Here's to strong women...may we know them, may we be them, and may we raise them.
June 28, 2022

Sex, Gender, Expression, Orientation & Showing Up for Your Child's Journey // with Elaine Farris


Episode 42 is all about fundamental LGBTQ concepts, and ways we can support our kids and others who may be on their own journey, discovering who they are. Elaine Farris joins host Carmelita (Cat) Tiu and shares:

  • What the definitions are for assigned sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation
  • How these terms relate to one another
  • Why acceptance is not the goal
  • The importance of using pronouns
  • How to support your child while being careful not to push them

Guest Bio:

Elaine is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, whose passion is working with individuals within the LGBTQ+ community, and the neurodivergent community, which often overlap. She works under an intersectional, feminist, and anti-oppressive framework.

Email:  elainefarristherapist@gmail.com

In this episode – references and additional resources:


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Transcript
Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Welcome to know them. Be them, raise them. Uh, show to help busy, mindful, and growth oriented moms of girls stay informed and inspired. Especially through their daughters, tween and teen years. I'm your host Carmelita to. If you'd like what you hear or you find something helpful in the podcast, please hit, subscribe or follow. Tell your friends and leave a review on apple podcasts or Spotify. You may think subscribing and reviews don't really help, but they do help other listeners choose to listen to this particular show. Also follow at no be raised them on Instagram. You'll get reminders, quotes from wise, women giveaways and more. And thank you in advance so much for your support. So when I was growing up, I didn't know a single gay person, or if I did, I didn't know it or they hadn't come out yet. If they were one of my peers. I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I lived kind of a sheltered existence, but I also think it was the time. In the eighties, people weren't really talking about it as much as, as far as I knew. If I'm remembering correctly. I think I was in high school when I first met an openly gay couple. And they were visiting town from Chicago. Now my daughter's lives look very different. One of my daughter's best friends in kindergarten. Started the year with a boy's name. But midway through. Made it clear. She identified as a girl and ended the year with a girl's name, pigtails and painted nails and all. My other daughter was I think in fourth or fifth grade. When she came home with a sheet full of colorful flags, she had drawn. Including the gay pride flag. The pansexual flag and the bisexual flag. And now there are LGBTQ characters on television. Often. It wasn't something I remember seeing ever. Ever as a kid, but my girls celebrate diverse representation. I'd say at least once a week on some show they're watching. So along with these changes have come new words and terms. I was lucky to learn some of them through diversity initiatives at work. But not everyone has that opportunity. And frankly, I could learn more. Every time I do an interview with a guest I'm reminded of how much, I didn't know. I didn't know. So my guest today is Elaine Ferris. Social change has always been important to Elaine. She studied social policy as an undergrad. And during that time she became involved with the LGBTQ plus community. Eventually identifying within the community herself. And exploring her own journey. While studying abroad in Amsterdam, she became acutely aware of the needs of the transgender community. Especially the lack of support. Particularly for those in physical transition. This inspired her to obtain her master's in social work. Focusing on LGBTQ plus individuals. Especially transgender persons. Today. Elaine is a licensed clinical social. Uh, worker and psychotherapist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Whose passion is working with individuals within the LGBTQ plus community and the neurodivergent community, which often overlap. She works under an intersectional feminist and anti-oppressive framework. Here's our conversation. Welcome Elaine. I am eager to have you share your expertise on the LGBTQ community and your experiences to help us learn.

Elaine Farris:

Of course, thanks for having me.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

So can you explain, assigned sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation and how those all interrelate and how they can show up.

Elaine Farris:

Yes, these are all very different terms that have their own unique meanings that can relate to each other. So I guess just going through each one, one by one, assigned sex at birth is relating to what society deems us to be at birth usually based off of our bodies in genitalia. It's a pretty narrow understanding of sex, because for example, it's very ignorant towards the existence of intersex people that might not fall into a category. Um,

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

And explain what intersex means. If you

Elaine Farris:

yeah, intersex is when a person's genitalia, again, doesn't fit within the standards of like, oh, this is, you know, a female body and this is a male body. There can be a a lot of different like,

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Mm.

