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Gender Confusion In Our Families: How Does One Respond?

Addressing the elevated profile of what we can broadly call “transgenderism” in the media, schools, professional literature and public policy, I have written many articles over the years regarding how best to understand and respond to persons who identify as a gender other than what would be indicated by their chromosomal and anatomical sex.  In those pieces, I have discussed the most reasonable way of understanding:

The push by some segments of society to gain acceptance of the notion that a person has the right, and even duty, to define himself in whatever manner he feels is fitting (the list of options continues to grow – pansexual, gender fluid, genderqueer, etc.) has resulted in an increased number of people who are personally acquainted with someone not living in accord with his or her birth-sex.

So, when neighbors, friends or family members say their child is “transgender,” how should one respond in a helpful and positive way?

To answer the question, we must take full account of the context and culture in which we live:  “tolerance” is the virtue most prized (even though tolerance is not actually a virtue); legal decisions are legitimizing these new classifications; and most professional medical associations have acquiesced to the pressure to conform with the demands of the LGBTQ activists, despite the lack of any clear and consistent evidence that living as a ‘transgender’ person (by whichever label) results in increased health, well-being or happiness.

Simultaneously, most people have neither the time nor the inclination to investigate and decipher the conflicting messages.  To speak plainly with concern for those not living in accord with how they were created, is to risk being cast as a bigot, or worse.  Consequently, the myth that such matters are personal choices and the correct response is to accept the person’s declaration of identity, persists largely unchallenged.  The whole dialogue is treated as a matter of personal feelings, and ignores the strong political overtones and efforts of the activists to change the core of society.

Elements Of A Response

Anticipating that the people sharing the news have a strong emotional investment—at minimum in protecting their child from what they might view as discrimination, but possibly also in the movement for a broader challenge to traditional notions of family and human sexuality—it is wise to approach the dialogue with a sense of empathy and charity, with a primary goal of preserving the relationship more so than winning any debate.

It is very clear that youth experiencing what until recently was aptly called Gender Identity Disorder [9] also manifest a host of other psychological and emotional problems, and so the parents likely need some measure of compassion and support.  Although these problems are not caused solely by bullying or discrimination, undoubtedly such instances occur and exacerbate the problems which are fundamental to the conditions themselves.  People who are hurting, (particularly children and adolescents) find more comfort in a collective label such as “trans,” than in a nameless, and at times solitary, struggle, thus the emotional need to be categorized.  The child and family in these situations might best be understood as having found an unfortunate “solution” to a painful existence or set of experiences.

Yet, compassion does not equate to acquiescence, and it is unhelpful to simply express acceptance of the label/pronoun being claimed, which can reinforce stereotypes and prejudices and prevent us from accepting individuals and getting to know the real person.  In response to those initiating such a discussion, it might be best to ask if they are interested in resources to help them understand their child, acknowledge that there are a lot of conflicting viewpoints on the topic and offer to help accompany them through maze [10].

For a suffering child or teen who is labelling himself, I asked in a prior article [11]: Which is more compassionate: to affirm or celebrate gender or sexual “diversity,” knowing that in the long run it will only result in disappointment, disillusionment, and/or pain; or to charitably attempt to show the suffering family the truth and a path to healing?

Surely, the latter.  Yet, the challenge is in finding the words of charity.  Part of this charity may be a refusal to reduce the person to a label or set of characteristics.  When a person asserts “I’m Gay” or “I’m Trans,” we might respond with “Oh, but you are much more than that!  That is just one dimension.  I am interested in all of who you are.”  In this way, we assert that a person’s being and worth transcend any labeling of a particular aspect of his or her current perception or feeling.  In other words, a person’s sexual inclinations or gendered feelings do not determine his or her identity.  Any ensuing discussions should recognize the totality of the person, apart from any name, pronoun or label.  Dignity rests in how the child was made: out of love, unrepeatable, male or female, and in the image and likeness of God.