Dr. Laura Anderson joins the podcast to talk about supporting Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth.

Dr. Anderson has over 25 years working with and affirming gender expansive and transgender youth. I confess that the start of our episode that I had been hesitant to record an episode about this topic out of fear of not saying the right thing, but Dr. Anderson is welcoming in her approach and helped me better understand some terms and concepts that she has learned in her time working with families.

“Parenting is a marathon.”

– Dr. Laura Anderson

Topics include:

  • What is the difference between gender, biological sex, and sexual attraction?
  • What do the terms non-binary and transgender mean?
  • How to stay curious and support your gender expansive loved ones.
  • How to manage fear-based parenting responses and maintain trust and communication.
  • What does the term gender expansive mean?
  • How does the gender binary hurt all of us?

parents, kids, gender, people, trans, child, families, learning, happening, boxes, understand, explore, folks, maleness, girl, head, talk, thinking, non binary, conversation

Megan Gipson, Dr Laura Anderson

Megan Gipson 00:03
So today I have Dr. Laura Anderson, who I'm so excited to share with the listeners of the family brain podcast, because in addition to talking about, or working with families around adoption, and neurodiversity, you also talk with people about gender identity, which is something if I'm being honest, I've kind of avoided talking about on the podcast for fear of messing up. And I really was thinking, I don't get that nervous coming on the podcast anymore, talking to people. And I was a little nervous, because I feel like I don't want to mess up. But I think that's where we stop ourselves from having these conversations. So thank you so much for sharing everything you've learned in your journey.

Dr Laura Anderson 00:44
Yeah. Oh, no. And I appreciate that very much. I think. I think you're right, like, one of my biggest things is how do we start having these conversations, because there's such a need, whether you're an ally, or whether you're navigating this in your own home, like sitting down and figuring out how to learn more through hard conversations is so critical. So

Megan Gipson 01:06
when I found your, your perspective and voice through a podcast that you were interviewed on, you also have your own podcast, real world parenting tips and scripts for families on roads less traveled. But I just was excited to hear your perspective, because it kind of gave me some peace of that around the topic of like, what I feel like I hear from you is like, it is complicated. So it makes sense that you feel a little confused.

Dr Laura Anderson 01:36
Yeah, and we're, I mean, the world is such a gendered place, right? Like, and we we get messages from before kids are born now, right? In terms of wanting to know if if we're gonna have a boy or girl so that we can choose colors and toys and, and we start imagining the ways we're going to connect with kids of different genders in an exciting way. Sometimes, right, like family cooking passed down to the generation fishing trips, like not that those have to be gendered. But for a lot of folks they are and there's a lot of messaging from before birth, infancy, toddlerhood, right on up through about expected behavior for people assigned male at birth, and people assigned female at birth. And I think it's been, on the one hand, one of the things I talk about is it's it's newer to many of us, if you if it hasn't come into your home in the past. And it's not an area of work that you have, it may feel like all of a sudden, it sort of everywhere you turn, and yes, we're discussing it more. But no, it isn't brand new. It's been in indigenous cultures around the world. There are examples of folks with gender fluidity and male and female essences, and not as strictly limited into two boxes determined by your part. So so it's a great time to talk about it, because I think it's coming home to a lot of kitchen tables. And kids are talking about friends who are changing names and pronouns and, and they themselves may be wondering about their own gender. So it's really great that that you're asking, you're asking some questions.

Megan Gipson 03:20
Yeah. Well, and I was just thinking about, I did a podcast, probably five years ago. And I didn't even know what the term CES was, like cisgender, like I didn't know five years ago. And so what I'd love to start with is just kind of providing people with some basic terminology, like even the difference between gender and sex. I think a lot of people don't understand that there is a difference. Could you speak to that a little bit,

