How do you respond when a young person comes out about their gender or sexual preference? What do you say when someone makes a homophobic comment in your home? And how do you initiate a conversation about pronouns?
In this episode or Parenting the Mental Health Generation, our hosts, Amy and Lisa, talk with Lizzy Appleby, LCSW and Director of the Pride Youth Program for LGBTQ+ youth at Youth Services of Glenview/Northbrook.
Together, they dig into understanding and supporting our LGBTQ+ youth. Whether you are parenting an LGBTQ+ youth or want to ensure you are creating a safe space for them, there’s a take-home lesson for you in this episode.
So put in your earbuds, take this 30 minutes for you and join our conversation because mental health matters.
Youth Services of Glenview/Northbrook Pride Program
Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children by Rachel Pepper
The Transgender Child: Revised & Updated Edition: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Nonbinary Children by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper
Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney
Have an idea for an episode topic or guest? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
music credit: Tune 2 go / POND 5
© CATCH 2023
To find all of the resources CATCH provides to caregivers of young people struggling with their mental health, go to www.catchiscommunity.org.
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CATCH, Community Action Together for Children's Health, is a 501(c)3 that provides support and education for families around mental health topics. Original content and materials from CATCH and its collaborators are for informational purposes only. They are provided as a general resource and are not specific to any person or circumstance.
Amy O. (00:04):
Knowing how to best support your kids can be challenging, especially if they're exploring their sexual and or gender identity. On today's episode of Parenting the Mental Health Generation, we'll hear some ways to create a safe, welcoming environment for our LGBTQ plus kids and their friends, and will learn how to be their true allies. Welcome, I'm Amy.
Dr. Lisa (00:29):
And I'm Lisa. And we're the hosts of Parenting the Mental Health Generation. It's difficult to know the quote right things to say and do to support our kids, and we sometimes make mistakes despite our best intentions. Here, we lay it all out together and discuss the topics that concern us on our parenting journeys.
Amy O. (00:50):
Today we're speaking with Lizzy Appleby, a licensed clinical social worker at Youth Services of Glenview Northbrook. There Lizzie oversees a number of programs, including the Pride Youth Program for LGBTQ plus youth.
Dr. Lisa (01:07):
Liz is here to share with us some of the wisdom she's accrued through many years of working with the LGBTQ plus community. She'll help us better understand some of the newer terminology changes we're seeing in identity exploration and how parents can help their young ones feel most accepted, loved, and supported on this journey.
Amy O. (01:29):
So put in your earbuds and take this 30 minutes for you. Join our conversation with Lizzy Appleby.
Dr. Lisa (01:37):
Hello, Lizzy. Thanks for being with us today.
Lizzy Appleby (01:40):
Hi. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Lisa (01:43):
We are very excited to dive right in here, and we actually wanted to start with some basics. I think it'll be helpful both for us and hopefully for our listeners. As we were putting this intro together, we realized, you know, there's lots of different ways that people refer to this community. LGBT, LGBTQ, sometimes some other letters are added, and we wanted to get your thoughts on what is the most up to date way to refer to this population.
Lizzy Appleby (02:12):
It's such a great question, and the short answer is it depends on who you ask, and also all of it is okay. Those are themes I'm sure we'll come back to throughout this conversation, but I think it's important to remember as we're talking about sexual and gender identities, a huge part of being an ally is really about letting go of the need to know exactly the right thing to say. To say the right thing all the time. In our program we use the acronym LGBTQ+ which means we use the plus to just acknowledge that there's lots of identities that aren't represented in that acronym. Most people are familiar with the LGBT, so lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. We use the "Q" to stand both for questioning and also for queer. Lots of times people have questions about the word, so just naming that, again, that's a word that can mean different things to different people depending on, on how they use it. We usually say that just means not straight or not cisgender. So someone who identifies sort of in the world of LGBTQ identities might use the word queer as a term for themselves. And then again, the plus just to acknowledge and so many more. Lots of identity terms.
Amy O. (03:24):
So it just welcomes everybody in.
Lizzy Appleby (03:27):
Yeah, that's how we do it. But again, LGBT is not wrong. LGBTQ is not wrong. Other acronyms are also not wrong. There's not a wrong way as long as they're, you know, being used respectfully and in a supportive way.
