Dear Your Teen:
My 15-year-old son told me that he is a cross dresser. He also asked me if I could help him paint his nails red. Should I let him wear girls’ clothes and makeup? If yes, what kind of clothes? Should I take him to get a manicure or a pedicure? Should I give him the makeover he desires? I want to be a good parent but I don’t know what that looks like here. Help!
Creating a safe space for your cross-dressing teen
I think that a young person who is exploring gender identity or sexuality needs a safe place to do so and having a trusted adult helps. In my clinic, I see many youth who are more “gender bending” and fluid in their expression of masculinity and femininity these days. Still, teenagers who express themselves in ways different than most other teenagers find themselves the targets of bullying or violence. I think a good place to start is to get in contact with a community group (like TransFamily of Greater Cleveland) in order to have a safe place for self-expression and meet other people who identify as transgender.
There are many identities within the transgender community including transsexuals, cross dressers, performers, people with disorders of sexual development (DSDs) and those who simply identify as “queer.” Your son may be able to meet others with a similar experience and have an opportunity to find his path. A recent study by a colleague of mine who also cares for gender variant youth noted that the young people in his practice had a high rate of mood disorders and that one in nine youth had self-injurious behavior. These findings underscore the importance of mental health support in addition to having an affirming, accepting environment.
Henry Ng, MD, MPH, FAAP, FACP, is the Clinical Director of MetroHealth’s Pride Clinic.