Dr Laura Anderson 03:46
just to sort of start off? Yeah, no, it's, you know, language is so important and ever changing. You're getting a lot of both. And it's really important to try to keep a handle on parts of it. And it changes however, there are some kind of foundational ones to start with, first of all, the way that we think about it is and I when I talk to young kids, I say we used to think your gender was in your parts. Now we know it's in your head and your heart. And then so, sex sex assigned at birth, I often say is what the doctors, you know, they held you up in the world, you came into this world, and they take a look at an area of your body and they announce whether you are a boy or a girl, but what we know is that sex is tied to biology and genitals. So there's male, female and intersex folks who are born with a with a combination of body parts. And then gender identity is what's in your head in your heart. How male female, both or neither you feel and that's head and heart stuff. It does not have to be tied to your parts now for nine in the data show holiness anywhere from 85 to 95% of the people, our head, heart and our parts all line up. And we're cisgender the majority of us, according to the recent data, have had heart and parts that are congruent, and in alignment. And so yeah, gender identity is in your head and your heart how male female, both or neither you feel gender expression. And I always think about the word Express is what you show the world. It's how you show up in your gender, how you express what you're feeling inside in terms of your gender identity. So why use me as an example, when I talk about this, I was assigned female at birth. I, in my head and my heart identify with being a woman. So my gender identity is female, my gender expression is really wide ranging, I actually was a tomboy. As a kid, I'm just as likely to find me in baseball hats and sweatpants as you are in dresses and other things. Now, I tend to lean a little bit more stereotypically masculine in my expression. So my gender identity is female, my gender expression tends to range a little bit from masculine to feminine all the way around. So I always just think of the word Express show how you show what you're feeling about your gender inside. And then an important one to mention kind of the four, you know, the last of the four, the sex assigned at birth, gender identity, gender expression, and then sexual attraction, it gets lumped in a lot. So sexual attraction, really has to do with who you are romantically and physically attracted to, it does not have to do with your parts. So there are people who are in full alignment who are cisgender. And that's what that means when head heart and parts align that you're cisgender there are people who are gay, straight, pansexual, bisexual, within the transgender community. There are also people who are gay, straight, it's not limited, so. So your sexual attraction is to whom you're romantically and sexually attracted. And this is, this next analogy is a teeny bit. I mean, it's oversimplified. But one of the it's stuck with me. When I was first learning about this years ago, somebody said, your sexual attraction is who you might want to go to bed with your gender identity is who you want to go to bed as Hmm. Right, I kind of Oh, my God, but that really differentiates. And they've been lumped all in together for advocacy reasons. And some gay and lesbian folks are gender expansive, some are not, but they've been kind of lumped in all together. So

Megan Gipson 07:46
you know what? I'm sorry. Go ahead. No, no,

Dr Laura Anderson 07:49
it's there's one last definition would be transgender. So people say what exactly. Transgender just refers to folks who who don't fall neatly in those two boxes, according to their genitals? Sorry, for the dogs in the bathroom? I'm not sure what's going on, hang on, I bet it's loud. One second. Let me see if I can get somebody to do that. Okay, here we go. And I'll start with so transgender is an important definition to have, right. So it's for, for folks who whose head and heartfelt sense of gender doesn't fit into the box that they would have been assigned when they were born. And so they're born with a penis, and the doctor says, Yes, you know, we have a boy. And yet as they develop and grow, it's clear that their head and heart felt a sense of gender is not male, then they fall largely under the umbrella of transgender. So heads, heart, head, heart, and parts are not congruent, is how we talk about it.

Megan Gipson 08:58
As you're talking, I'm kind of thinking of the listener who's listening to this and thinking, well, this is just why I give up, just forget it. But what I would like to just put out there in the universe is that if there's someone you love in this world or care about, you don't want to just forget it. Because that's where that's where it matters is the connection that you're going to keep. Because you're trying, you know, and I think that that's the thing, you're you're not probably going to show up one day and be like, nailed it, you know, but that if you want to keep the red, I just saw some beautiful ad, I think it was from the Trevor Project. And it was about there's this probably 80 something year old man in tears saying he wished he hadn't wasted so much time being stubborn. You know, I just forget it. I can't do it. You know, and I think that that I just want to put that out there. Like if there's someone you care about, like just keep listening, just keep trying to process it, because I think it is complicated, and it can be hard to process the information. But I think knowing that someone is trying to is a big deal. Thanks all the it's the

Dr Laura Anderson 10:01
single most protective thing you can do. I think somehow our national in the US and maybe worldwide conversation has shifted to the idea that this is everywhere. And it's a little bit frivolous. And it's like, oh, the latest trendy thing I got to be getting right as an adult and, and the kids are my kids are telling me it's another chance for them to catch me about how clueless I am about things. Are there places where sure you've got a teen who is proud of what they know and wanting to teach you a few things. Absolutely. Teens are lovely for that. But I don't want to lose sight when I talk about this that absolutely the the mental health statistics on kids who are exploring their gender and who are not supported by family. And this is really critical. Because sometimes parents will also say to me, I don't know, all those kids who seem gender, expansive, and inorg. Like they seem like they got some mental health issues. And I'm like, what we know in the data is the single most protective factor that parents and family members can engage in is staying curious, being open to conversation, affirming and learning how to affirm in the way that your kids needs. That does not mean rubber stamping a yes to everything your child comes home and announces they're going to do but it means staying open to learning and seeking extra support if you do have a kid who's insistent that they're needing something they're not getting. So I don't when we talk about the ways that it's complicated, both are true, it is complicated as parents, and you know, not youngsters, we have to unlearn a lot of what we sort of took for granted. And it is an unsettling feeling. And we come by it honestly, because the messages are everywhere. And, and, and yet, kids who are navigating an identity that is not the mainstream that is not that 85 to 95% Do not do well, if they don't have people around them trying and staying curious and learning.