Dr. Lisa (03:42):
Can I ask you also about pronoun usage and the most affirming way to go about that to, you know, do we ask people what their pronouns are when we first meet them, and how do you advise around that more logistical piece?
Lizzy Appleby (03:59):
Totally. You know, when we're thinking about pronouns, first of all, just reminder on the grammar lesson. Pronouns are just words we use to refer to people instead of their name. Which is to say, you can always replace a pronoun with someone's name if you know it. So if you're not sure how to refer to someone, you can always use their name. Secondly, in terms of whether or not we should ask people their pronouns, it's totally okay to ask people their pronouns. It's not a disrespectful question. It's okay to ask, what pronouns do you use? What I actually advise people to do, what I think is the most inclusive and most welcoming thing we can do is to actually share our own pronouns. So, you know, my name's Lizzy, my pronouns are she and her. That doesn't necessarily give me information about someone else's pronouns, but it does create a space where if someone wants to share their pronouns with me, I've made it clear to that person that I know what they're talking about. I'm able to hang in that conversation. I'm interested in respecting their pronouns, but it doesn't sort of put them in the position of having to answer the question. That might feel really uncomfortable for those of us who are cisgender or who don't think about our gender identity a lot, who aren't hanging out in this world. But it's a pretty simple thing we can do actually to like create a more inclusive space where we're talking more about gender and pronouns. You might have noticed increasingly people putting their pronouns on their email signatures, that's essentially the same thing. It's a way of me sharing my pronouns to tell you, Hey, I know what pronouns are, so if you tell me what your pronouns are, I'm going to know what you're talking about.
Amy O. (05:26):
And along those lines, would you consider it disrespectful to continue to use a pronoun that you might be comfortable with, even though the person to whom you are speaking or with whom you're having a conversation is not?
Lizzy Appleby (05:39):
Yes. To answer your question, in short. so again, thinking about sort of bigger picture principles of ally-ship, you know, we talked about, that idea of letting go of the need to be the expert. I think going along with that is that we always use the language that people use for themselves. Even if we don't get it, even if we don't understand, even if we're like not totally sure what it means. Doesn't really matter. If that's the language that they're using to describe themselves, then that's the language that we want to use for them. So if somebody shares their pronouns with us, we always want to use the pronouns that they've shared. I say that knowing and myself being a person, you will get it wrong. You will mess up. You'll learn someone's new pronouns, and you're going to be like, great, I'm so ready to use he/him pronouns for Jack. I don't know, I'm making up a person, but I'm so ready to use, he/him pronouns for Jack. And then you start talking about Jack and you use she/her pronouns. Totally normal happens all the time. This is all I do all day, and I mess up people's pronouns all the time. That doesn't mean I'm a bad person, it doesn't mean that I'm doing everything wrong. It just means that I'm a human person who's struggling to make a change. And so the appropriate thing to do when we mess up someone's pronouns is just to correct ourselves and apologize and move on. So Jack went to the bathroom, you know, she'll, I'm sorry, he'll be right back. The end. We don't need to like collapse in a heap of, I'm so sorry. I'm just working so hard and I'm trying, because that puts the other person in a position of having to take care of our feelings essentially. So just, you know, just like you would if you made any mistake, like with someone's name, right, you would just apologize, correct yourself and move on.
Amy O. (07:17):
You know what's really weird, I'm sort of thinking about the next question I want to ask you. And I'm realizing in myself that I don't know if I know how to ask it, like without being offensive or, you know, and so I'm going to ask it. And if I ask it in a way that isn't proper, will you tell me?
Lizzy Appleby (07:37):
I sure will. I'm excited that you're going to ask it.
Amy O. (07:40):
Well, so one of the things that I think this conversation about pronouns leads to when I'm thinking about our audience in particular, some of whom may not really be comfortable with what we're seeing as an increase in sort of gender fluidity. Youth who are identifying as anything but the binary on the gender scale. And so with that comes maybe some discomfort when you're using a pronoun for someone that doesn't appear in the standard way to match that pronoun. Sure. How do we help our audience understand this binary scale and how to be more comfortable with pronouns separate from quote unquote looks?
