As a heterosexual cisgender woman, I value LGBTQ+ Affirmative Therapy tremendously but I also need to recognize my limitations in understanding what it’s like to struggle with these issues on a personal intimate level. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Kyle Shepard, AMFT, a self-identified gender expansive pan sexual male in a same sex mixed race marriage.

It’s officially PRIDE MONTH! This is an excellent opportunity to dive in, expand understanding and sensitivity, and explore queer spaces and events to show support to the LGBTQ2S+ community.

 

Here are some highlights from my conversation with Kyle:

1. How do you work with parents of teens who are questioning their gender identity? Are you offended when they mistake pronouns or feel ambivalence around their teen’s journey?

Kyle: Working with parents of LGBTQ+ teens who are questioning their identities is one of my favorite populations to work with. I provide a gentle and understanding approach. I commend the parent for taking action to better help their child. It’s normal to have a lot of different feelings about this.

It’s more than just education and understanding. Feelings of grief and failure may also be part of the journey. It’s important to process this and learn how society and cultural conditioning plays a role. If you are a parent that comes in with idea/expectation I’m going to help “fix your kid back to what you think is normal,” I am not be the right fit. I do hold space and provide psycho-education. I do not feel offended when people mistake pronouns. I get it. It’s hard to break old ways. I help parents shift their vernacular because it may matter more to their teen than they realize, but I understand that it’s sometimes a process.

 

2. How do you work with teens who are questioning their gender identity? Do you assume that all teens questioning their identity are trans? Is it ever just a phase?

Kyle: I always want to meet my client where they are. I come from an LGBTQ+ affirmative lens. This is very important to me. There are many bills/laws being passed in other states that have banned LGBTQ affirmative health care. Some people don’t seem to understand that “Affirmative Care” does not only mean “giving kids testosterone blockers” or “prescribing top surgery.” We need to change that narrative.

LGBTQ+ affirmative care is also normalizing the client’s queer experiences, thoughts, and questions about who they might be. You don’t have to agree with being LGBTQ, why would you if it’s not for you? What is harmful is “not believing in it”.

Queer stories and experiences have been documented since the beginning of time. It exists. Saying you don’t believe in it creates erasure and can be harmful. I think providing teens with the representation of Queerness in history helps them feel more normal. It’s my goal in working with them to change the narrative that what they are dealing with is wrong and such who they are is  wrong. Society has done that. Society and oppression have created that, not the client.

I never assume all questioning teens are Trans. We are lucky to have finally tapped into breaking the binary of more expansive ways looking at gender identity.

Many many other cultures have more than just two genders. Thailand, for example, has ALWAYS had a third gender. They have up to 18 different gender identities.

I would steer away from the idea or statement of saying “it’s just a phase.” It can be sound and feel minimizing. Rather than a “phase” I like to promote the idea that gender and sexual identity has fluidity. I believe this exists in all people in some way, shape or form.

Dr. Alfred Kinsey the creator of the Kinsey scale, is known as “the father of the sexual revolution.” The Kinsey scale was created in order to demonstrate that sexuality does not fit into two strict categories: homosexual and heterosexual. Instead, Kinsey believed that sexuality is fluid and subject to change over time. We have to apply this to gender identities as well. Think of it as a constant exploration.

 

3. Why do you like working with teens struggling with identity and their parents?

Kyle: There are many reasons why I like working with this population. One of the bigger reasons is more personal.

As a self-identified gender expansive pan sexual male in a same sex mixed race marriage, I have had quite a lot of my own journey. I like to give back to others the way I was given to. My Graduate degree focus was specifically on LGBTQ+ affirmative care in conjunction with Black, African, and Multi-Theoretical approaches. I had the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa. It was amazing to see how they connect and acknowledge the intersectionality of race, sexual and gender identities.

Working with teens and parents on these issues provides an opportunity to create safe spaces for younger teens and parents to practice/model/ and understand the importance of being an Ally.

 

4. How has the recent political climate surrounding LGBTQ issues impacted the mental health of persons struggling with their identity?

 Kyle: This year holds a record high of 471 new anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills or laws being considered or passed. This climate, regardless of what state you may live in, can be very scary for the LGBTQ+ community. For older generations it can trigger past traumas of oppressive times, for millennials it can create a sense of hopelessness, anxiety and stress as they have experienced so much change, and for younger generations it’s teaching them about the oppressive ways our country once was.

With people “Coming Out” at much younger ages, this climate may leave them feeling like who they are is wrong. This can lead to severe shameful spiraling and to significant mental health concerns.

 

4. What resources (books, film, TV) do you recommend for teens struggling with gender identity and/or the parents?

 Kyle: This is a positive change we have seen! The representation for the LGBTQ+ community has grown significantly. A simple google search can provide you with endless LGBTQ2S+ books on how to parent and take an affirming approach. I personally think reading about LGBTQ History is very helpful. Michael Bronski’s a “Queer History of the United States” is a good place to start. I like “The GAYBC’s” as well  as it’s a simple book to help understand the language. A great gender beginner book is called “Meet Polka Dot”. This really helps with breaking down gender identity and has great illustrations.

I also think that reading any material with a queer theme can beneficial for a parent to gain deeper insight. Doing this helps one that is maybe struggling to understand normalize how love is love. It’s not easy for a heterosexual brain/heart to “get it” just as it’s not easy for a queer person to understand heterosexuality.

There are many television shows currently out there that show queer relationships. Heartstopper does an amazing job demonstrating the struggle as well as an affirmative approach amongst young white queer males. “We’re Here” on HBO (now MAX) is an incredible series that highlights real stories of oppression and struggle in smaller communities in the US and I strongly recommend it. Moonlight is an intense movie, but an important story to be told. So much, it won the Oscar for best picture.

 

Why is this important for all parents to understand?

When our primary caregivers love and accept us for who we are regardless of gender identity, sexual identity or any other factors, we feel like we matter in the world. Creating a space for your child to feel safe being and revealing who they are is invaluable. Parents often make well-meaning mistakes, but understanding how you can support your children and everybody’s children in their own exploration of who they are creates a community of love and acceptance that serves us all.

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