Megan Gipson 11:54
Do you happen to know what the suicide or suicide attempt rate is for kids like,

Dr Laura Anderson 11:59
it's three times for LGBTQ for gay and trans kids, it's three to six times higher than kids who are not wrestling. And I've seen some statistics that in the last year 20 to 25% of kids who identified as trans, or non binary had suicidal ideation or attempts, that's one in five. And so, it, it's really, really important that we tune in, and, and, and learn some kids are exploring, some kids move through, they're checking it out, it's part of their identity. And unfortunately, a lot of the the mainstream conversations have been had been around like, so everybody's just it's just this frivolous trying it on. The majority of kids who are struggling, are really struggling because there is more going on than an exploration they need to be seen and heard and safe and supported for their identities. But I wonder if

Megan Gipson 12:57
that creates an additional difficulty in making sure those kids who are really exploring it? I don't know, do you feel like it sometimes gets lost? Because there are some kids that are like, you know, and so it's almost like how do we? How do we get to that point of knowing when we really do need to protect the child or just we just assume we're going to protect them? And that changes over time? I don't know.

Dr Laura Anderson 13:26
But yes to both of those. So you start off thinking, Okay, this could be an exploration, it could that isn't going to result in a long term identity piece. It could, or this could be a long term identity piece. Parenting is a marathon. In the long run, you want to know you're connected to your kid, you want to know that you are they feel supported, that they feel safe talking to you about things. The decision you make on a Tuesday when your child comes out to you and says hey, I think I need a different name and pronouns. You know, it matters what you say that day. It does. But it also matters more how you show up in an ongoing basis. So in answer to your question, if you have a child who is in a lot of distress around their gender, it's really important to just seek seek support. Locally, there are gender specialist, I have online courses for parents who want to know more about this stuff that I've designed because I'm inundated. I turned people away every week because there are so many people wanting to get this right. And nobody i mean i I'm a mom, I get it. Nobody wants to to make an impulsive decision with their kid that they later think oh my gosh, why didn't I know not to do that or whatever. And yet, far more harm is being done in in in the vein of kids who needed decisions to be made, not being paid. So in my courses and in general, I talked to parents about like, here's some ways to ask your kids go get a little bit of information. Talk to your kid about the fact that you don't know for sure What's happening with their gender, but you want to learn, and your tone is so huge. If your child comes out to you and says, you know, I think I need different, I think I'm gonna use the pronouns today, or I think I'm gonna use different pronouns. Even just the difference between saying, you know, and if those of you who can't see my face, I'm, I'm pulling my face a little bit, and I'm saying, How long have you known this? versus, like, how long have you known this? Right? Like, totally different? Like, what do I need to understand what how do I don't know much about that. But I'd like to learn how to I need to understand. I also think sometimes gender affirming care gets a bad rap because there's this assumption that, that, you know, the way to do it is your kid comes home and says, I need a new pronoun, new names and pronoun, and tomorrow, you're in court changing their names, and you're making a doctor's appointment to start estrogen or testosterone and thinking about surgeries. That's where our parent brain races, our parent brain races forward to surgeries, to societal targeting to whatever our family beliefs are, you know that this is a sin that this is going to be a problem for Graham. I mean, that's where the parenting, worrying brain races. And this is an invitation if you've got a young person that is letting you know, this is something they're exploring to just sit back, there are multiple steps involved before you get to a place of any kind of decision making of that nature. So it is staying curious. It is learning how your child is thinking about it, where they're getting their information. When are they happiest in their gender? Okay, well, where do you feel best in your gender? Where do you feel worse, or or wrongest? You know, in your gender helped me understand this, because this isn't my lived experience. Right? So let's talk pull up a seat, right? Let's talk and if you've already had the conversation, and you didn't do that, and you said, what? Oh, right, because so and so at school is doing it now everybody, right? These are these things we do parenting on the fly, when we're nervous, we're when they're in the middle of a daily routine or whatever. It's okay. You can go back. And you can say, Hey, I've been thinking, and I want to make sure I don't miss something. Let's make a play. Let's talk. Tell me. You know, who else do you know? Where are you getting in? But not like, where are you getting this? Oh, sure. That tick tock telling you this is the latest thing, right?

Megan Gipson 17:22
That sounds like am I always like is that tick tock news? Yeah, I

do. That's exactly a quote in my house too, with my kid Hola, tic tacos, you know, kind of a thing.

