• A Conversation About Gender—Mighty Parenting 221 With Rae McDaniel

  • genderEveryone is assigned a gender when they’re born. For some people that’s fine, and they keep using that gender in their lives. For others, it’s not—it’s uncomfortable or downright painful, and they’re not sure why, or what other options they have to feel truly comfortable with themselves. Rae McDaniel has experienced this and understands it; they’re here with Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler to discuss what gender means, the gender and sexuality spectrum, and how you can work with your child to understand their struggle and help them feel safe as they explore this part of living for the first time.

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    A Favorite Quote from the Show: 

    What does it mean to be a man or a woman? We all need to decide what it means for us.

    High Points From Our Conversation on Gender:

    Rae grew up the adopted child of fundamentalist missionaries. Considering their gender and sexuality wasn’t even an option in their brain.

    They knew they were different, that something didn’t fit right, but it wasn’t until college that they came out as queer and non-binary; their parents did not react well.

    They’re familiar with being queer, coming out in an oppressive environment and having unsupportive family; it’s one of the reasons they do the work they do now, to help kids who are where Rae was growing up.

    The term ‘queer’ has been an insult for many years. However, the LGBTQ community reclaimed the word in the 90’s. It’s an identity and a field of study, primarily about embracing the fluidity of identities—especially around sexual orientation and gender expression.

    Queer theory asks, what boxes have we been putting people in regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and are those boxes actually useful in helping people find their whole identity? (In most cases, the answer is no.)

    What is nonbinary? 

      • Cisgender – people identifying with the same gender as assigned at birth 
        • AMAB – assigned male at birth
        • AFAB – assigned female at birth
      • Trans/transgender – people that identify with the opposite gender from the one they were assigned at birth
      • Non-binary – people who don’t fully fit and don’t identify as male or female
        • Identify fully in the middle of the gender spectrum
        • Genderfluid | genderqueer | non-binary – all terms for people who don’t identify as male or female, though different terms may mean different things to different people

    Our entire gender system is predicated on the idea that there are two biological sexes—male and female. However, human biology and physiology is more complicated than that, and people do exist who have differences in sexual development (for example, developing both male and female reproductive organs, or developing female reproductive organs fully with part of the male reproductive system also). These people are often called intersex.

    The number of intersex people alive today is roughly twice the population of Canada or the same as the current number of redheads, yet we’ve created a system that identifies only two sexes when that is not actually biologically true.

    Kids who are struggling with their gender identity often feel alone, confused and shamed for not fitting in “properly” (i.e into one of the M/F check boxes) or being different. They might not know who they can trust to talk to about this; they might want to experiment with gender expression (how you choose to express your gender to the wider world) but not know how. 

    Here’s some tips to start if you think your kid might be struggling:

      1. Acknowledge your child might not match the gender they were assigned at birth 
      2. We grow up learning about a binary gender system; you want to encourage a wider exploration of gender
      3. Consider your own views and beliefs and try to make sure your child knows you are safe to talk to about gender and sexuality exploration

    Human brains categorize as a matter of course; we generally take that farther and try to label everything, including gender and sexes. However, these labels are only useful when we apply them to ourselves.

    Being a supportive, inclusive parent doesn’t mean ditching gender entirely, just being flexible about it. Let your kid grow up with room for their gender to expand (for example, if your kid is born male, you could tell others that “it’s a boy for now or until he tells us otherwise.”).

    Encourage gender exploration and engagement with gender in general. Help your kid grow up while knowing there are other options for them should they so choose. Express explicit support for the LGBTQ+ community. Give children freedom to explore—embrace curiosity and flexibility  and encourage your child to try different modes of dress, using different pronouns, even different names if they prefer.

    There’s an idea that you can “catch” or be peer-pressured into being queer or non-binary. If kids feel stressed a parent can take some of the pressure off and let them know that it’s not that serious, and they can keep exploring this for the rest of their life if they want. They don’t have to decide today that they want to experiment.

