help with your acceptance, talk yourself and your family through worst-case scenarios and what would really happen if they came true – what would it mean for you and your loved one, would it really threaten your family’s safety, and what would you do to solve or manage the worst-case scenario? 

Walking through this exercise can help you discover that what you thought might be unbearable can be managed and dealt with successfully through a change in your thinking, behaviors, understanding, and ultimately by choosing to be committed to accept your loved one no matter what. Further, this exercise can help you sort through what really matters and how societal expectations might be creating barriers to better understanding your loved one. 

Educate Yourself

Another way to gain acceptance is to educate yourself. Gather as much information as you can about gender expression, the use of pronouns, and the like. The more you expose yourself to what you don’t understand, your comfort level will increase, and your anxiety will decrease.

No matter what your personal beliefs are, remember that you have no ability to change your loved one’s interests in their self-expression and how they identify. Take the time to learn about the world they are living in, show your care and concern, and be there to support them as they, too, navigate worries, fears, and hopefully newfound freedoms. 

Understand Their Interests

Someone’s gender and sexual identity is incredibly personal, so it’s critical to not assume but to understand what your loved one’s interests and requests mean to them. Ask questions and approach them with an open mind and curiosity, with the intention of learning with no judgement. Your goal is to come from a place of love and openness. Seek to understand their beliefs around pronouns, or the why behind their self-expression. 

If their choices are related to explorations about identity, then it will be important for you to become more educated about gender and sexual identity, what it means, what to watch for, how to offer the right kind of support, and how to prepare them for living their life according to their own truth. The following are some resources to better understand gender and sexual identity:

•    How To Understand Your Gender
•    You and Your Gender Identity
•    Unconditional: A Guide to Loving and Supporting Your LGBTQ Child

Prepare for the Intolerance of Others

No matter what the reasons behind your loved one’s interests, you’ll need to help prepare them for the intolerance of others. While you want to allow them to express themselves how they want, you also want to prepare them for how some people will react to their self-expression. Talk to them about how it’s okay to feel comfortable expressing themselves, and they should be proud to be who they are, but not everyone will be as comfortable about it. Help them form a plan for how to respond to any bullying or harassment, and how they can defend themselves against what others might say. 

The most important thing you can do is reinforce the idea that the problem is not who they are, but other people’s intolerance and ignorance of those who are different from them. Help your loved one believe in themselves by modeling not to care what others think and reassuring them that no matter what others say or do, you love and accept them. 

Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health servicesfoster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.