Dr Laura Anderson 17:31
So I think it's really valuable just to breathe. Notice if your mind races into the future, okay? And just pause. Because what you need to do is get to know your kids experience. And each kid is different. If you have a defiant kid, you may just sort of be like, right, okay, this is the next rule. We're going to challenge. This is the next, you know, attention seeking thing we're going to do. And it is important. So you know that about your kid? Yeah. You know, you do. All right. Well, what do you do? Knowing that you know that about your kid, you still stay calm, you still talk about how they're getting their information? What they want you to understand? Where are they happy? Where are they unhappy, and not that every non binary or transgender kid so non binary is another definition non binary is for kids who are very clearly say, non binary, I don't fit in the binary, I don't fit in those two, non binary, those two boxes, I am a combination of male female, both as my gender identity. So it doesn't mean that we wait for every non binary kid or kid who's asking about name and pronouns to be so miserable, that there's proof that this must be real, right? So both are true. We're not rushing toward interventions. But we're also not waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting until our kid is miserable in a way that shows us that there must be something to this, you know, within the field. There are a lot of folks who say I don't know why we a lot of trans and non binary folks who say I don't know why we why we have to wait for such levels of distress to believe it. So there's a sweet spot and it and it helps to get help. There are some online groups that I can link up and my stuff my courses. There's a trans family Alliance group out of California that helps they do online stuff that helps parents pause, recognize their own fears and their own worries and their and breathe and circle back to understanding what their kids experiences. When in doubt, you want to err on the side of taking it seriously because the anxiety, the depression, the substance use the suicide attempts, risky drug use behavior. These are all shame based behaviors, and shame based behaviors go way up when kids feel on support ordered and unseen if they're navigating an identity. One of the other things that comes up to for parents a lot is like, Oh, well, you know, I want to be an NBA professional NBA player when I'm an adult, but I'm five, three, and I didn't really play basketball. So that's not reasonable. So why would I tell my kid they could do this? Right? I'm like, Okay, there's a lot to unpack there. And we'll get you some support. We meet you where you're at? How do you think about gender? What part of this is so unsettling for you? How do we learn about it together, you come by it, honestly, we've all been taught differently. And then also recognize your kid wanting a car or wanting to join a team or wanting to get a part time job is different from your kid saying, there is this element of my very being that is uncomfortable in conflict and not okay. That's different from just having a want or an ask from a kid standpoint. Yeah,

Megan Gipson 21:02
that makes sense. It's interesting, as you were talking, I was thinking about how I feel like so many of the topics I talk about on this podcast are how to figure out how to keep your own stuff in check. So that when your kid comes to you on any topic, you have sort of the the level of calm to be reflective. And it just because I was thinking of it depends on the moment of somebody saying something, just how you know, so so much of this is just keeping our own wits about us and not sort of letting our brains run away with us.

Dr Laura Anderson 21:35
Yes, absolutely. staying balanced, I always say, knees bent, palms up, is language I talk about, because if you're coming at your kid with a finger pointed like you, this is the next craze, you know, that social media stuff, you're going to get a retreating kid or you're going to get a blowing up kid. And you're not going to get their full story. Because the other thing I talked to parents about is if you're hardcore, constantly talking with your kid trying to prove to them that it can't be real, they're going to swing to the other day, they're going to start to die on their sword, about how trans they are and how many of them will and how masculine they need to be and how you don't. And then then you set up a situation potentially, where it's tricky for kids to go back later and say, You know what, I'm not so sure. Like, I really want to be sure about this, if there's this huge power dynamic, and it's set up so that somebody is going to be wrong, and somebody's going to be right. That has potential ramifications in the long run for kids and families too. Because we no matter what kids do on this journey, we want them to be able to keep talking to us about what they still what still resonates with them and what feels what feels right. Yeah,

Megan Gipson 22:47
one of the other things that I thought was interesting is just like, I know, you mentioned before, the terminology kind of can be ever changing and do your best to keep I love the term gender expansive, that you You've talked a little bit about, can you just sort of talk about that? And like, is it different than transgender? Is it different than just and what do we do with all of the terms? And we're I guess it's just just keep learning.

Dr Laura Anderson 23:21
Keep learning listening, people talk about their experience, gender expansive, I love because it suggests, as I mentioned, when kids come into the world when we operate with other humans, we have an almost automatically sorted list of criteria we associate with maleness and femaleness, colors, interests, clothing, makeup, no makeup, jewelry, no mate hairstyle, we have all these things that we sort of auto sort, and file and there are expectations even for really young children by preschool kids who are not doing what's expected based on their sex assigned at birth. Other kids notice other adults definitely notice if a toddler who they're assuming is male is wearing princess dresses and spinning or an A toddler who they're assuming is female is you know, rough and tumble and pushing Tonka Trucks and like people notice they may not necessarily have intense feelings about it at the time, but they definitely notice so gender expansive I love because it is a way to say that this is a child who's engaging in something that expands on what we expect it. They're not following the classic old school formula for what we expect with somebody assigned boy at birth or assigned girl at birth. And I like it better to the non conforming, because that's also like being not white, right? It's like when you set the norm This is just like no, they're they're expanding on what was expected of them. They are doing unexpected things that would be more expected of kids of a different sex assigned at birth.

