“Society has created boxes around what’s considered normal, and anyone not in those boxes may feel there is something wrong with them,” said Ehrlich-Menard, adding, “The idea that it has to be one or the other, boy or girl, keeps us from understanding our kids.”
She encouraged everyone to have open conversations with their children, read books about gender expansive characters, and think carefully about the language you choose in order to avoid stereotypes and negative messages.
During the program, she also explained commonly used terminology and offered advice for parents.
Terminology You Should Know
- Heteronormative: The idea that being straight is the norm.
- Cisgender: If sex assigned at birth and sexual identity are the same, an individual is cisgender.
- Queer: Term used to describe a non-heterosexual or non-cisgender individual. Previously considered negative. Some people are still offended by this term so it should only be used for self-identification.
- Pronouns: Transgender and gender-neutral individuals often use the pronouns they/them/theirs. Another gender-neutral pronoun is ze/zir/zirs/zirself. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask an individual their pronouns. If you mess it up, apologize, and move on. Learn more by watching this YouTube video.
Strategies to Support Your Child
- Affirm who they are with love. Know that their sense of self is evolving, and your job is to embrace them throughout their journey.
- Listen with intention. Give your child ample opportunities to open up and share their thoughts and feelings.
- Support your child’s self-expression. (Check your reaction to things like clothing.)
- Stand up for your child when they are mistreated.
- Your child’s sexuality and gender identity are theirs to share. Follow their lead on who they open up to and when that happens.
- Response for Teens is a program of JCFS that focuses on adolescent and family therapy and education. Clinicians specialize in trauma, anxiety, LGBTQ+ identity affirmation, and other mental health issues that impact adolescents.
- Youth Services of Glenview/Northbrook has a robust pride youth program including LGBTQ+ support groups for junior high and high school kids. They also offer crisis intervention services and individual and group therapy.
- Lurie’s Gender Development Program provides outpatient services aimed at supporting the physical, mental and social health of patients and their families as youth progress through gender identity development. Programs include gender affirming play dates, support groups, research groups, parent support groups, and gender affirming health care.