Elaine Farris:

Even within the category of intersex, it doesn't usually just mean one thing. Like it can mean a lot of different things, whether it's, how a person might look or, you know, chromosomally. And unfortunately in the past society and hospitals have been so adamant about putting people into a category

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

mm-hmm

Elaine Farris:

that they have really encouraged, or maybe not even told parents that it was a possibility not to do surgery. Uh, yes. So they would say you have to choose, do you want your baby to be a, a male or a female, and then we'll do surgery so that they fit into this category, even if it's completely unnecessary. And most of the time it is unnecessary, actually. So that's how, how much our society cares about gender norms and fitting into. and a lot of the times it's, very traumatic because many intersects people might grow up later in life. Not even knowing that they're intersex and they might start, exploring their own gender and their own bodies and realizing that, they themselves might identify as trans and you know, they might have to get like corrective surgery or, they might transition and, maybe the surgery at birth made it a lot more difficult for them to transition or, again like the not understanding and not even really being informed about yourself and just the trauma that can cause is something that is, I think not talked about enough. And I think it's hopefully shifting more towards you know, parents not necessarily being encouraged or forced to choose at birth. But I, it definitely still happens and there's still a huge lack of understanding of what don't fit, you know, within the categories that, that society deems to be reasonable. But yeah, sex in general is still, is considered to be related to like what a person's body looks like. Which is just very, very outdated or, or the chromosomes, which again, like, even with intersex people in existence, like you would think that people would understand that that doesn't work for everybody.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Mmm.

Elaine Farris:

not so cotton dry, but there are a lot of people out there who are very internalized, uh, these gender norms.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

right.

Elaine Farris:

Mm-hmm

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

And then gender identity is how a person sees themself.

Elaine Farris:

exactly. It's how they identify their gender. And so that can. I wanted to say like correlate or not correlate with gender expression. I struggle to use that word because what is a correlation? Right? Somebody decided in our society that girls wear dresses. So you would think like, oh, well, a girl correlates with a dress. Pink with girls, you know, all these gender norms are just literally made up. So gender expression though, is, is how a person expresses their gender. And this is often through clothes and presentation and, and some of it might fall within, what is societal norms, like, a person who might identify as a trans girl or trans woman might, want to wear dresses or, be seen as more feminine. But it is interesting to consider, how much of this is societal standards and how much of it is, the gender identity and expression that you're wanting to portray. it's, uh, kind of complicated because from the moment we're born, we're internalizing these ideas of feminism and masculinity and, what that means to us.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Mm-hmm okay.

Elaine Farris:

Sexual orientation, I think is actually the most unrelated to the other terms. because it doesn't have anything to do with sex or gender at all. It's who you're attracted to. Even beyond sexual orientation, there are, different categories of attraction within that. So there's emotional attraction, physical attraction. Sexual attraction and romantic attraction and all of that can be very different. You know, there's people who are aromantic, who are asexual, there's a lot of different terms out there. You know, some people really like the labels, some people don't like the labels. It's whatever works for a person. For example, there are some people who really might be able to feel sexual attraction, but not romantic attraction or, you know, vice versa, maybe really can feel the romantic attraction towards a person, an emotional connection, but, maybe they're just not sexually attracted to individuals. And so there there's a lot of nuance within that as well.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

I love that you sort of nonchalantly said that sexual orientation is a separate thing from, from the gender discussion, because I think people assume you born with male body parts, then you're a man and you should be attracted to women, you know? So I, appreciate, and I'm grateful for that mindset of these are distinct things.