Megan Gipson 24:56
Which might you see it that way. It's like no wonder this is happening because So many of the rules are just dumb. And I think we've all kind of known that for a while. But finally, people have the courage to just be like.

Dr Laura Anderson 25:09
So I was all part of what I do in the presentations. When I talk about this slide. In this presentation, I do like strict gender stereotypes and the idea that there are two boxes that we should each follow, do not serve. Girls like when you look at the statistics on stereotypically feminine girls who are less communicative, who are less assertive, who are trying to be attractive, who are like, there are these T shirts I post on this screen it says like, I'm too pretty to do math. I'm like, you know, like, there's this assumption that femininity is weakness, it is less leadership, it is less intelligence. At its extreme, that doesn't serve us right. And the same is true for boys. It does not serve boys to be expected to be rotten, naughty, evil, dirty mean, you know, I mean, like all of these things that were like, boys will be boys like, Nope, that actually doesn't serve them either. Right? So how else is allowing your kid to tell you what they need and what resonates with them? Sometimes people think that this work is trying to strip the world of gender and make everybody these like, how no a morphus androgynous no gender, you know, maleness and femaleness are both bad kind of people. Nope. If you have a kid who quote unquote, is all boy and super comfortable with that, run with it. If you have a girl who is all girl, and comfortable with that, you know, find your place. How are you going to do that? This work is for the kids who come in saying something isn't something's not right, you expect me to do and be this, it doesn't work for me. And so I need to think about how I can do that different because it's causing me upset, it's causing me pain. I don't like it when I have to choose to go in the girls line, or the boys bathroom or the whatever, you know, all of these kinds of things. It doesn't fit for me, it doesn't show who I am. When you and I don't know the exact science behind but when you think about everything that happens between the time a brain sprouts for maleness and we get to the genitals like think of the millions of cellular and or chemical fluid, whatever kinds of things that happen between in development in utero. And and think about the way that some of our societal ideas are also changing around what's acceptable. I, you know, people will say to me, it's just permission. It's just because nowadays, we're letting kids do this, like, in my day, nobody did it because it wasn't a thing. And and I'm like, nope, then we wouldn't have kids from non accepting families telling us this, then we would see only trans and non binary. Kids coming from other trans and non binary or super progressive lefty lefty lefty fit. That's not what's happening. They're happening across race, class, culture, political viewpoints, it isn't just a matter of giving permission. And then this stuff is sprouting from nowhere. One of the things I talk about in terms of gender expansivity, is that it's really typical. A lot of kids you ask any preschool teacher, you find kids love the dress up corner, they spin, they twirl, they, you know, they enjoy trying on stuff, it is really developmentally healthy to explore outside what's expected of your gender, lots of kids do that. And then grow up to be straight, and cisgender. Another chunk of kids explore their expansive, they do unexpected things. And they grow up to identify as gay or lesbian or pansexual. There's a to whom I am attracted piece that goes along with gender expansivity for some people, and then there's a third group who explore and persist and really need us to understand that something is going on in their innermost workings that we need to honor Yeah.

Megan Gipson 29:01
Sounds like it's like, like you said, with the hands up beat, the acceptance of being in a place of not knowing for a period of time. And that could shift.

Dr Laura Anderson 29:11
Sitting with ambiguity is an enormous thing. Right? Sometimes we also have to work with parents dislikes Latos law that you know, we actually don't know exactly where this is going. Don't let your mind race ahead and don't you know, I mean, it it really is like being okay, because that's one of the things I say Parenting is hard enough. When your kid is walking the same path you did, or your kid is walking a path that is, you know, mainstream ish, right? It's hard that way. But when you're in uncharted territory, when your kid is saying stuff that is challenging, your very beliefs, then it's really important to be gentle with yourself. You come by it honestly. But also recognize your child's at risk if you're not doing your work, to explore and stay curious and And, and commit to learning more. And there's lots of there's online information. There's groups, I mean, there's lots of ways you can learn and tell your kid, I'm going to learn I'm I'm making mistakes. Let's talk about this. Explain to me why this is important. Most people usually have some kind of consultation with a professional before they're changing names or, or certainly before they're making any medical decisions. But somehow we race right toward that and think being affirming means sign me up for all that stuff. You know, there are layers of assessment, you have a person doing the assessment, and I do these lessons, you have to know child psychology to understand when an 11 year old says something, how does that differ from an eight year old or from a 14 year old in terms of their ability to understand you have to understand how gender develops so so don't be afraid that if you read if you're looking for somebody who knows gender, that your train tracks that you're going to be railroaded into a no looking back path. Responsible gender for me therapist does far far, far from that. Yeah, did.

