Holidays can be painful for LGBTQ children, teens
NEW YORK (AP) — This time of year can be tough for LGBTQ children and teens when it comes to gatherings. Advocates say there’s even more at stake when shifts in identity, new names and pronouns, unsupportive relatives and a general lack of knowledge about related gender issues are in play — particularly for the first time.
A San Francisco-area nonprofit called Gender Spectrum says there’s plenty that parents can do to help.
DO SOME DETECTIVE WORK
Pam Wool, director of family support for Gender Spectrum, said it’s not uncommon for kids and teens to dismiss questions from parents, especially if they feel their answers will somehow “ruin” the holidays. She suggests starting with a simple question: “What needs to happen for you to feel good during the holidays?”
Parents should attempt to gather information from a child ahead of time at the right time and in the right place. Accept that answers may come in bits and pieces. Reflecting on past holiday gatherings might help. Ask for three things that didn’t go well and how those things can be changed.
COVERING ALL THE BASES
Parents should think ahead of time what information should be conveyed and to whom. Does a child or teen want to do the talking themselves?
Names and pronouns should be shared beforehand. So should guidance on which questions are OK to ask and which are not. Help others realize that what may seem like an innocent comment, question or mistake can have a lasting negative impact.
DON’T GO INTO ATTACK MODE
Parents need to check their own attitudes at the door, especially if a child is feeling celebratory about coming out recently or deciding on a particular manner of dress. Being thoughtful and deliberate is key when attempting to manage extended relatives and friends.
“A lot of times parents go into kind of Mama Bear, Papa Bear roles of being very protective, and completely understandably so,” Wool said. “Some parents tend to jump to the ultimatum stage really quickly.”
DURING A GATHERING
Find a way to check in with your young person in the moment, whether it’s a quick run to the car for some privacy or a stress-relieving pivot to an activity, like a game of cards.
Also, Wool said, shut down conversations related to gender that are inappropriate in the child’s presence, particularly when young children are involved.
DRESSING & GIFTS
Working out formal attire may take planning, especially if your family will be traveling. How can dresses and suits be modified, for instance, to suit a child’s gender identity?
Parents should make sure all accessories are available: preferred undergarments, accessories, shoes. They should also consider who might find their child’s gender expression in dress difficult or upsetting, and take that on.
Offering a child a gift aligned with gender can be a powerful statement of affirmation and support, Wool said. Handing over the opposite can leave scars and spoil a child’s holiday.
Gender Spectrum suggests parents make it clear to gift givers to stick to what a child is asking for and not to use gifts as a way to challenge a child’s gender.
All of that can be conveyed by parents, if necessary. Otherwise, parents can suggest gift certificates for an experience, or gift cards with a broad focus.
“We want the child to feel like they’re loved,” Wool said, “and that they’re seen.”