Supporting Genderqueer Youth in Camino a Casa
The terms genderqueer (also known as GQ), non-binary, and genderfluid have become more mainstream recently, but what do they mean exactly? According to Psychology Today, “a GQ or nonbinary person is someone who feels that their felt gender doesn’t fit with social constructed norms for their biological sex. This may be in terms of their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and, most importantly, their gender identity.”
At Casa Pacifica, including the Camino a Casa program, we strive to provide not only a safe space for youth to explore gender issues but a supportive space.
Taryn (name changed for privacy) came to Camino a Casa struggling with various mental health issues, one of those being conflicting feelings around their gender identity. Casa Pacifica’s reputation as a safe place for LGBTQ+ and related services went a long way in calming the nerves of Taryn’s family prior to admittance into the program.
Taryn originally identified as transgender and opted to be on the “male side” of the cottage with their parent’s support, but they continued to struggle with gender identity and were unsure if transgender was even the correct “identification.” Some days Taryn would feel like a boy and other days they would feel more feminine and want to wear makeup.
“We talked to Taryn about the concept of being gender fluid which means you don’t completely identify either way. The opportunity to make day to day choices based on how they felt really gave Taryn a sense of confidence – and I believe relief,” commented Paige Brodkin, a Camino a Casa clinician.
“We allow the kids to be who they are and who they want to be. We let them know ‘it’s okay if you sometimes feel male and sometimes female,” commented Brodkin. “Kids at this age are going to explore and it doesn’t mean they will find answers right now. We allow space for them to do that without judgment – but with compassion, sensitivity, and education.”
Taryn’s ultimate success and stability came from not only Taryn’s hard work in the program but the support of their family. Both mom and grandparents were very involved throughout Taryn’s stay at Camino a Casa, with the grandparents even flying in on the weekends to participate in Saturday family group when mom couldn’t make it.
Brodkin had this to say about Taryn’s family support, “The collaboration is what I’m most impressed about with this family. We worked really hard on a safe transition out of the program, built in a comprehensive safety plan, created a schedule that would allow them to stay in a routine similar to the one at Camino a Casa, and found resources in Northern California to connect them with once Taryn was discharged.”
“The most important part is family engagement and parents who are open and willing to make the changes necessary to support their kids. The kids also need to be willing to do the work. When we see both of those elements come together, that’s where we see the greatest successes,” said Brodkin.
Taryn is doing well living with their grandparents up north and the whole family is grateful to the staff for helping Taryn navigate gender identity issues safely. Taryn is now comfortable advocating for themselves and mom and grandparents know how to better support them in that quest.
Gender identity issues can be overwhelming for families to deal with on their own. Camino a Casa’s integration of the whole-family approach is critical for long-term success and stability of not only the youth, but the entire family unit. If your family or a family you know is struggling with issues surrounding gender identity, Camino a Casa is here to help. Visit www.caminoacasa.org or call (805) 366-4000 for a confidential assessment and see if Camino a Casa is right for you.