Megan Gipson 31:08
Did you ever read the book? This is how it always is by Laurie Frankel. I had her on the podcast years ago. Like before she was I sent her a note because I was like I picked you before you were in recently. But what I love about that book, it's fiction for anybody who hasn't read it. But it kind of goes back to like, this is how it always is. There's always something in parenting. And it makes me think of what you're saying about being okay with the ambiguity, like that should be like the book for a new parent. I mean, right is like ambiguity, that yet, you know, much more

Dr Laura Anderson 31:43
complicated ambiguity and self doubt, and other people who don't know as much judging you for things they have no place judging you for. It's a hard one, because we still send pretty loud messages in our culture, that if your child is gender expansive, if your kid is doing unexpected things, that either you created it, or you shouldn't allow it. So, you know, I hear people saying, well, there's no dad in the home, or, well, you know, the mom was an angry feminist. And so what you know, like, I have heard all these kinds of things to sort of assume that parents create this identity out of their own, lacking or issues, right, it's like, we still are looking to explain the aberration a lot. We're looking to explain what went wrong? How come this is happening? Now? What are we doing wrong? You know, who can we blame and you know, folks in committee, so I am cisgender, I'm heterosexual my lived experience comes through parenting around this, this realm. And, and there, you'll hear a lot from other parents of people saying, well, don't you think if your kid had more female role models, or male role models that this wouldn't be happening, or, and we just, we just don't, we don't have the data, right. So at the worst parents are being subtly or not so subtly told, they're making this stuff happen. And at the end, if they're not the ones who created it, they darn sure shouldn't support it, right? Like, there's this idea that you are being duped by your child or leftist agenda or stuff like that, too, if you allow your kid to do this. And so it's a really hard place to be as a parent to have other people looking at you. And your choices. And it's a public thing. It's a visible thing. For a lot of families if you're in a known community around public and your child is known to have an assigned male at birth, and he is wearing princess dresses and jewelry, and people will notice. And they will they laugh, they make awkward comments. They it's it really requires thick skinned parenting, where and so and I also understand my parents are afraid of anti trans legislation is up 800 times this year.

Megan Gipson 34:00
It is on a call. Yeah, I was just on a call with equality, Texas. And he was saying this year 69 bills were submitted in anti trans legislation. Power for a week, because they can't figure out electricity, but that they're going to do that. You know, it's crazy.

Dr Laura Anderson 34:22
Yeah, it really. And so it also pokes at this myth of everybody's doing it these days, and nobody cares, and all the kids are so just roll your eyes and you'll get through it. What I see is there are more allies there are more informed people who understand it. There's also a very strong undercurrent of backlash directed at providers directed at parents directed at legislature. And so it doesn't that doesn't fit with this is whimsical, this is trendy, the my kid gets cool points for doing it. It's like this. It's really strange. He's mixed messaging right now to parents and families and kids about the legitimacy. Because in the end, what a lot of these arguments are about is Is this legitimate? And if it is, what do we do, but we but most of the energy gets put toward it this legitimate. People highlight stories of folks who have decided not to continue, they've started hormones, because they believe that they wanted to feminize, for instance, and then they make the decision, they realize either living that way they've mature they age, they do any number of reasons. They decide that their gender journey, this web, that is gender is going to take a turn. And people are pointing them out as really the central one off stories in in major media when we know the data, and I hope we keep getting more and more. But we know the data says that the people who quote D transition that people who stopped taking hormones, when they started are between one and 2%. That's, and when you look at regret the concept of Wouldn't they regret it? And like 50% of marriages end in divorce? Like there is an end? And do you regret where you moved? Do you regret a job you didn't take? Now I know. And I always have to say I believe me, I understand deciding not to live in Albuquerque is not the same kind of decision as the medical interventions for kids. But but a lot of these arguments come out of parent feared they'll regret, I don't want them to be mad at me that I don't want them to wish they'd done anything different. I'm, I'm sort of sending them into this idea of an extended gender purgatory. If I say yes to any of this stuff. And this is just really an invitation. Notice, if your mind races forward, step back, palms up, stay curious, get help. And you would do more harm. If your energy is eye rolling the rest of the family, you're going to kill your grandmother or you're going to you know, like you can't do this like that, that you may be thinking that that's a conversation for your girlfriend's your own therapist, your parents, you'll meet through some other support groups. That's a conversation for other places, if you need support around it, I'm not minimizing the way that families have been ruptured in some decisions around this stuff. So it's not that as a parent, you're not allowed to have your feelings and your grief and your worries. It's that we want you to handle them so that you can parent not from a place of fear, and not from a place of grief. Yeah.