    Rae recommends positioning gender identity and gender transition as a place of self-growth like any other part of our identity and identity development. It’s less of a problem to be solved and more of a lifelong journey where we can keep learning about ourselves and who we are.

    What does it mean to be a man or a woman? We all need to decide what that means for ourselves.

    We don’t have to decide who we are forever immediately. Mind you, that is not permission to not believe kids and teenagers when they say I’m trans or I’m non-binary. So when your kid comes up to you and says something along those lines, try to be accepting and flexible: So you don’t feel like you are the sex that you were assigned at birth. Okay, cool. Let’s talk about that. What are you interested in exploring? What are you curious about? 

    This also applies to cis-gender people. So kids and teenagers that might grow up and say, Hey, I do identify with the sex that I was assigned at birth, but gender questioning and exploration are still an important part of self-growth for them too.

    Parents’ fears aren’t coming from nowhere. We live in a world that is not always kind (and can often be awful and cruel) to the LGBTQ+ community. Being concerned your child will be rejected or hurt is not a trans-specific problem. Unfortunately, you as a parent will have to deal with the fact that your child will be hurt or rejected at some point in their life be it for their gender, sexuality, political opinions, or something else.

    So here’s the big question: Do we want our kids to be safe while not being their authentic selves? Or do we want to encourage them to grow into their brightest, truest selves while accepting that that means they could get hurt?

    Figure out the actual safety risk for your child. Work with others to figure out safety—school administration, medical services, peer groups in the community. Work with your child to mitigate risks reasonably—don’t travel alone, stay near populated areas, don’t walk by yourself after dark, etc.

    Fear is not solely a trans or queer experience. Girls and women, for example, feel safer in groups. They park under streetlights and prep their keys and unlock one car door and immediately lock that door once inside the car. These are things we think about as vulnerable human beings.

    We take our kids as they are, and then help them find their way in the world as safely as possible, whether it’s about their gender or a disability or a belief system or a job.

    Gender identity is not the same as sex. Gender identity is a feel or a sense of who you are. Sexual orientation is about who you love and who you do or don’t want to be romantic or sexual with.

    Again, labels are only useful when we apply them to ourselves; this includes sexual orientation. That label is not permanent or exclusive—you decide it for yourself. Regardless of who you’re in a relationship with. 

    For example, Rae has met people who identified as queer, as lesbian, who ended up in long-term relationships with cisgender men. Those men are an exception to the romantic and sexual labels those people chose to apply to themselves.

    From a queer perspective, maybe the boxes that we’re putting people in—heterosexual or homosexual or queer— aren’t useful ways for people outside of that relationship or that person to label someone with. They need to figure out what their sexual orientation means to them and what labels they’re comfortable with, regardless of who they might share a relationship with.


    Sexuality and Gender Identity Concerns | Sarah Sproule | Episode 144

    A Parenting Conversation About Coming Out | John Sovec | Episode 171

    Unpacking Shame | Sara Shapouri and JoAnna Hardy of iBme | Episode 177

    What If Your Teen is Transgender? | Paria Hassouri | Episode 183

    Our Guest Rae McDaniel:

    Rae McDaniels talks about genderRae McDaniel is a non-binary gender and sex therapist-turned-coach who works with transgender/non-binary/questioning folks feeling lost while transitioning their gender identity. They are the creator of GenderFck: The Club, a one-of-a-kind, research-based online group coaching community of transgender/non-binary/questioning folks who are on a mission to transition with less suffering and more ease. Rae is the founder of Practical Audacity, a gender and sex therapy practice in Chicago. They also provide training for medical and mental health professionals wishing to uplevel their knowledge in trans-affirming care. Rae holds a Master’s of Education in community counseling.

    To learn more or connect with our guest visit https://genderfck.club/.

    Our Sponsor: 

    Inward Bound Mindfulness Education — Mindfulness courses and retreats for teens and adults 

    iBme offers online and in-person retreats, mindfulness courses, and weekly meditations tailored for various communities of teens and young adults. Visit iBme.com/mightyparenting  to learn more and register for programs, including in-person summer retreats.