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Behind the issue: Transgender students, parenting and approaching the topic

Psychologist dives into medical, emotional sides of transgender issue

SAN ANTONIOA male student at St. Luke’s Episcopal School will soon attend school as a girl.

But the issues surrounding the the student’s transition may be unfamiliar to some in the community and even at St. Luke’s.

Exact terminology

Darrell Parsons is a clinical psychologist who sees teens every day who may question their own gender identity.

He said most people with male bodies who feel comfortable being male have a male brain.

Likewise, most people with female bodies who feel comfortable being female have a female brain.

Parsons said gender dysphoria is defined as the condition of feeling one's emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one's biological sex.

In other words, the body develops one way with male or female anatomy, while the brain forms differently as a male or female brain.

“When you ... have that, you have the dysphoria,” Parsons said. “You just don’t feel right. You look at your body and it doesn’t fit. What you see in the mirror just don’t fit what you think in your mind.”

Parsons said gender dysphoria is listed as a mental health issue, but disagrees with how it’s identified. He believes it should be a health issue.

“It’s not a mental illness, however mental health issues do come along with being transgender. They have higher rates of anxiety, higher rates of depression, higher rates of attempted and actual successful suicides,” he said. “When I work with teens, I work with them on how to deal with their depression, how to deal with their anxiety.”

Below is a chart describing gender and pronouns courtesy of Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 School. (Click here for the full report/PDF)

Is age an issue?

Typically, medical professionals don’t deal with these issues until a person reaches puberty, Parsons said. Though there are guidelines when working with people, especially those who are younger.

Parsons sees people in every age group.

“Usually if they’re questioning, there’s probably something there,” he said. “I’ve had teens who come in and know exactly what it is. My youngest client identified differently. (That client) didn’t really identify with the terminology, the parents were picking up on some cues.”

In that instance, the parents came in to establish a relationship because it was too early to determine anything.

Do unto others

Robert Salcido, regional field organizer in San Antonio for the advocacy group Equality Texas, said it’s as simple as the kindergarten lesson: Do unto others as you would have done to you.

“Being respectful of one another, living the golden rule, those are the types of discussions that should be happening and I think they are happening,” he said. “Regardless of what a child identifies as, the root issue is the bullying and I think if that’s addressed on any level and all levels, then it’ll help with the transgender community as well as those who are lesbian and gay.”

To any student who may be struggling with their identity, questioning who they are or even those who have become confident and comfortable with themselves, Salcido said to surround themselves with positivity and support.

“There’s always individuals that are going to oppose,” he said. “But know that there are people that definitely support and love you. Once parents and everybody else allows a child to express themselves, that child begins to develop and thrive and show their inner being as far as their best possible person.”

What would you do?

That’s the question Parsons posed when he talked about those who may not understand the issue.

“To the parents out there that don’t understand this issue, I would just like to ask, ‘What would you do if this was your child?’”

Allowing the child to express him or herself as they wish: “That’s what I call good parenting,” Parsons said.

“Whenever you shame a child because they’re expressing who they are, what is that really doing to them?” Parsons asked. “Are you helping their mental well being, or are you hurting it?”

“This family is doing the right thing by supporting their child,” he said.

The message

Parsons said that the one message that should be learned: Don’t be quick to judge.

“This is not a political issue, but unfortunately transgender people have become politicized,” he said. “They’re not an issue. Treat each other with respect. When this nation can realize that we all have to live together, maybe we’ll all start getting along a little better.”

(Click here to view an interactive graphic of Transgender Equality in Schools.)

This is the second part of the series exploring the topic of transgender students. Click here to see part one.