Megan Gipson 37:40
One of the things I heard you talk a little bit about, and I think you'll say it much better than I could, could figure out how to say it, but something about it not being so much a gender spectrum, but more of a web. Yeah, what is that?

Dr Laura Anderson 37:55
Right, we've gone from boxes, to a to a line, which is a spectrum and the line was a way of moving on from the line to a web is a way of recognizing that, again, a line suggests if I go over there, and that's not where I'm supposed to be, then I have to come back right along the straight line that the path is very linear, it's clearer, it is narrower. And if it isn't what you were assigned at birth, it's still linear, clear, and narrow. Web suggests that again, some people explore and then don't continue, other people explore and then start medical interventions and change their path. Although very few, again, very few, but some do, right? So it allows a little bit more wiggle room from this notion that we are in the wrong body. I think in the wrong body was a very good attempt to explain like my wheels turn all the time when I do I'm like to wait that's means if they like I can literally like my eyes, squint my forehead wrinkles, and I'm like doing this gymnastics in my head trying to understand some of these concepts. And I think the idea of gender not being as straightforward as I was born a girl, but I 100% knew from the time I was three, that I'm a boy. And so that's the only way to do transness there is more and more evidence and lived experience and research that there are a number of people who exist in a place that is in between and feel elements of maleness and femaleness and both as well. And I admit I mean like I literally was like, I mean I really let me okay, let me let me sit with that. Let me wrap my mind around that what would that be like? You know, when I tried to imagine my experiences and like wow, but mine was my expression. A Tomboy is not the same thing. As right a Tomboy is interests its expression, somebody non binary saying in my head and heart, being called a girl doesn't feel right Joining the girls line doesn't feel right doing the like it's it does not capture who I am they're different things. One is much more head and heart identity based and the other is expression what I show the world have the, the wide range in which I can do femaleness and I would love it if we get to a wider range that you can do femaleness and maleness, maleness in particular, people are still a lot more. They put a lot more scrutiny on gender expansive. Males, like young little boys are given less flexibility and freedom to experiment with nail polish and makeup and dresses and dolls than little girls are to be rough and tumble and be like dad and want to play in the dirt piles. And like we there's still this cultural piece where we celebrate that some of us a little bit like yeah, headstrong girl. And then when boys do it, it's a little bit like, you can kind of hear the air getting sucked out of the room a little bit or people laugh because they think it's entertaining. There's there's yucky stuff that happens to gender expansive boys moving through the world in terms of people seeing them as frivolous and entertaining and weaker. It's really powerful. What, what kids start to and don't think kids don't know from preschool age is a very big age at which kids come and start saying, I don't like this, I don't want to be with the girls. Something isn't right preschool today, the kids will say, you can't be a princess, you're a girl, or that's for boys, or that's for girls loudly to each other in preschool. And puberty is another big time. So something that's I know we probably need to wrap up at puberty is talking about what puberty is another big time, where and this is one of the things I think causes more confusion for parents. So I have a number of parents who say to me, okay, if my kid was to, and had been saying, since they were two, now they're 12. And they were saying since they were two, I'm a boy, I'm a boy, I'm a boy, I'm a boy. And everything about them had been masculine. And they'd always lived consistently with that. I mean, it'd be hard and I'd be worried. But I would get this this kid, my kid is 11, my kid is 12. And sure, they've been a little bit of a tomboy, or they've been, you know, a little bit softer as a boy. But, but this is coming out of nowhere. Puberty is another big time, when we see kids come forward, because secondary sex characteristics start to develop, so their bodies begin to change. Cognitively, they're also more able to understand their own experiences and that their own experiences might be different from other people's experiences. So there's, there's really a it's a natural time, even though people say, oh, boy, it's puberty. It's adolescent confusion. It is trendiness. Again, it's like, Nope, there are scientific reasons why puberty is a time when kids come forward when they may not have, but also just the ability to combine their thinking and their words to express what their experience has been, is much better at age 11 or 12, than it is at seven, eight or nine. So that's another reason to if your child begins talking about this in puberty, but you didn't have glaring, persistent signs when they were younger. It's a reason to stay curious, don't dismiss it out of hand, just stay curious and get more information. That's the dismissal, that that creates the disconnect between the families and creates the stress ultimately, for young people. Yeah, well,

Megan Gipson 43:35
what I love about everything you're saying is I feel like it, it helps me, I think I was trying so hard to understand new things myself, that I was just making new boxes, what which box does that go in? It's like, I was like, one of the professional organizers. And I was like, is that? Is that with the snacks? Or is that with the chips, you know, and I love the that image of the web, that it's like, it's each, it's like a fingerprint. It's each person has their story. And the more that they are in tune with their story, the more they can share it. And I think what I was trying to do it earlier in my learning process was like, why? What's the new box? What box, you know, and just kind of really wanting there to be more order than maybe there is and there's some discomfort in that. Box sometimes.