Lizzy Appleby (08:26):
Amy O. (08:27):
Is that, did I, is that okay to say? Like, okay, to say, I don't know what I mean, but like it feels uncomfortable for me.
Lizzy Appleby (08:34):
Great. And I'm just going to name, I cannot give you, if you only say these things, then no one will ever be upset at you pass. I cannot write that for you. So just let it go. Okay. Let it go.I think that's what I'm sort of speaking about in terms of that principle piece is like, this is also about letting go of the need to never offend anybody because we just can't engage authentically with identity work, without sometimes making comments or language or using words that are going to offend somebody somewhere somehow. And what we need to be able to do is, is hear that we've hurt somebody, not take that to mean that they're calling us a bad person and just change our behavior and be able to own it, right? Like take it in, hear the feedback, but then let it go.
Lizzy Appleby (09:16):
And so I'm just going to name that as we're having this conversation. But I think, yeah, this can be new for people. We've had a significant increase culturally in terms of talking about trans identities, non-binary identities, gender fluidity. To back up for just a second, because not everyone might even know what we're talking about. So when we say a trans identity, we're talking about someone whose gender identity or who they know themselves to be is different than their sex assigned at birth. So the label that they're given at birth based on the parts they're born with. So babies are born, they look at the parts, they go, it's a girl, and then later that person is like, no, I'm not a girl. That might be someone who identifies as trans. Most people in the world, regardless of whether they're trans or cisgender, which just means not trans, regardless of whether someone is cis or trans have one of our two binary gender identities. So binary that prefix bi meaning two, two most common. So the two most common gender identities are man and woman or male and female, boy, girl, however you want to talk about that. So when we say that someone has a non-binary gender identity, what we mean is that person's gender identity is not one of those two binary options. So it's someone who just identifies as not male or female. And there's lots of different examples of non-binary gender identity. So gender fluid, I heard a gender, all kinds of things. And I'm not going to like deep dive into them, not because they're not important, but just because we could be here all day, And like, again, the takeaway is we always use the language that people use to describe themselves. This has been around this idea of non-binary gender or trans identity or experience has been around for a very long time. It's not new, although it may feel new to you. And so I think that's important to remember that if this is something you're just learning about, it's something that we're seeing more in our culture. It doesn't mean that it's actually new to the scene. it's just something that we're learning about more and talking about more frequently, not altogether dissimilar from thinking about mental health in general. We used to not really talk about mental health and now we talk about it a lot or increasingly. And so it makes sense that people are feeling a little bit nervous, a little bit unsure, a little bit like, ugh, like I don't know how to talk about this. I don't feel comfortable talking about this. Like, where did this come from? I get it. I get why people are feeling that way. And we can still give it a go. We can still give it a go. We can still engage. It is true that we're seeing an increasing number of young people identifying in these non-binary identities. So again, where I said that most people, regardless of whether they're cis or trans, identify with one of those two binary options. The proportion of people who identify as non-binary increases as people get younger. So looking at like the general LGTQ population like adult population, it's about 11% that identify as non-binary, but looking at young people specifically. So thinking about 13 to 24, it's about 26%. So that's real, right? So that thing that you're noticing, that's a real thing, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's totally new.
Dr. Lisa (12:18):
That's really, that's an interesting statistic to hear about. And I guess I have two questions related to that. The first one is, what do you think is in part being attributed to the fact that so many more of our young people are identifying as non-binary? And I guess I'll ask my second part after.
Lizzy Appleby (12:40):
Yeah, I think it's such a good question, right? I mean, like, obviously I don't totally know. But I can, I can throw out some hypotheses that I have because I think this feels very parallel in a lot of ways to what we see with coming out ages of young people in regards to sexual orientation or identity. So what we're talking about right now, right? This is about gender, but which is really the "T" in the acronym. But if we're looking at sexual orientation, there's also some really interesting data showing the coming out ages of young people decreasing over time. So for example, whereas in 1990, the average coming out age might have been like 25. Now we're seeing the average coming out age in terms of someone coming out as gay as more like 14. And so there's sometimes this feeling of like, oh my God, where did all these gay kids come from? But it doesn't necessarily mean that there are more of them. It means that they're accessing language to describe their experience at an earlier age. And so I imagine that there's a very similar thing happening here as well. So as there's more cultural conversation around non-binary identity and non-binary experience, young people are hearing that conversation and finding those words to describe their experience much earlier than they might have done previously. And so it doesn't mean that there wasn't anybody who was having these thoughts or these feelings or these experiences, but maybe we now have a different language to use to talk about it. And young people have access to that language in a way that's different than how they might have previously.
