Let me tell you right up front I kinda lied. The distressed mother was calling to see if I was a suitable to counselor to work with her 14 year old daughter. She asked me, “do you work with pansexual teenage girls?” Well, as I work with all teens, my answer was “yes”. Fortunately, she did not quiz me, “do you know what pansexual is?” Right after I got done talking with her, I jumped online to see what in the hell she was talking about. So here I am, a few years later, still trying to digest the 64 different sexual classifications.
If this seems like an irrelevant subject, it’s could be because you don’t have much contact with 5th to 9th grade kids, particularly girls. However, as a counselor, I do. The prevalence of gender confusion is rather shocking. We can debate the cause of this strange phenomena, but it’s important enough that we should skip directly into what to do about it. So there are a number of ways to approach this topic. I am picking two: as a normal person living in this strange world of ours and as a therapist (and father).
As we probably know, most kids are not sexually developed in 5th grade. Some weren’t too developed in 7th grade either (see: John’s First Jr. High School Trauma). So to declare, and typically with some degree of pride, that you are pansexual, nonbinary, cis, or many other new labels is, at the very least, not accurate. Or absurd, depending on the environment. This is a relatively new phenomenon, and potentially troubling. As kids, particularly young girls, are sensitive to their place in the world, they are inadvertently labeling themselves in a manner that will affect their social existence. Add to that a new layer of family dysfunction and discord, and the troubles are mounting. All of this to just “make a statement”. In 6th grade, boys are still generally idiots in front of girls. Girls are usually better company for girls. The lack of interest in boys is now being misinterpreted as being non-heterosexual. THEN, as if it couldn’t get any weirder, schools are adding to the mix by being scared of being labeled prejudiced, so they may allow kids to change their name to a made up, “non-gender” name. “West, Roux, Painter, Robot” are a few snappy examples. Some colleges are perhaps leading the way by allowing kids to demand they be addressed by a pronoun. “They, them, their” are a few. Add the newly made up ones such as “xe, ze, sie, co, and ey” and we have a new language of silliness. With the support of the gay community (hereby referred to as the G+ community, as it’s too difficult to find each letter on the keyboard), and now lack of support really gets labeled as prejudiced. *sigh*.
Is it a temporary trend? Does it foretell a grim future for the normalcy of the U.S.? Who knows? The real question is, what can we do to help our children in these challenging times? Now we switch from a somewhat disgusted parent to a therapist.
Continue with Part Two.
It is our duty (and privilege) to raise our children to be remarkable human beings. Through joyous times and trying times, we should attempt to be what our child needs. So, in addressing this one issue, I try to be empathic, understanding, but not cowardly. In situations such as these, our kids need to not create such a hostile environment that we lose our focus on being credible to them. Keep in mind what you should already know by now: Telling our kids that they are flat out wrong does not convince them to change their minds. So then, how do we help to guide them?
As much as it seems to be a waste of time, letting them talk is immensely helpful. When what is rattling around in our head is put into words, we often will get another way of looking at things. When a kid is feeling listened to (which is not often), their defenses are softened. At the same time, mentally clarifying our position to ourselves (which also is not often) helps in giving our child something to consider rather than to merely argue about. For example, is our point, “YOU ARE NOT POLLYWANNACRACKER SEXUAL!!” or is it, “when we are in 7th grade, it is premature to declare what our sexual preference is. How would we know so early in life?” They don’t have to agree, but know that you have just planted an important thought in their soft little head. Or, “why loudly proclaim what you feel your sexuality is? If some 8th grade boy went around school proclaiming, ‘I’m not a gay guy, I only like women!’ would you consider him a loud mouth? Our perceived sexuality is a private affair, not something to be advertised.” In this manner, the kids have much more time to figure out their place in the world.
Considering that our child may be different than us increases the likelihood that they won’t make a decision based on merely an angry attitude. Where it is possible our child may truly be gay (or G+), as it is estimated that 2% of the population may be, we must guard against contributing to a hateful home environment that may increase the odds that our child is making decisions based on angry emotions rather than on mature decision making. With control, love and dedication, we can firmly but respectfully disagree with our child without pushing them away into a dark and lonely corner.
These are certainly strange days, and it’s important that we pass the test of not pushing our child away when they need our guidance and direction. They might be making us crazy, but we need to be their rock.
John S. Sommer
Licensed Clinical Social Worker