Family Matters with Reese Law Podcasts
Episode 9: Accepting Your Child | Why Accepting your LGBTQ Child Matters
Cyndi Turner has worked for almost three decades in both the public and private sectors, with a professional background that includes serving in clinical as well as supervisory roles. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner (LSATP) and Master Addition Counselor (MAC). As co-founder and Clinical Director of Insight Into Action Therapy, she provides a wide variety of services to include mental health and substance use disorders therapy, clinical supervision, community education, and court-involved assessment and treatment. She is also the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Insight Recovery Centers, a Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services licensed intensive outpatient program and outpatient program (ASAM Level 1.0 and 2.1 level of care) for those struggling with substance use disorders. With Craig James, she co-developed the Dual Diagnosis Recovery Program© used in both companies.
Catherine Reese: Welcome to Family Matters with Reese Law. We are a family law firm based in Fairfax with an office in Prince William County and we serve the Northern Virginia area. As a law firm, of course, there is a disclosure, the material in the podcast is not offered, nor should it be used as legal advice. The material in the podcast is for informational purposes only. You should not act or rely upon information contained in these materials without specifically seeking professional advice.
In this episode, we will be talking with Cyndi Turner, founder of Insight into Action Therapy. Cyndi is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed substance abuse treatment practitioner and a master addiction counselor. Cyndi works with families, children and adults and does address things such as dual diagnosis, which we will get into in just a moment. Welcome, Cyndi.
Cyndi Turner: Thanks, Kate. Thanks for having me.
Catherine Reese: Of course. So in your practice, is acceptance of a child in the LGBTQ family an issue for mental health providers?
Cyndi Turner: Absolutely, I would say acceptance is probably one of the number one things family can do for their child who's in the LGBTQ community.
Catherine Reese: And what does acceptance mean in this context?
Cyndi Turner: Acceptance is different for every single family, and that, I think, is the journey that each family has to go through. The key is really communication is asking questions, is being curious with your child or young adult about what they're experiencing and where they're struggling and where they're experiencing success.
Catherine Reese: And you have the specialties having to do with substance abuse, are substance abuse and gender identification issues ever found in the same party, the same person?
Cyndi Turner: Yes, there's a huge correlation, really, between substance use disorders and almost every mental health issue from depression, anxiety, self-harming, suicide attempts and ideation. The rates of those are significantly higher in the LGBT community because that person is already struggling with feeling different. And then if a family is not affirming of them, they feel ashamed and feel that they shouldn't exist and shouldn't be in their body. And that's a horrible experience to go through. So that is why families really need to communicate and accept their child.
Catherine Reese: Well, of course, I did some reading on the subject for today, and I was surprised to learn that children identify at a fairly young age. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Cyndi Turner: Yeah, there's a whole spectrum of sexuality and identity from non-binary, which is not identifying as any gender, not male or female, all the way up through strong heterosexual, homosexual, male or female. So there's a spectrum and one isn't right or wrong or all or nothing. It's really people are very fluid and they fit in different places. And adolescence in childhood is a time of figuring out what their identity is. So their sexual identity is part of that. Think back to when you were an adolescent, you probably tried on different personalities and different clothes and you figured out who you were. You didn't know that until you were an adult. And some of us are still figuring that out. But many children who have different identities often are experiencing those at eight or nine.
Catherine Reese: Interesting, and then just leaving elementary school prior to getting to middle school.
Cyndi Turner: Yeah, this is elementary school. This is really sometime second, third, fourth grade even before puberty. Kids are realizing that they may not follow the traditional gender norms. And that's when some of the shame starts because they feel embarrassed and they feel like they're doing something wrong. Family members shame them and make them feel badly about -- if it's a boy playing with a doll or a child dressing in the nontraditional gender clothes. That’s where the kids need to explore who they are.
Just because a boy wears a dress or a girl wears pants and more traditional clothes doesn't mean they're transgender. They're just figuring out who they are.
Catherine Reese: Well, this would lead to all sorts of difficulties, I would think, for the child who's trying to figure these things out. What would you say are some of the -- you've mentioned the shame and feeling displaced. Can you tell us more about what the child faces?
Cyndi Turner: Yet again, much higher rates of depression, self-harming. We also see eating disorders, mostly substance use disorders. And that's really a way to try to not feel the feelings that they may be feeling, because already at that age, everybody is trying to figure out who they are. I describe it as an anthill. We're all trying to climb up to get to the top. We don't know what the top is, but constantly you're getting pushed down. That's what a normal child goes through. And then if you have something that makes you feel different or if parents have strong religious beliefs or also just even casual comments and jokes can make kids feel like they need to hide who they are and what they're feeling.
Catherine Reese: Yes, because jokes aren’t always as funny as people think they are and their choice of terms can be very derogatory without that being the intent.
Cyndi Turner: I've worked with many clients who a parent or sibling has just made an off the cuff casual comment about something they saw on the news or something they read, and then that adolescent or young adult didn't say anything. Sometimes for decades and struggled in silence with feeling like they were something other, they didn't fit in and they weren't accepted. So we all need to be cautious about how we speak and what we say because you don't know who's listening and how that might affect them.
