Gender dysphoria refers to the distress induced by a strong desire to identify as something other than one’s sex, preferring the typical dress and social activities of the opposite sex, or having a desire to change one’s body to appear to be the opposite sex (transition). It’s a feeling of discomfort that a person experiences when their gender identity doesn’t match with their biological sex.
Those who struggle with gender dysphoria should be aided by therapies that guide an individual to explore root causes of their distress and a healthy acceptance of their sex. A diagnosis of gender dysphoria does not justify the use of irreversible hormonal and surgical interventions which give false hope, promote a negative view of the body, and ignore mental health needs.
Asisha Behera and Abhilash Patra – both youth champions of #BaateinUnlocked – list things that parents can do to help their child. #BaateinUnlocked is a youth-led movement to engage young people in India to come together to talk about everything “taboo” and break barriers around cultural and social norms across India.
How Can Parents Help?
There are certain dos and don’ts, when practiced by parents, that help the children a great deal:
Identifying the signs of gender dysphoria: Basic signs of gender dysphoria in teens are intense desire to be the other sex (i.e. dressing as the other sex), discomfort with biological sex or expressing anger regarding the gender binary. However, these are some of the basic signs, some rare signs could be feeling “trapped”, difficult to truly feel any real sense of purpose in life, emotional disconnection, feeling different from everyone else, and unhealthy coping.
Be open to your child’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings. With that you will help validate your child as a person, without having to validate the trans-identity. Parents should talk with their child in a friendly manner, children should be given a chance to speak and express themselves. Parents can avoid regulating or stopping their child from wearing or expressing in a certain way. Deviance from norms is alright. All children need to know that their parents love them and will not abandon them.
L-Listen and love: Listen to your child’s concern and provide unconditional love
I-Interact and Introspect: Ask questions about your teens experience of gender dysphoria, and also identify your own mental and emotional processes which will help you to understand your child’s situation
F-Feel and Find: Find your doubts and questions that can be resolved, find experts and discuss, feel what your child is going through and try to reach out to experts
E-Educate: Learning about about issues concerning transgender youth and educating yourself on gender dysphoria is a great way to demonstrate support to your child. Parents and children can watch videos that are created by trusted and credible experts, these videos can offer authenticity and trust to the issues that parents and children are grappling with. For instance, a trusted voice could be of a local sports person or actor dealing with gender dysphoria and credible experts could be doctors or therapists.
Identifying the right potential therapist: Avoid the therapist who blames your child. Morally, shaming and blaming is not a psychological approach. When describing their therapeutic approaches, therapists have an ethical duty to be open and honest. Leave with your child if a therapist ever puts pressure on you by saying that your child must "transition or else become a suicide statistic." This statement is untrue! Gender dysphoria may occasionally have been exacerbated by parents’ well-intentioned actions. Therapists shouldn’t "take sides," with the rare exception of objective abuse. Good therapists will assist parents and kids in understanding themselves and one another better, enhancing family connection and communication in the process. Hence, identifying the right and good therapist is very much important.
Support in medical transitions: Through counseling and hormone replacement therapy, where the child wants to transition, parents should offer support through the processes.
Don’t support conversion therapy without adequate knowledge: Parents should not support conversion therapy, it might lead to anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Create community groups of parents: Parents should discuss these issues within the community and focus on creating a culture of respecting the body. Pushing important aspects of transgender issues within schools and creating a safe space for their children. This process can be done by involving the teachers, school boards and developing policy and pushing them through the community.
The views expressed in the article are the authors’ own.
Asisha Behera (she/her) is a transgender activist and Director of Tarit Foundation, a community organisation working in Odisha
Abhilash Patra is an epidemiologist and bio-statistician, he is a core committee member of the LGBTQIA+ community based organisation in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Organising member of Bhubaneswar Pride Committee
Also read: A Parental Guide For Answering Your Child’s Toughest Questions