Elaine Farris:

And you know, I do understand that it can be a little bit confusing. For example, people who might have like, no. Idea about any of this stuff, you know, when you hear oh, LGBTQ, like, you know, I think that, course there's a lot of discourse in regards to grouping everybody together because there are differences in these experiences, particularly with the trans community. In the past, unfortunately, there's been a lot of discrimination in currently, too. There's been a lot of discrimination towards the trans community. Even within the queer community as a whole. So like L G B uh, individuals, or, you know, just beyond, in regards to sexual orientation or attract have been very discriminatory towards transgender individuals. So I think it just goes to show that they are very different topics and these communities do experience different types of discrimination. We know that, trans individuals, especially trans women, especially black and brown trans women have a lot of you know, safety issues that they have to deal with that, for example, white gay men do not have to deal with.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Mm mm-hmm Mm, mm.

Elaine Farris:

Yeah. It's not just these terms that are very different. It's these people's experiences that are very different as well, that we have to take into account.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Right. And, the goal ultimately is, in my mind, acceptance of whoever, regardless of what you may have been born with, whatever you identify with, and however you choose to express yourself and however, and whoever you choose to love, is okay,

Elaine Farris:

I think celebration is, is ideal. you know, I think acceptance is, oh, okay. I'll I guess I'll accept that. Like, it's kinda like this under like, oh, accept that. Um, versus like, I think celebration and validation can kind of give a different feel towards that.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

that absolutely. No, that's a very good point. And it, reminds me a little bit. And I don't mean to conflate two very, different issues, but the sense of activism around the black lives matter movement and being anti-racist and how, it's not enough to say you're not racist or to operate or function in your own tiny little world, as someone that thinks you're not racist, you have to do more. You have to proactively do something to help dismantle our systemically racist structures.

Elaine Farris:

Yeah.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

That's kind of what struck me about your use of the word celebrate, like do more than just accept or tolerate? Right. So thank you for saying that,

Elaine Farris:

And you know, if you're just kind of going along with the norm, then unfortunately you're contributing to oppressive structures that have been place for so long, because if we don't do anything, then they're just gonna be there forever. You gotta, You gotta very purposefully, you know, challenge that and go against it in order to create change.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

And one small thing, maybe it's not so small, but one thing that felt kind of easy I think for some people to start doing is in their email signatures or on their zoom cameras, adding pronouns. What do you think the importance of using pronouns is? And if there's anyone who's skeptical about how or why it's important what would you like to tell.

Elaine Farris:

It's incredibly important. If, if a person cares. And I say that because there are some people out there who might not feel like their pronouns are that important. I've worked with clients before who have said, oh yeah, like, it's not as big of a deal to me. And it's always important to recognize that there are those experiences as well. But on the flip side, there are also people who are very, very adamant about pronouns and, and it can really affect their mental health when you use them correctly or incorrectly,

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Hm.

Elaine Farris:

Most of the time, if you're using them incorrectly, of course, that really can cause distress but I actually just looked up some statistics that are recent from the Trevor project, because I think that these statistics can kind of emphasize why support is so important. So, a 2022 national survey on LGBTQ youth, mental health found that 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth. So when you look at those numbers, it is literally life or death for, a lot of these individuals, especially young people because you know, young people are, are in the most vulnerable positions. And parental support is one of the biggest factors in helping prevent suicide in helping to stabilize mental health.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Mm,

Elaine Farris:

And, it's a pronoun, like is it really that big of a deal for you to, you know, try to change, maybe the name, try to do your best you know, and the thing is I think it's important to be realistic and it's understandable that it takes time to like, change your language. You might make some mistakes, but I've talked to so many people before who say that it is very easy to tell when you're actually trying. So most trans people can tell when you're putting in an effort to making that change, even if you stumble, you know, even if you're like, oh, like, sorry, you know, use the wrong pronoun there. Correct yourself and move on. Don't make it a big deal. I would say too, that that's another thing that, we tend to talk about a lot. It's uh, kind of overwhelming when, you know, you profusely apologize,

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Mm,

Elaine Farris:

you know, the trans person feels like they have to make you feel better And they're just like, okay, like, can you just apologize and fix it and then move on and do better in the future. You know, like it's not about you. It's, it's about, this person who's going through a lot and just looking for support.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Those are super helpful tips because I'm sure there are people who are reluctant or worried they're gonna mess up. And so talking through like, don't make it a big deal. Just fix it and move forward, you know? That's helpful to know, like there's no, scripted apology that you have to have memorized in your back pocket if you mess up. And like you said, I think in so many situations and I feel this way generally about parenting, but it's the effort you're putting in that can carry so much weight, like mess up or not. If you're trying that goes so far.