Dr. Lisa (14:13):
And perhaps, and I hope this is true, although I don't know that we can say for certain, we're getting better at being more accepting of it. So they not only did they have access to the language, but they're just feeling more comfortable doing it too.
Lizzy Appleby (14:26):
A hundred percent.
Dr. Lisa (14:27):
Yeah. Which is great. You know, the second part of my question is, you know, especially given that that stat that you had shared about the, the percentage of young people identifying as non-binary relative to you know, middle-aged adults, that's one of the, the things that comes up often for the parents that I work with that are struggling to change their pronoun usage for their young ones is, but is this just a phase? And you know, especially if those pronouns are changing frequently, it was she/her and then one day it was, I'm they/them. And then a couple months down the line, it's actually I'm he/him and the parents use this language of they're just going through phases, they're exploring, but that's on them. It's not on me to continue to change what I call my child. And so I'm curious how you respond to parents that have that thought process.
Lizzy Appleby (15:24):
Yeah, I mean, just to name an LGBTQ world, we've been responding to, it's a phase like forever. This is like something that's always been kind of put out there in terms of minority sexual and gender experience. I want to empathize with a parent who's in that situation. It is hard, it is hard to have to change a pronoun all the time. This is your kid, you've known them literally their whole life probably. And it is hard, right? It's hard to have to do that. They're asking you to do something that's difficult and this might be on top of all the other ways that you're trying to support them. So I just want to validate that experience. It's not like it's easy. It's not like a light switch, you just turn it on. And what I always say to parents is, I don't have a crystal ball. I cannot tell you where your child is going to be in 10 years, what pronouns they're going to use, what name they're going to use, how they're going to identify. I can't tell you that. What I can tell you is how you not using the name and pronouns that this young person is asking you for is impacting your relationship right now. And so what it says when you aren't responding to your child earnestly asking you to call them by a particular name and pronouns, what it says to your child is, I'm not responding to your needs and I know better than you what you need. I know better than you who you are, and I'm not a safe person. And that is really harmful. And most parents don't want that. And for all we know, it could be a phase. That could be the case. This could be a young person who's exploring an identity that's maybe later they're going to say like, you know what? I tried that out and it wasn't for me. I don't see that a ton, but it could happen. But regardless, you have the potential of damaging your relationship with your young person. If you're not demonstrating to them that you trust them, that you're there for them, that you're a safe person.
Amy O. (17:15):
One of the things that I constantly am talking to parents about in the CATCH Parents Connect support groups that we run and just conversations that I have in this job is this idea of validating their children's feelings. Like if you do nothing else today, validate what your kid is telling you or showing you by his or her or their behavior. And that's kind of the, you know, ultimate starting point for supporting your kid's mental health. And it is also in your mind, the ultimate starting point for validating your kids' human beingness.
Lizzy Appleby (17:57):
Yes. I could not nod more enthusiastically, I realized you can't see my nods in a podcast.
Amy O. (18:03):
Yeah. Nodding on a podcast
Lizzy Appleby (18:05):
A hundred percent validate, empathize, all that stuff. We can validate our kids' feelings even if we personally don't agree with the content. So even if my kid, and like, this is a hot take, some people might not totally agree with this, but even if we don't totally believe that our kid is really trans or really whatever you using a particular set of pronouns actually doesn't have anything to do with that. You cannot believe that that's going to be the case for them forever and still use the pronouns they're asking you to. And I think that's really important that you do that because it is a part of that validating.
Amy O. (18:44):
Well, and let's explore for a minute together the challenges that a young person might feel and the challenges to a young person's mental health if they are, even if it is a phase. But if they're exploring or discovering or becoming who they really are, that is not an easy place to be in this world. And that must have a pretty significant effect on their emotional well being, regardless of the response from parents, friends, family. And so can you speak a little bit more about what we can do to support them other than honoring their pronouns?
