“If I talk about emotions or cry, my father says I’m not acting masculine enough. He’s always telling me to go to the gym and lift weights. I wish he would accept me for who I am.”
“My mother got mad at me when I cut my hair really short. She says it’s not feminine. But who says I have to conform to a gender stereotype?”
“I don’t identify as either male or female. I don’t think it matters. I feel neutral about gender.”
Gender is a hot topic on college campuses. Many of the college students I see in my office bring up gender issues, as they go through the journey of learning who they truly are. I’ve met many university mental health professionals and administrators who are encountering the same phenomenon. Are students changing the definition of what it means to be a man or a woman? Is there an increase in students who are transgender, gender fluid, or gender non-conforming?
Before discussing gender trends, let’s review the language of gender, which continues to evolve. Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of their gender, of who they are. Gender expression is how a person shows gender externally through clothes, language and behavior. Transgender is an umbrella term for people who do not identify and/or express themselves as the sex they were assigned at birth. This could include people who were assigned male at birth and identify as female, who were designated female at birth and identify as male, or who don’t identify as either gender. Gender fluid describes people whose gender identity and expression could vary from day to day.
Gender is incredibly complex, emerging from a combination of factors: chromosomes, hormones, physical characteristics, psychology, and culture. Throughout the world, gender is expressed in a multitude of ways, and some cultures are fully accepting of genders that fall outside of what is typically male or female. College campuses are also places where the complexity of gender can be seen every day.
Here are five things you should know about gender trends on campus:
If your child is transgender or gender questioning, your support is critical to their mental well-being. This may be a confusing time for you and your student, as they define who they want to be. Transgender students express their gender in different ways, and may or may not dress differently, seek hormone therapy, or pursue gender confirmation surgery.
Here are steps you can take to help.
When I hear young adults say they are questioning their gender expression or gender identity, I support them finding their authentic selves. With celebrities like Caitlin Jenner coming out as transgender, and Miley Cyrus describing herself as gender neutral, the world is becoming a more accepting place for people on the gender spectrum. Wherever your child’s gender road leads, your support and love will go a long way to ensuring their emotional wellness.
Check future blogs for details on my upcoming book on parenting and college wellness.
©2016 Marcia Morris, All Rights Reserved
Details have been altered to protect patient privacy.
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