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Experts and parents on how to support genderqueer children

Updated on: 27 June,2022 10:24 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Tanishka D’Lyma | mailbag@mid-day.com

Singer Jennifer Lopez introduced her child, Emme, at a concert using the pronoun ‘they’, which highlights the importance of parental support for genderqueer children. Queer affirmative psychologists and a parent share how a supportive safe space at home matters

Experts and parents on how to support genderqueer children

Emme and Jennifer Lopez on stage in Los Angeles. Pic Courtesy/Chris Villa, Twitter

Recently, at the Dodgers Foundation Blue Diamond Gala in Los Angeles, Jennifer Lopez proudly used ‘they’ as the pronoun to introduce her 14-year-old child, Emme, on stage for a duet performance, showing her support for her child’s gender identity. This opens the conversation to the need and importance of parents’ support and acceptance of their child’s gender identity and sexual orientation.

Let’s talk
Unnati Bhardwaj, queer affirmative counseling psychologist

Unnati Bhardwaj believes that in this generation, the onus of cultivating an attitude of acceptance should be on the parents. They bust the myth that talking about gender at an early age will make your child queer, saying, “Instead, speaking about gender will make a closeted queer child feel safe and loved.”

It is equally necessary to engage with children about gender and different kinds of bodies. They explain that children are able to grasp the concept of gender when they are as young as three years old, and accept challenging concepts faster than adults. “This won’t be a one-time conversation; allow it to be an ongoing one where your child feels comfortable to open up because their life experiences will change with age,” they tell us.

They explain that identity is not dependent on the sex one is assigned at birth; it reflects what one feels; and individuals can comprehend this at an early age. Gender identity is not a lifestyle choice; it is who a person is. And so, educating your child about gender identity, using gender-neutral pronouns, and asking your child what pronoun they feel most like themselves when used will ultimately help your child better navigate their way to understanding and living their own identity.

Let’s listen

Coming out to one’s parents is marked by the fear and uncertainty of how one’s gender will be received; it is an expression of trust as well as vulnerability. They explain, “Understand that this is a journey that your child has to make, and you can only support them. Parents don’t have to teach gender to their kids as much as they need to learn about their child’s gender from them.”

Approach queer affirmative therapists and support groups to help understand and embrace your child. It’s okay if parents need time to process their child’s coming out if they feel too overwhelmed, but do so without blaming or projecting your feelings onto your child. The psychologist shares an important reminder — “Gender and sexuality are only a part of the person you have always loved, and them being queer does not make them a stranger to your affection.”

Support beyond home

Create a support plan with your child to determine safe and unsafe people. With unsafe people, they say, “Explicitly demonstrate affirming language, correct them when they misgender your child, and shut down any attempts to undermine, question, or dismiss your child’s identity. Deny them access to your child unless they are willing to use the correct language and attitude.”

Be aware of infrastructural discrimination in hospitals, security checks and public spaces that force conformity. There will be difficult instances that your child will face alone and parents’ support helps lay a foundation of self-confidence.

Parent matters
Vidya Martis, parent and homemaker; Neil Martis, student, Mumbai/Canada

A Mumbai-based parent Vidya shares her experience as a proud mom of her genderqueer child, Neil, 28. She says, “Don’t judge your child on the basis of their gender or orientation, because nothing will change the fact that your child is your child.” She highlights the importance of a safe home environment and a parent’s full support, love and acceptance in ensuring their child is prepared to face the real world and live their true selves. Neil adds, “It’s natural for children to look to their parents for a safe space. So parents should not place hurdles for their child to come out to them.”

Vidya and Neil Martis
Vidya and Neil Martis

Tackling the resistance to accept and use the pronouns one identifies with, the two explain that addressing someone with pronouns they do not identify with is disrespectful. When addressing one’s genderqueer child outside the home, the mother and child maintain that it’s important to first ask one’s child how they would like to be addressed since they might have come out to a section of society and not to another.

This calls to mind Unnati Bhardwaj’s suggestion of having a support plan developed by both child and parent, with the help of a psychologist for guidance, if needed. Strongly laying down the truth, the 53-year-old parent reminds us, “Society should be more concerned about one’s character and contributions rather than who they are and who they are attracted to.”

Break the taboo
Deepika Bhandari, psychotherapist and co-founder of Dear Oliver Therapy Services

Topics of gender identity and sexual orientation are tabooed by society. Bhandari maintains that parents must move away from such conventions and normalise them through open conversations. A good starting point can be to educate yourself and question your biases.

How to build a safe environment for your child:

>> The act of coming out is scary. Genderqueer children may be afraid that they may be alienated, not acknowledged, and that their coming out might be met with disapproval and anger.
>> If you have questions, ask. But ask to understand, not to cast doubt on or alienate your child. Understand the difficulties and experiences they are going through, and ask how they can be supported.
>> Place the onus of educating yourself on yourself instead of making your child teach you.
>> When others misgender your child, correct them. Support your child and be an ally.
>> Language is gendered so make an active effort to use gender neutral terms. 
>> If you address your child by the wrong pronoun, don’t let it slide. Acknowledge, apologise and move on.
>> Lastly, trust that your child knows better about themselves than you. They have spent time understanding themselves.

Be in the know

Unnati Bhardwaj shares websites and organisations with vast resource lists of helplines, support groups, films, podcasts and books.
1. lgbtqindiaresource.in
2. thetrevorproject.org
3. desirainbow.org
4. linktr.ee/therapywithunnati
5. Sweekar, the Rainbow Parents on Facebook

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