Elaine Farris:

And, practice too. practice saying their new name in, in a sentence, practice, their new pronoun and, you know, use it around other people too. Cuz I think that you know, people notice like, you know, okay, maybe you only try when you're like with me, but then when you're talking to a family member, you're talking to somebody else, then you go back and you revert. And it's a different story if this person isn't out yet. And maybe, switching is necessary in order to respect that that person hasn't come out yet. But if a person is wanting you to use those pronouns permanently, then use them in any context.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Mm.

Elaine Farris:

Again, that can really, really affect a person's mental health. And it's just one small way of showing support. I would say bare minimum.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

You know, it feels like over the last 10, 20 years, you know, there's been a collective, increase of an awareness around transgender issues and LGBTQ issues. So I think a question that comes up is, is this us noticing it more and being more aware of it or are kids are young peoples experimenting more or becoming quote unquote confused, which kind of ties into the, don't say gay legislation in Florida. So in your opinion, I guess, does our talking about it more what impact do you really think it has on young people? And, you know, because there must be a range of normal for this and quote, unquote normal. I don't think that kids are thinking that looks fun and I'm gonna do this, you know what I mean? Especially when there are social implications to their decisions. And so, yeah, I'm curious what your thoughts are on all this.

Elaine Farris:

Yes. I mean, I think it's all normal to explore. And it's not that it wasn't happening decades or even centuries ago. It's just that it wasn't talked about or people didn't have the language and nowadays

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

and repressed, right? Yeah.

Elaine Farris:

absolutely. Yes. And, and so nowadays, although the internet can be a very toxic place, I think that there's a lot of benefits in finding language, realizing that you're not alone, finding support a lot of people within the community, you know, their initial support or even just general support is online. And so that makes all the difference. And yeah, I think it's so normal for young people to explore their identities and. Even beyond gender, right? Like we know that it's pretty normal for a child to just like, be figuring themselves out. And so this is bound to come up regardless of whether or not you're talking about it. The only difference is if you're not talking about it, what that is showing them is that there's something to be ashamed about. There's something wrong here, which can negatively affect their mental health. So talking about. Topics and normalizing, it doesn't mean that you're encouraging it. It just means that you're informing them and then they can kind of explore on their own. And a lot of the times they, they might just be exploring like very, very young children, especially, that is super normal. You know, there are some kids who are like five, six who might explore gender expressions or, gender identity and I don't know a little girl, for example, like chop off all her hair and be a tomboy. I would say, as a child gets a little bit older, you know, maybe into their teens, if they're still exploring, then it might be more of a certainty. It depends on how, how they're going about it. And, how it is for them. Like the more adamant a child is, I would say the more potential likelihood that this is a real thing for them that will last beyond childhood.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

And I heard you encourage like a, an atmosphere of openness, I think what you said was, if you are not talking about certain things, then you're implying that this is not something that is okay to talk about. And so that can leave a sense of shame and insecurity around that particular topic. So things like support, openness, um, and meeting them where they're at? It also applies okay.