Lizzy Appleby (19:22):
Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think just to like, I think reiterate, you know what you've said, like yes, absolutely LGBTQ, young people struggle with mental health at a much, much higher rate than their cis and straight peers. So, you know, not to like throw stats on it, but I think they're shocking. So when we look at LGB students, so this is like sexual minority students are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, four times. I mean, it's, and when we look at sort of the statistics talking about trans and gender expansive young people, we don't have as clear of data. But what we do know is that 40% of trans adults reported having made a suicide attempt. And of those 92% of those suicide attempts were before the age of 25. And so what that says,
Amy O. (20:12):
Wait, wait, wait, 40% of trans adults report having made a suicide attempt.
Lizzy Appleby (20:19):
Amy O. (20:20):
Dr. Lisa (20:21):
It's staggering. It's staggering.
Lizzy Appleby (20:23):
I mean nearly half, right?
Amy O. (20:25):
I mean the loneliness, the disconnection, the feeling of like no self worth, whatever it, I mean that number is so high.
Lizzy Appleby (20:35):
Amy O. (20:36):
Dr. Lisa (20:37):
And can we flush that out a little more though? Because I don't think it's being trans, that in and of itself leads to depression, right Lizzy? No.
Lizzy Appleby (20:47):
Right. Yeah. And I say this all the time, LGBTQ young people experience these higher rates of mental health concerns of suicidality, not because of who they are. It's not that there's something like fundamentally broken about them, it's because of what they experience in the world. So like what Amy was talking about in terms of, you know, rejection from peers, rejection from family, you know, we have young people who are just like not using the bathroom like literally all day at school because they're afraid to go into the bathroom that feels safe to them. We have young people that are fearful about sharing who they authentically are with their families because they're fearful about losing access to housing. I know these are statistics we hear like nationally, but they're also true in our local community as well, right? These are also things that I'm supporting young people with here. And I think that these challenges, it's not easy to share who you are, but it's also not easy to not share who you are. Right?
Amy O. (21:49):
A hundred percent.
Lizzy Appleby (21:50):
And so struggling with that internal push pull between like I want to authentically be myself. And again, especially if we're talking about adolescents, their whole developmental stage is about being who they authentically are. That like search for identity, that's like what it's all about for them. So there's this huge pull to like be your authentic self. And then on the other side, there's also this huge pull to like keep that under wraps for fear of what's going to happen to you if you share.
Amy O. (22:19):
I haven't ever had to parent a kid who does not identify as a cisgender kid, but what are some of the reasons? I mean, is it fear? Do you think that a parent would react so strongly to a kid coming out to them in whatever form that might be? Is it fear, is it shame? Is it a mixture of all of it? What barriers do we have to help our community get over in order to be better allies to these kids?
Lizzy Appleby (22:49):
It's obviously depends on the person, depends on the family. I mean, I think most common conversations I have, I do think fear is a huge part of it. I think this sense of, I don't want this to be really true about my kid because if this is really true about my kid, then they're going to experience violence, loss, rejection, whatever. And so I'm going to do everything I can to make this not true for my kid because I want to protect them. And I would say that's the most common conversation that I have is some variation on that. I also do think there's a piece of shame happening, right? Especially depending on what the parent's background is. Sometimes it's like I grew up in a place where I thought this was wrong. So the fact that this is happening for my kid, what did I do wrong as a parent to cause this to happen? I think actually what I often see around thinking about shame is, wait, I thought I was like super liberal and down and now I'm having this emotional reaction to my kid sharing this with me. What's wrong with me that I can't be the supportive parent that I want to be. And then feeling bad about that and then sort of like projecting that in different ways, like onto your kid and that anger at yourself coming out in ways that don't feel helpful. So like to normalize it is totally normal for parents and adult family members to go through feelings of loss related to their kid coming out. I have a baby, she is almost one. And I have so many plans and visions and like all of these dreams about things I want for her. I have a trans partner, I'm super supportive and I want her to be whoever she is. And also, like some of those ideas that I have about her future might be different if she decides later that, you know, we're going to use different pronouns, a different name and she's going to have a different life and that's awesome. I one hundred percent want her to be her full and authentic self and might there be some sadness for me about the idea of not picking out a wedding dress for her or whatever, it is that feels true or authentic or meaningful to you. And so those are super normal feelings and it doesn't mean that you're a bad person because you have those feelings and you have to work through those feelings so that you can support your kid.
