This week our youth partners presented at the CYMHSU Collaborative Learning Session in Vancouver.
Their presentation was titled The Impacts of Hetero-normativity & Cis-normativity on Youth Mental Health.
Q: What’s Cis?
A: Identifying as the gender you were assigned at birth.
The youth were speaking from experience. About the impacts of prejudice and discrimination on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth.
Hetero-normativity & Cis-normativity: What’s the problem?
Here’s what the youth told the doctors, clinicians, practitioners and parents in their workshop:
LGBTQ+ identity doesn’t cause mental health problems, yet LGBTQ+ youth have extraordinarily high rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide and substance use.
This video helps to answer that question:
The youth explained that LGBTQ+ youth face increased vulnerability due to:
- Loss of supports: rejection by family, friends and community;
- Burden of keeping their a secret identity;
- Bullying and violence;
- The coming out process;
- Internalized homophobia;
- Being confused/not knowing how they identify/feeling uncomfortable in their gender; &
- Pathologization by the medical/psychiatric community.
They shared fresh (2015) statistics from the Canada-wide Transgender Youth Health Survey:
- Almost half of trans youth reported feeling stressed to the point that they could not do their work or deal with things during the last 30 days;
- More than half of trans youth reported they had hurt themselves on purpose in the last year; &
- 65% of trans youth had seriously considered suicide, more than a third had attempted suicide at least once, and nearly 1 in 10 had attempted suicide 4 or more times.
They asked us: Does it make sense that they, as LGBTQ+ youth, face approximately 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual and cisgender peers, when mental health problems, substance use and suicide are not side-effects of having a minority sexual identity or gender orientation?
They are side-effects of prejudice and discrimination.
What’s the Solution?
Our youth partners are saying that it would be really helpful if we could start by making space for who they are.
Sounds like a reasonable request!
They offered an initial strategy:
Start with Language
Youth who have a non-binary gender identity may prefer different pronouns than he or she, but most of us are unfamiliar with gender-neutral pronouns and feel awkward using them.
The youth recommended that we embrace the awkwardness and practice: “because you know what? It’s way more awkward to have people ignore your gender identity. It’s so awkward it causes self-harm and suicide. So really, embracing a little awkwardness while you get used to using some new words is worth it!”
They shared some of the pronouns that transgender people may prefer including: They/them; Xe/xir; Ze/Mer; Ve; Ney and Yo.
If that list is overwhelming, they said that most transgender people are fine with ‘they/them’ as gender-neutral pronouns. The key is to ask: “Is there a gender pronoun you prefer?“.
They also offered two tips for pronoun usage:
- Never make assumptions about a person’s gender identity; &
- If you slip up and use the wrong pronoun, just correct yourself & move on.