The Relationship Between Transgender Identity Affirmation & Mental Health
Whether we are willing to admit it as parents or not, gender and sex can both be very complicated subjects. Both gender and sex can complicate the life of a teenager, and if they identify as an individual who is outside their assigned male-female binary, they will inevitably be exposed to a unique set of challenges.
If you are a parent of a teenager with a transgender identity, the most important things you can do are listen to, love, and respect them. Contrary to what the confused public may want you to believe, they are not identifying this way “for attention”. What they are feeling is genuine and real, and as a parent you play an important role in helping them feel validated as a human being.
What is transgender identity?
Gender is something that is not objective, rather, it is subjective. What this means is that gender—which is an abstract concept that cannot be measured or held—is something that is both fluid and exists upon a spectrum. Gender, which is notably different than the term “sex”, is something that can change over time. Whether an individual identifies as female, male, or anything else, they are still necessarily correct because gender is something that is entirely determined by their own subjective identity.
The term “transgender” is derived from the Latin prefix “trans” which means beyond. Traditionally, the sex an individual is assigned at birth is highly correlated with the gender they will identify as. But this is not always—nor does it have to be—the case.
Because the terms “female” and “male” with respect to gender are subjective, these terms may have entirely different meanings to different people. So even if someone has been assigned a specific sex—for example, female—their gender identity might be something beyond that. Even if their sex has been labeled as female, they might not feel as if they are female per their own subjective definition. Because with respect to gender, any label or identity is by definition subjective, if an individual has a gender identity that differs from their assigned sex—in other words, they are transgendered—they are still necessarily correct.
What is transgender identity affirmation?
Though these terms and definitions may certainly be confusing, they are not something that ought to be reserved solely for the ivory towers of academia. Transgender is a real identity that directly affects the daily existence of many people. By definition, as long as someone identifies this way then the identity must necessarily exist.
Having a transgendered identity is not an easy task. Transgender individuals are far more likely to suffer from ridicule, bullying, and unwarranted abuse throughout the entirety of their lives. Having the willingness to “come out” and admit that you are transgender is a bold and courageous act in and of itself.
Transgender identity affirmation is the act of having another person or group acknowledge and accept your identity. Many transgender individuals might try to come out to someone and have their identity dismissed.
“You’re doing this for attention.” “You’re doing this because it’s trendy.” “It’s just a phase.” “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.” Hearing any of these common and dismissive phrases can be quite hurtful for a transgender individual to hear. Transgender identity affirmation is the very important moment when someone is finally willing to say—“I accept you and love you for exactly who you are.”
How does transgender identity affirmation affect an individual’s mental health?
There are a number of negative things that can come as a result of having one’s identity denied. To functionally be told, “You are not who you say you are. You are not feeling what you think you are feeling” can have a uniquely damaging impact on teenagers and adults alike. Identity rejection destroys an individual’s ability to write their own narrative and to live their life as they see fit. It is the enemy of freedom, of personal agency, and of self-determination.
Identity rejection can result in depression, low self-esteem, patterns of self-harm, and even suicide. As a parent, denying your teenager’s transgender identity will not stop them from feeling what they are feeling or thinking what they are thinking. Identity rejection can do no good, and can only do harm.
Transgender identity affirmation, on the contrary, can immediately yield numerous positive effects. If your teenager has come out to you, the chances are they have been thinking about this decision for a long time. Affirming their identity and assuring them that you will love and accept them no matter what can provide them with the self-worth and validation they need to make it through some of the most difficult years of their life.
Transgender identity affirmation promotes emotional well-being, cognitive wellness, and the confidence needed to do well in school, work, and elsewhere. As a parent, one of the best things you can do is love your child unconditionally. No matter who they are. No matter what they may be feeling.
Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment center that specializes in treating LGBTQ adolescents. If your teen is suffering from gender dysphoria, questioning gender identity, or another mental health disorders, it is important to seek help immediately. Our fully accredited staff have the experience, tools and training to help your transitioning son or daughter through this difficult time. Polaris’ therapists utilize proven, evidence-based treatment modalities that are backed by scientific research. Invest in the right treatment for your teen’s future. For more information on our youth programs, or to speak to an admissions specialist, contact our admissions team here.