Dr. Lisa (25:06):
Amy O. (25:06):
Right. It's back to the whole validation thing, right? It's val, it's validating to hear that it doesn't feel good or it's scary or it's upsetting to hear something about your child that you may not have planned on. At the same time. it's the yes and. You know, and you still, you know, yeah. There's, there's many ways to show love, right? And yeah,
Dr. Lisa (25:31):
I also feel like it's hard for parents to just stay in the moment with this sometimes and their brains go many steps and years sometimes ahead. And so then the slew of concerns around like, well, they want me to use the other gender pronouns. Does that mean they're going to want surgeries? And are things going to be irreversible? And what if this was just a phase and we've made mistakes? And there's, I think it makes it very hard for parents to just be with that child in that moment, embracing and accepting them who they are without sending their own anxious thoughts a million miles away.
Lizzy Appleby (26:16):
One hundred percent. Because I feel like right, that's like a thing that we as adults in young people's lives actually do really well. Something that is helpful about adults in young people's lives is that we can sort of look out a little bit into the future project, into the future. Imagine things that are going to happen. So like, you know, we set boundaries for our kids like curfews or they have to be home at a certain time or like, no, you can't spend all your spare time with your friends because you also need to spend time on your homework because I'm looking out for your future and I'm thinking about these future things. And that's like totally awesome and appropriate and helpful, except when we start talking about transition or gender journeys. It is true, right? Parents are starting to do this like, oh my gosh, five years from now, 10 years from now, six months from now, whatever. And the young person is just not there. They're just trying to share authentically where they are in this moment and looking for your response in this moment. Most of the time. Also to normalize, sometimes it's the other way around where like a young person has been sitting on this for a long time and then finally shares with an adult family member, shares with a parent, and they are ready for all these things because they've been sitting with it for like four years before they chose to share it with their parent. And now they are ready for hormones or they are ready for these different kinds of transition. And the parent is like, whoa, whoa, whoa. Like, I just got here. And again, we, so
Amy O. (27:39):
Let me stop you there Lizzy. Can you, assuming that every parent who is hearing this news wants to react from a place of love, let's take that assumption like they want to.
Lizzy Appleby (27:51):
Well, I mean, I think that's true.
Amy O. (27:52):
Right? I mean it is true mostly. Yeah.
Lizzy Appleby (27:55):
I think every parent, generally speaking, wants to react from a place of love. Love looks different for everybody, but yes.
Amy O. (28:01):
So let's model some ways that we can help our parent listeners respond and react and what are things that they can say that are not harmful and affirming.
Lizzy Appleby (28:15):
Thanks for sharing. That one never gets old. Thanks for sharing that with me. Like wow, like it must have taken a lot for you to share that. Thanks so much for sharing that with me. Even if you're sitting in silence, which is also an okay thing to say, just saying like, wow, I'm really taking that in. Just like naming what's happening for you so that they're not filling the space with narrative about what you're thinking. Because that's what's going to happen if you don't say anything at all, they're going to assume the worst. Again it's not about you. They're just scared. So I think, you know, naming, naming that in the moment. If they're frustrated with you because you're not doing what they think you should be doing or they're asking for something that you're not willing to give them right now, you can validate that feeling of just like, I totally get that you're frustrated with me. This is something you really want and I'm not giving it to you that sucks. And you can say that sucks without it being, without you having to change your perspective or change your mind or do something different.
Amy O. (29:12):
It just is, it just sucks. Yeah. And for now, for right now.
Lizzy Appleby (29:16):
For now, right? I always think curiosity is welcome rather than making assumptions about what's happening for your young person. Like bringing some curiosity to the conversation. Tell me how long you've been thinking about this. Why are you sharing with me now? That's a question I often have. I think sometimes parents are making assumptions about what their kid is asking for when they're sharing versus being curious about, you know, I want to support you. Like, how can I do that? Or like, what are you looking for? Just like naming what you want to do. You can name, I don't know how to do this. I'm not perfect, but I really want to. That intentionality can go a long way. So I think those are sort of like initial things I always think about for parents and just responding from that. Validating, empathizing, being authentic and honest.
