Outdoor chairs on Muir Wood Campus

Understanding Alternative Gender Identity

While the general acceptance of alternative gender identity is growing, misconceptions and stigmatization surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity remain widespread and can contribute to the development of mental health disorders in teens and young adults. Adolescence is a formative time for the development of gender identity and struggling to conform to social norms while feeling drawn to different gender identities can be extremely challenging.

Among the numerous gender identity terms, we now find transgender, cisgender, non-binary, genderqueer, gender fluid, and gender-neutral—in addition to the traditional male and female dichotomy. What many people identifying as non-binary have in common is discrimination and verbal and physical abuse. 

Last year, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the University of Connecticut released the largest-of-its-kind survey ever of more than 12,000 LGBTQ teenagers across the nation, revealing in distressing detail the persistent challenges so many of them face going about their daily lives at home, at school, and in their communities. Among other things, the report found that 77 percent of LGBTQ teenagers surveyed were feeling depressed or down over the past week, 95 percent reported trouble sleeping at night, and more than 70 percent reported feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week. Only 26 percent said they always feel safe in their school classrooms. 

Young people who are subjected to this kind of everpresent stress art at a much higher risk of suicide and disproportionately try to self-medicate their fear, anxiety, and depression with drugs and alcohol. In therapy, gender issues must be taken into consideration, should LGBTQ teenagers develop a substance use disorder.