Catherine Reese: So we have Gay Pride Month in June and then we have the other 11 months of the year where it's not a headliner, but clearly what you're telling us is that preferably, acceptance starts in the home.
Cyndi Turner: Yes, absolutely. And I would say the number one thing families can do or parents can do is put their child first. When they're discussing things with them, listen, don't give your opinion at that point. And then later on, if you have shock for fear or different feelings that can talk to a trusted friend or a therapist. And there is PFLAG, a lot of people are not aware of what PFLAG is. It's for parents and friends of lesbians. So it's a support group for family members to help figure out how everyone can live a healthy, happy life. Because a lot of people, even though we're talking about how negative LGBT population, the trouble they experience, once someone is integrated and healthy and happy and able to be who they really are, they're healthy, they're happy. There's no problems. We all have problems. But it's not a life of depression and anxiety and difficulty.
Catherine Reese: And being less than and feeling like everybody else is better than you or that you don't deserve happiness because you're not the same.
Cyndi Turner: We all have to find our community and whatever that may be of where we feel comfortable and accepted and comfortable in our own skin.
Catherine Reese: So a parent could really be kind of blindsided by this, whether it happens when the child is in elementary school or at any other later time. And you do work with families as well as individuals. How can parents cope and help? Because I'm sure some of them are reeling as much as their child is.
Cyndi Turner: Yeah, I talk and I would say many families, there's inklings along the way that they may see things that are nontraditional, but they see things differently in their child, that they're dressing a different way, trying on different identities, trying on clothes, personalities. But one of the things I talk with parents about is educating them on the importance of the acceptance that they really set the tone for how that child perceives the world. Do we want them to see it as hostile and not accepting?
Or do we want them to see it as affirming and loving? And you get to figure out who you are. And the good thing to talk about it is the difference needs. And with that is when we have our children, we were cradling our children and we're smiling at them and they're cool with us, you don’t want to think that our child might experience drug use or depression or something other. So I talk with them about we have to come to acceptance of what we thought and what we wanted our child to be versus who they are. And when people parents can do that, it's a healthier, happier household for everybody. And we realize that it's not all negative. That person is integrated. They shine, they grow into who they're supposed to be.
Catherine Reese: And have jobs like the rest of us, and pay the rent like the rest of us have friends and all of that.
Cyndi Turner: We have come a long way in the last several decades and even more so in the last five or 10 years with gay marriage being legalized. That's huge and that has so many implications in terms of the accepted and loved and being able to have relationships. And in working with some of the clients in the LGBTQ community, they even have said they're feeling more comfortable and fit in. And it's even safer because, again, this group is a very marginalized group that years ago was arrested and put in jail. Small fact that people can feel like they can walk down the street holding hands with a loved one, that's how it should have always been.
Catherine Reese: So the ideal outcome for a child who has chosen a different nontraditional gender identity, the best possible outcome starts with, I’m hearing acceptance by the parent, but also acceptance on the part of the child, right?
Cyndi Turner: Yeah, having the opportunity to try on that identity and explore just as if we would try on a different hairstyle or clothes. And parents can ask Open-Ended questions rather than asking, are you dating a boy or are you dating a girl? You can ask, is there someone you're interested in? Something like that is very affirming because it allows that person to say, it might not be someone of the opposite sex, it might be someone of the same sex. So something as simple as that is key.
Catherine Reese: So I have heard on more than one occasion, a kind of preteen between 11 and 13, a child announces that they're gay and then six, eight months later, they say I'm not anymore. What does a parent do with that?
Cyndi Turner: Keep your mouth shut, because having judgments makes that child feel badly about themselves. Just like, again, the child who dies their hair a certain color or where's this awful outfit. We try not to judge that because they're trying on their identities and their personality. So there are times when someone comes out as one and then later on is more attracted to a person than sex.
Catherine Reese: Right. And that's kind of what led into Poly relationships and other such thing, am I right?
Cyndi Turner: Well, poly relationships, polyamory is usually being with multiple people at one time. We do see that in college and young adulthood and there are some adults who that works for. I often say whatever works between the partners or multiple people, then that's what works. So sexuality is identified by the people in the relationship, whether it's two whether it's three, it's by them. If it works for all of them, then that's fine. If it doesn't work for one of them, then it's not.
Catherine Reese: Right, much like a marriage, whether it's same sex or opposite sex, has to work for everybody who is in the union, whatever that might be. Well, Cyndi, thank you for being our guest today and helping us present something about Gay Pride Month and share that with the communities that connect to your website as well as mine.
And please subscribe to the podcast channel so that you never miss an episode. You can visit our website at www.ReeseLawOffice.com. And Cyndi, how can people contact you?
Cyndi Turner: They can reach us on our website, which is insightactiontherapy.com. We have offices in Fairfax and Ashburn and now with telehealth, we can see anyone in Virginia, but you can also reach us at 703-646-7664. And if we are not the right person for you, we're able to find someone who can help.
Catherine Reese: Very true, Cyndi, you have been an asset to my firm, my clients many, many times, and sometimes it was referring out because that would result in the best fit. And so, your professional connections and collegiality with Reese Law has been very much appreciated over the years.