Amy O. (30:00):
Truth telling, right? I mean I can you even go as far as to say this is very difficult for me, this is uncomfortable for me.
Lizzy Appleby (30:07):
One hundred percent. And I think the more authentic you are, the more that's going to resonate as you showing up. Because like what's not helpful, which I've seen this happen before in family dynamics, what's not helpful is to say like, I'm a hundred percent on board. I'm totally here for it. And then that not be true. And then that's very confusing for a young person. It's totally better to just sort of like, name your truth, which is I don't totally know what to say right now, I'm really taking this in. I love you. That is a great response. If it's true. Right? If that's real, if that's what's true for you.
Dr. Lisa (30:43):
And Lizzy can you share more for our listeners who maybe don't have a child of their own right now who's just come out who needs a response, but more so who want to be allies for their own kids, for their kids friends when they come over. For people perhaps like myself who have younger children who, you know, I know one thing I do is I try to make sure that the books in our house don't all have a male and female married character in them and just introducing all different kinds of family types and different kinds of couples and different kinds of identities to make that just a normal part of growing up. But can you just talk more about other ideas that you have for how do we just show in general that we are allies and mean it?
Lizzy Appleby (31:31):
Yeah, totally. And I think like the reality is probably most people listening to this podcast like don't have an LGBTQ plus kid, right? Just like statistically speaking. So that doesn't mean that like these things don't apply. Even if your kid isn't an LGBTQ plus young person, those things are still helpful and ways you can engage with your kid. I think thinking about how we support our kids in being allies or how do we support, how do we create a space in our house where if other young people come here that they know this is a space where they're going to feel safe and supported. I think one thing that I always encourage parents to do is help build the empathy skills of their kids. I love a wonder aloud, which is essentially a way to ask a question without expecting a response. You know, if you're watching something on TV or you're reading a book, like, I wonder how it might feel to be the only LGBTQ person in their friend group. They don't have to respond to you. How do you think it would feel? I mean, you can say that, but I think sometimes we're just like planting the seed so that they could do some wondering on their own. I love a SOY. This is one of my go-tos. So it's just like an acronym or a sentence structure. So some people, other people, you might, so let's say you're talking about crushes with your older elementary school kid and you can say like, some people have crushes on girls, some people have crushes on boys, you know, other people have crushes on boys and girls. Like you might have crushes on either of them or both or neither, you know, and just sort of like putting it out there is like, there's lots of ways to be, it's just a really good way to sort of hold that non-judgmental perspective. And then I also think about like the last piece of this, right? Which is like being clear about what is and isn't okay in our house, what is and isn't okay in terms of language. What is and isn't okay in terms of behavior. So let's say for example, your middle schooler has all their friends over and they're like all hanging out and you hear one of them like say like, oh that's so gay. This could be scandalizing to you as a parent because you're like my kid's inclusive. They would never do this. And you know, like, you've known these kids since they were three and you know, they're all really good kids and so you're just like, oh my God, like I can't believe this is happening, but you're like, they're good kids. So like maybe I just won't say anything. Like, no, like this is a great moment to be like, whoa, I'm really surprised to hear you say that and you could just leave it there. Or you can say like, I'm really surprised to hear you say that we don't use language like that in our house. Can you find a different word? And you don't need to like belabor the point. You don't need to like call this kid's parent. You don't need to like, you know, whatever. But that's true, right? You're probably authentically surprised to hear this kid who, you know, to be a wonderful and respectful and lovely young person say something so hurtful. And just like saying, just like saying that out loud reflects to that young person, Hey, I see you, I hear you. And sets the boundary of this not how we talk about people in this house. That sort of interpersonal catching that in the moment, like that stuff is really important I think in terms of changing our culture.
Amy O. (34:30):
Do you feel as though in our community and in similar communities there are increasing number of quote unquote safe places where LGBTQ kids can go, can be when they're exploring, I guess is the word we're using their identities. Like I know what you offer at the Pride program is a safe place for kids to show up and process and talk. Do you feel like there are increasing places at schools and other places and communities where kids can be other than in homes that are safe?
