Explanation of gender identity as a spectrum
Gender is often mistaken for a binary, or something that only has two possibilities: “male” and “female,” with nothing in between the two, with no other options. However, gender is actually much more similar to a spectrum, where “male” falls at one end of the pole and “female” falls at the other end. Between the two exist endless possible genders, which are known as “nonbinary” genders.
Binary trans people and nonbinary trans people
When someone says that they have a nonbinary gender, they are saying that their gender falls somewhere in the space between the poles of the gender spectrum. The recognition of nonbinary genders creates space for people to exist outside of and/or in between the binary “male/female” classification system.
When someone is transgender, it means that they were given the wrong gender at birth on the basis of their sex. Because being transgender has to do with gender, which is a spectrum, being transgender is also a spectrum. There are binary transgender people and nonbinary transgender people, but because their gender is not the one they were assigned at birth, they are all considered transgender.
Some transgender people choose to transition, or change how they are on the outside, to be more like they are on the inside. This can be a social change, a physical change or both.
When a binary transgender person chooses to transition, they will usually work toward the opposing pole on the gender spectrum. So, a binary transgender man would be moving toward the “male” pole of gender, away from the “female” pole. A binary transgender woman would be moving toward the “female” pole of gender, away from the “male” pole. When a nonbinary transgender person chooses to transition, they usually won’t have a goal presentation visible to anyone but themself. It is possible they don’t know where they’re going, or their unique presentation hasn’t been done before, or only they really know themself.
To better understand the difference between a binary transgender person and a nonbinary transgender person, let’s use an example:
Imagine a person named Devon. Devon was assigned female at birth, but as they grow up, they realize that they feel more like a boy. After a lot of thought and conversations with close friends, Devon decides to come out as a binary transgender man, requesting that those close to him use “he/him/his” pronouns while talking about him. If Devon decides to go through a social and/or medical transition, he would be transitioning away from female and toward male. If his transition were a train ride, he would start at Female Station, and has a set destination at Male Central. Male Central is a semi-clearly defined point or goal.
So what if instead of identifying as a binary transgender man, Devon identified as nonbinary? If Devon decided to go for both a social and a medical transition, what would it look like then? Going back the train station example, Devon is still starting at Female Station, but instead of buying the train ticket to Male Central, Devon just starts making their way away from Female Station. Maybe there just weren’t any train tracks going in the direction that Devon is going. Maybe Devon is the only one who knows where their destination is, so they’ll direct themself wherever they feel like going. Maybe Devon only knows which way to go, but isn’t really sure what their final destination is, and won’t know until they arrive. Maybe Devon’s destination is a secret spot that only they know exists.
Understanding gender identity
A person’s gender is a completely personal, internal assessment of who they are: how they perceive themself and how they wish others to perceive them. Gender isn’t just about how a person looks on the outside or how they dress; it is a big mix of different traits and qualities that a person feels best fits them and their feeling of what identity is true to who they are. This makes each person’s gender unique and personal.
Because identity is so personal, it often happens that parts of it change as a person grows, including their understanding of their gender. Some transgender people know from a very young age that their gender is different than what they were assigned at birth, and they are insistent, consistent and persistent with telling others about their gender. Some transgender people don’t know it, or don’t have the language to express their gender, until they are older, which is a perfectly natural experience.
If you want to learn more about gender, you may enjoy reading this article: “Understanding Gender.”
LGB-identified trans teens
Another very personal part of a person’s identity is their sexuality. A person’s sexuality is related to their gender, because it puts their gender against the gender of people they find attractive or love. While sexuality and gender are reliant on each other, you can’t know a
person’s sexuality just from knowing their gender, even if the person is transgender. If you know that someone is a male, whether he is transgender or not, you don’t know his sexuality unless you know who he is attracted to. A male, transgender or not, who is only attracted to females is straight (heterosexual) regardless of the gender assigned given at birth. Similarly, a male, transgender or not, who is only attracted to other males is gay (homosexual) regardless of the gender assigned at birth.
For nonbinary people, sexuality can be a little harder. Because sexuality, like gender, is very personal, it can be unique from person to person, so nonbinary people define their sexuality how it feels best for them. Many times, this is by the binary pole of the gender spectrum they are closer to, but that is not always the case.
Many transgender youth feel uncomfortable or stressed about figuring out their sexuality and gender because it is often made to seem like sexuality and gender alone determine each other rather than acknowledging that the gender of the person they’re attracted to is key in finding sexuality. If your child is transgender or questioning their gender identity, you may find that you have to be patient with them. They may try out a lot of different labels and identities before they figure themself out, and that is OK. It doesn’t mean that they are not transgender or otherwise LGBT+, it just means that they are trying to figure out exactly who they are, trying to learn about themself.
It can be distressing to watch your child struggle with figuring out their sexuality and gender, especially if they are continually trying new labels that you feel are contradictory. Your child is likely just as frustrated as you are, if not more so, and it is OK to offer help, but it’s recommended to avoid showing your frustration. Try to remember that it’s good if your child is sharing each new development with you, as frustrating as it can be to watch. After all, many LGBT+ youth (yes, not just transgender) go through long periods of questioning and uncertainty, while trying to find what really fits them. The fact that your child is sharing one of the most difficult parts of their journey with you means that you are helping them, and that you have done something very, very right.