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Health and sexuality Q&A: gender identity; where babies come from

Published Mar. 30, 2017

EXPLORATION OF GENDER IDENTITY IS NOT UNUSUAL

My 16-year-old daughter recently told me she identifies more as a boy than a girl. When she was younger, she was always very girlish. Now, she's telling me she wants to start binding and she's asking me to call her by a boy name. I'm worried she's going through a phase. Is she?

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy recently estimated there are roughly 1.4 million adults in the United States who identify as transgender. Because of changing public opinions in regard to the LGBTQ community, transgender individuals feel safer coming out earlier in life. To date, there are no reliable estimates on the number of transgender adolescents and teenagers living in the United States. There have been smaller, countywide surveys, providing us with what national figures may look like. In 2015, a countywide assessment in Dane County in Wisconsin found that 1.5 percent of students in grades 7-12 (18,494) identified as transgender.

Sometimes, teenagers need to experiment with their gender identity. In 1948, Dr. Alfred Kinsey established the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, also known as the Kinsey Scale. The scale explained that sexuality can be numerically categorized between 0 (exclusively heterosexual) and 6 (exclusively homosexual). Many of us fall somewhere between 0 and 6. Gender sort of works the same way. Not all of us identify as exclusively female or exclusively male. Our adolescent and teenage years are when we explore where on the scale we feel comfortable.

Support your daughter's journey and let her know you are there for her. Ask her questions about what it means to be transgender and how she is feeling. There are many resources on the internet. The University of Rochester's Counseling Center has a helpful website for parents (rochester.edu/UCC/parents/transgenderchildren.html). Trans Youth Equality Foundation also has a wonderful website for parents (transyouthequality.org/for-parents). There are also several therapists and support groups in the Tampa Bay area who work with transgender youth and their parents.

FIELDING THE OL' WHERE-DO-BABIES-COME-FROM QUERY

My 5-year-old son constantly asks me how you get a baby, and I have no idea what to say. Where do I begin?

(Answered by Juli Hindsley) Determining how to respond to child inquiries about sex, and the appropriate age at which to have this conversation, can be overwhelming for parents. However, it is important to remember that these conversations may be awkward for you, but your child does not yet know that society thinks this topic is uncomfortable.

There is nothing taboo about being the person to teach your child the right information about sex. In today's digital age, if you don't answer his questions, he will find a way to access the information, and it may not be in the age-appropriate, dignified way that you as his parent want it to be.

First, clarify what your child is asking. Perhaps a classmate of his was talking about his parents "getting" a baby via adoption, and your child simply wants information on what this means. It also helps to ask your child how he thinks you get a baby. Typically young children will have an elaborate thought process about this, and it will help you see where your child stands and what information you may need to add or correct.

If your child is truly asking the "where do babies come from" question, be casual and straightforward and make the process into a story. It is best to use scientific terms for body parts to avoid confusion and to help your child gain comfort with talking to you about his body and sex. For example, telling a 5-year-old that a baby comes from mommy's tummy may be confusing, as tummies are for food. A baby comes from an egg that mommy's body makes and sperm that daddy's body makes and it grows inside mommy's uterus, which looks like it is in mommy's tummy. The baby starts out really tiny and then it grows inside mommy's uterus, which makes mommy's tummy look big, and it comes out when it is ready. Most children do not need more detail than this, and they will be satisfied that mom or dad gave them a "real" answer.

As children grow, it is important to check in with them about their bodies and their thoughts about sex, and to add more information as needed. The more straightforward you are when talking to your kids about their bodies, the more comfortable they will be talking to you and knowing they will keep getting accurate and real information, regardless of the topic.

Dr. Katie Schubert has master's and doctorate degrees in sociology and gender studies from the University of Florida and a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling from Adams State University in Colorado. She completed her postgraduate studies at Florida Postgraduate Sex Therapy Training Institute and is a certified sex therapist, providing therapy to individuals, couples and families on issues related to sexuality, sex and gender in St. Petersburg. Contact her at drkatieschubert.com.

Juli Hindsley, owner of Children's Counseling Center of Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, has master's degrees in applied developmental psychology and clinical mental health counseling and a graduate certificate in child and adolescent development. She has worked as a therapist in New Orleans and in the Tampa Bay area, and specializes in anxiety and depression in children and teens as well as families dealing with divorce. Contact her at juli@childrenscounselingcenter.net.

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