Lizzy Appleby (35:06):
One of the things that I've really enjoyed watching grow over the last few years is the like increasing number of GSAs, which are formerly known as Gay Straight Alliances presently called Gender and Sexuality Alliances.
Amy O. (35:20):
Did not know that.
Lizzy Appleby (35:22):
See, there you go.
Amy O. (35:22):
Didn't know it changed.
Lizzy Appleby (35:23):
Fun fact. Which are like increasing in number, especially in middle and elementary schools. Which I think is just awesome because again, to be a part of a GSA, you don't have to be LGBTQ, right? It's an allyship club too. So it's just a space where young people can be having these conversations know that it's going to be supportive. Sometimes kids go if they're like, sibling is LGBTQ or whatever, to just like feel supported in that way. So I think that's awesome.
Dr. Lisa (35:50):
That is fantastic. You know, you, I'm curious about this. You mentioned at some point one of the things some of the kids that you work with are coming in with these difficulties with not feeling comfortable using a certain bathroom at school and whatnot. Are you seeing changes in the schools as of recently or at all in how accepting they are of I guess maybe less sexual identity, but gender identity?
Lizzy Appleby (36:17):
I think yeah, in a lot of really great ways. You know, in Illinois, the Illinois School Board of Education released some guidance in the last several years that is really affirming of trans students. It's non-regulatory so schools don't have to do it, but it creates a pretty strong like guideline for schools, which I think has been really helpful, which encourages things like letting students use the bathroom that, you know, that they feel most comfortable in. Letting students use the name and pronoun they want to use at school, things like that. So yes, in lots of ways it is always harder for students who don't have parent support, which can feel really frustrating, right? Because those are the kids who maybe need the most support from school, but because they don't have that parent advocate, sometimes it's really hard for them to access what the school is doing. So like if they want to use a different bathroom, like how do they get access to that? How do they change their name and at the school, you know, stuff like that. But I do think schools are much more open to supporting students than they used to be.
Amy O. (37:11):
I have a feeling that, you know, people who listen to this conversation may be more curious after this conversation because you've been extremely open and helpful and passionate and I think people might want to explore more. Would you be willing to share a book or two or a resource or two for the parents who are listening to this podcast that we could put in the show notes that might be a good place for them to begin a journey of understanding this?
Lizzy Appleby (37:43):
Sure. I think this isn't like necessarily the most sort of like introductory in the sense of content, but the book Transitions of the Heart is one that I recommend to parents all the time. It's an anthology of stories from moms, specifically from moms of trans and gender expansive kids of all ages. And I think it's awesome because it really gives that opportunity to like hear those first person stories, where it's really about, this is about how I felt. This is about how I showed up. This is about my relationship. It's not about this is the right language or this is the wrong language. Because at the end of the day, what we're talking about here is relationships. Like we're talking about how to support one another and being our authentic selves regardless of the vocab and the politics and whatever. Like, that's what it's really about. And so I think that book does a great job of speaking into that. I think the classics in terms of gender exploration is The Transgender Child and The Transgender Teen are really comprehensive books. They're geared towards parents, but also professionals or people who are just like wanting to learn more about what that looks like. They're really good reads for some good solid information, if that's what you're looking for.
Dr. Lisa (38:54):
Thank you so much Lizzy. This has been incredible and it's honestly given me so much to think about as the parent of younger ones, you know, how do I build a home that is just as loving and accepting to my kids and to, you know, when they get a little older, their friends that are coming over for pizza nights and just make sure that it's a safe place for all to be. So thank you very much for being here to talk with us today.
Lizzy Appleby (39:19):
Thanks for having me. Excited to be just a part of ongoing conversations about how we get to be with each other in the world.
Amy O. (39:27):
Our community is lucky to have you. Lizzy Appleby, you are a loving soul. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. Lisa (39:32):
And to our listeners, stay current on all CATCH programming by liking us on Facebook @catchiscommunity or by visiting our website www.catchiscommunity.org.
Amy O. (39:44):
We're glad that you joined us to continue the conversation. It's important to talk about our mental health and to reach out for help if needed.