Dr Laura Anderson 44:22
Yeah, we sure do. And they help things make predictable and they help us feel good about our right. decisions. And they also, yeah, it just helps us feel more mastery. And like we can make these decisions from a confident place. I mean, and again, I think it's it's natural that parents worry, right. You know, most of us want our kids to have enough hard stuff that they develop resiliency, and they just enough resiliency, right? Like, we want just enough hardship, so that they can bounce back and be independent, but we don't want too much. And this is this if you really start paying attention so if If you're a parent, this is new to you and you go do a bunch of Googling, you're gonna see all the statistics on trans suicide, trans mental health, hotlines, depression, anxiety, you're gonna read stories about hate crimes that have happened and transphobic event. And then that brings up an additional wall of fear, which has parents locked down even more like this can't be why do I have to do that this isn't, you know, and and I get that instinct. And, you know, and you can, you know, you can do, you can do hard things. That's the other thing I want to sort of end with. As we think about this. When I first started doing presentations, I really sent her the parent experience, and said, you know, we push parents into a binary to where you're either all accepting and it's thumbs up, nobody ever looks back, hey, we can leave you alone. And don't you have a lucky kid. Or we have these, you know, evil rejecting parents that you leave alone and try to get the kid to a youth center or something. The parent experience is so much more nuanced and broad than that, it's not fair to push us into boxes, either. And I started doing a fair amount of talking around like, grief doesn't mean you're grieving that your child is trans, you're grieving that your expectations are gone. If your child isn't gonna, we came to Indiana, your Mitzvah is now a bar mitzvah, if you feel comfortable going public, right? Like there's all of these. That's grief, that's loss. That's love doesn't mean your child is the loss. It means your expectations, and the things that you had come to assume were going to happen and need to be grieve. So I talked about grief, I talked about the worries, I talked about guilt, because then parents look back on. What did I say earlier? I should never have said that. Like, why didn't I, you know, all this stuff. And it was talking to a group of trans parents or trans kids. And this one mom was like, it's so awesome. You're talking about this stuff. It's so fabulous. We need to really do it more often. And when do we get to celebrate? Like, can't end on that note, like, there's so much cool stuff with my trans get she she has a kid who is cisgender. And she has a kid who is transgender. And there's one particular woman who was like, I've had conversations with my trans kid, and we have walked through the fire together. And I have had to learn and grow. And we are closer. And like this stuff, wouldn't my relationship with my child would not be what it is, if we hadn't learned through this, too. Even the roosters agree here. The restaurants are probably important. It's so so I also want to leave on that note, if you are on this journey, and you wanted to hear this conversation, and you're still not sure what's going to happen. You Yes, there will be hard parts. Absolutely. There'll be things you can't control. And there'll be skills you have to build in your kids for the things you can't control. And you will meet amazing people, you will find community and others who want safe spaces the way you do, you will have new thought leader experiences, you will go to places you wouldn't have gone before, you will see the world in different ways, some of which are hard, and some of which are pretty beautiful in terms of the complexity of human diversity. So So let me end on the hope note.

Megan Gipson 48:06
I love that. I love that. And can you just tell people where they can find more information about you your courses and all the resources you have to share?

Dr Laura Anderson 48:14
I'm super excited in terms of the timing of this. So before it was a January 24 I think it was yes, I launched some online courses, the best place to find them is at my website is www Dr. Laura anderson.com. All one word lowercase. And you can even Google Dr. Laura Anderson, psychology, gender, whatever that'll come up. And there's my podcast is on their blogs. And then also the courses are just brand new, I updated all of them. There's different modules for different ages of kids. And it isn't just me video chatting. It's also I write questions for parents to ask themselves with each module. I have questions for your kids with each different module and scripts and stuff because I'm all about okay, cool. But what do I say? When so how does this change our kitchen table? Tomorrow? If I'm learning this stuff, so yeah, the website is probably the best place to to start exploring the stuff I'm doing around this.

Megan Gipson 49:09
Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing all you've learned in your own journey and just sharing it with all of us. And I love again, I know I've said this, but I love that, you know, I just feel like you have a very welcoming way of like inviting people into this conversation, which I very much appreciate.

Oh, thanks, man. It's yeah,

Dr Laura Anderson 49:29
it's hard work for me. Yeah.

Megan Gipson 49:31
Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, I'll stop recording.

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