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Loving those who swim against the tide

Updated: May 8

CW: Suicide, homophobia, transphobia

Yesterday, Labor MP Stephen Jones addressed Parliament regarding the proposed new Religious Discrimination Act. His message so clearly expressed the thoughts that have been racing through my head over the last few months.

We live in a society where our children have the ability, understanding, and access to the information that helps them claim their identity – something that many in my generation (myself included) are still searching for.

Diversity's rich tapestry

Some people mourn “the rise” in numbers of youth with different expressions of gender and sexual orientation. Others welcome and celebrate this, understanding and appreciating Diversity’s rich tapestry.

Gender Diversity is not new – it has existed throughout history and across cultures. Gender Diversity refers to people whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth do not correspond based on society’s expectations[1]. It’s thanks to Human Rights Movements and courageous individuals’ fights over the last 60 years that Gender Diversity and Sexual Orientation have become less hidden, with legislation slowly evolving to recognise it.

Why, as a Neurodiversity Advocate, do I care so much about this topic? Clinical evidence, qualitative research, and my anecdotal experience suggest that “neurodivergent people, particularly autistic individuals, are more likely to be gender diverse and have a lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or asexual sexual orientation compared to neurotypical people”.[2]

As a parent - who loves and delights in my neurodivergent children, nieces, and nephews; having met with parents; and brainstormed with Newcastle Pride on creating safe spaces for our children - I have seen and heard of two very different types of experiences for our youth.

“Ignore it and it will go away”

This is the most soul-destroying approach, where well-meaning, loving parents do not want to or are unable to accept their child’s identity (this extends to parents not seeking diagnosis for youth who believe themselves to be neurodivergent).

Stigma, stereotypes, fears for the child’s future, grief for the child that they knew, and perhaps concerns about how others will perceive the parents themselves, may be some of the reasons for this.

Children are told to “be normal”, dress “appropriately” for their gender, and have their words and experiences minimised or invalidated. The message they receive is “it’s not OK to be you.”

Some of the outcomes: are masking, estrangement from family, and trauma.

Love and respect identity

I’m thankful to say that I see this approach more often. Parents love and value their child, they listen to and learn from their child’s experiences, and they become fierce advocates!

On this journey, there may be grief for the person we thought our child would be, we will make mistakes, non-understanding family and friends may disappear, there will be huge learning curves, and we will need to support our children’s mental health.

There will be love and appreciation.

The big wide world

In Stephen Jones’ words, our children have “had the courage to swim against the tide to just be themselves.” I have so much admiration for them.

In the search for identity, devastatingly, despite our love and support, the judgement and treatment from a world that is bigger than us can become too much to bear. This was the case with Stephen Jones’ nephew last week.

We need to change this

But how?

We start small: we encourage all children to appreciate differences and to be inspired by those who are leading the way and living their lives authentically. We educate extended family members, we speak up! We continually strive for social change and we influence the narrative wherever we go.

And for those parents who may be struggling right now with what their children are trying to tell them – please, please, please – listen to them, hear them, and become their fiercest advocates.

Understand that change is an inevitable part of growing up and give them room to discover who they are becoming. This is about their journey, not yours, and they need you right now – just as they always have.

“If a young kid has the courage to be themselves and own their identity, the very least we can do is say welcome, we love you, we respect you, and you’re OK just the way you are.” - Stephen Jones, Labor MP, 8/2/22.

[1] [2] Neurodiversity and Gender Diverse Youth – An Affirming Approach to Care.

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