Elaine Farris:

just about to go there in. In saying that sometimes the parents might be over eager in supporting their child. Like it's, maybe more rare than, than the other, but sometimes parents might be too gung ho and they're like, oh my gosh, like, do you want me to like, buy these clothes for you? Or do you, wanna do, do you wanna go hormone? Do we need to do that then? Do you want me get a new therapist? Da, da. And um, I think when we say meet your child where they're at. It means both, right? The balance of like, yes, listen to where they're at, but also maybe don't push them in any direction. Because especially with the discourse nowadays, a lot of people, know more about the existence of LGBTQ identities and especially, you know, trans, uh, children. And so they might think, oh, the moment a child starts questioning, that means that they're trans and that, you know, you should just go all in and start buying them new clothes and, and all that stuff. And that is definitely, not appropriate. Because it might not be where your kid's at yet and gonna go get there eventually, who knows, but also maybe they'll totally pivot and go somewhere else. So we wanna actually listen to them in the moment of like, okay, like what's, you know, what's going on right now? Like, what are you thinking? And, and what are they needing right in this moment that we know of, for sure.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Ah, that's so good. I think parents, myself included or anyone we crave certainty, right? there's so much relief in knowing that something has been decided on and you can head in that direction. so yeah, I, that's a very good point., wanting to be certain, regardless of what that outcome is, can also be very, you know, potentially limiting and daunting for a kid. Huh?

Elaine Farris:

Definitely. And you know, this is a process I think all of us are trying to figure out our ourselves and our identities throughout life, to be honest. Working with individuals themselves who are transitioning there, there is often this desire to be like, okay, know, I wanna be at the end of my transition and I wanna be done and obviously that's valid to be feeling that that way. And a lot of it has to do with societal discrimination and oppression that they're going, you know, when are you really done? Because it is just like a lifelong process of, knowing yourself and growing. And, you know, even at 30 years old, you might think something about yourself and be quite certain, then 10 years later, that might not be the case anymore.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Is there a, parting thought you'd like to leave on this topic with the listeners nurse?

Elaine Farris:

I can understand why parents might want their kids to fit in and not be bullied and, to not experience discrimination. Um, but again, it's about, I think meeting your kid where they're at and, maybe that's not what they're wanting. and so it's, just not making assumptions and, recognizing that your experience is different from your children's experience and it's okay that it's different.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

I'm so grateful for my time with Elaine. Here were my top takeaways from this episode. Number one, the reference to one sex. Assigned sex, biological sex or sex assigned at birth. Means typically what society deems as male or female based on the biological characteristics, a person is born with. Like your genitalia. Gender identity. Stems from one's deeply held feelings about whether they are male, female, both or neither. And this could be fluid. Gender expression is how someone expresses their gender typically by their clothes. Um, the hair, makeup, body language, and voice. Um, also a person's name and pronoun are common ways of expressing gender. And sexual orientation is. Put simply who someone is attracted to. Number two. According to the Trevor project, 2022 national survey. On LGBTQ youth, 45% of LGBTQ youth, seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth. This means that our ability to sport kids. And talk about issues can literally be a life or death situation. And parental support is a huge component. In the success and health and wellbeing. of young people. Number three. Pronouns make space for transgender and gender non-binary people. Use of inaccurate pronouns can have a negative effect on mental health. So do try. And if you make a mistake, simply apologize and move on. Over apologizing can place a burden on the transgender individual. Uh, and then they feel like they have to take care of your feelings, which is something we're trying to avoid Lloyd. Number four. I remember that it's normal for kids to explore. Whether it's their gender identity. Gender expression, et cetera. I try to create a safe space and have open conversations with them about their feelings. Number five. If you're not talking about certain things, then you're implying that those topics are not okay to talk about. And that can lead to feelings of shame and disconnect. And number six while support is a good thing. Be mindful of your reactions and try not to show any biases that might pressure your kid. One way or the other. Meet your child where they're at. If you'd like to connect with Elaine, check the show notes for her contact information. I know I say this at the end of every show, but I 100% sincerely mean it. When I say thank you for listening. I'm so grateful for you. knowing that someone's listening helps fuel my desire to make more of these episodes and hopefully provide content that's meaningful and important and engaging to you. Remember to subscribe, tell a friend and leave a review and here's to strong women. May we know them? May we be them? And may we raise them?