Gender identity and your grandchild
July 1, 2021 | View PDF
Question: My granddaughter’s good friend is a young woman she used to work with. They spend a lot of time together and have come to visit me. It is apparent they are a couple. I’m not sure how to interact with them.
Answer: This is a great question; while a grandparent may not be one of the first people a grandchild shares personal information with, how delightful she feels comfortable visiting you. It sounds like you two have a special relationship.
Responding appropriately and uniquely to the situation preserves your grandparent and granddaughter connection. ‘Coming out’ to a close family member can stir up emotions when revealing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer identities. It can make everyone uncomfortable, however, having open conversations is easier than withholding the truth. Being aware of your reactions whether surprise, shock, disappointment, or anger, as those are emotions often experienced, is crucial. Mixed feelings are common and rejecting your grandchild is not a preferred option. Reassure your granddaughter that she is accepted and loved. Responding with comforting language and “I love you” can ease tensions.
Shunning or disowning LGBTQ individuals risks increasing their anxiety, which in turn can lead to depression, substance abuse, or even suicide.
Religious beliefs that condemn alternative lifestyles often make the situations more difficult to resolve, and if that applies in this situation, seek guidance from a religious or spiritual advisor. If you don’t approve of receiving the message about their sexual orientation, understand that your grandchild hasn’t changed who they are internally, nor should it alter the love you have for them. While you may not give full approval of the partner relationship, you can be empathetic.
Try using language similar to “I may not always know what to say, how to say it, or ask the right questions, but know that I’m open to learning new terms. Please know I love you, am here to support you and will try to grow in my understanding of your partnership.”
Bombarding your grandchild with questions can be overwhelming. If you had already guessed about their orientation, you don’t need to tell them that you suspected it all along. This can often lead to guilt on their end for not saying anything sooner. Recognize that young people sometimes tread slowly with whom they are sharing the information, and often it is only with close family or friends. Be respectful of telling others – including other family members – about their orientation outside of the individual’s chosen circle. You want to maintain their trust. And, after all, it is their story to tell, however and whenever they wish and feel comfortable doing so.
Additionally, if you feel at ease, discuss which gender pronoun your granddaughter prefers. What is a gender pronoun? It simply means knowing which gender an individual wants to go by. Pronouns are how we identify ourselves apart from using our name. It could be how someone refers to your grandchild in conversation. This is important as you learn more about your granddaughter because you cannot always know an individual’s pronoun simply by looking at them. Asking and correctly using someone’s pronoun is one of the most basic
ways to show your respect for their gender identity. When someone is referred to by the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, or dismissed.
Here are some examples:
A gender-neutral or gender-inclusive pronoun is a pronoun that does not associate a gender with the individual being discussed. An individual who is transgender or gender queer might have frustration because the dichotomy of “he and she” in the English language does not leave room for other gender identities.
If you want your grandchild to be honest and live with integrity, realize that having these discussions and coming out to you is all of that. Good for you for recognizing that living openly is an important part in your relationship with her. By you being honest, supportive and open, you can become an advocate and love your granddaughter for who she is.
Karen Casanovas is a Professional Certified Coach that oversees a private practice specializing in aging and health. She’s a Fellow with the Institute of Coaching and former member of the Anchorage Senior Citizens Advisory Commission. If you have a question for Karen, email her at email@example.com.