The Swinging See-saw of Roles: Addressing Gender Issues of Adolescents
The words ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are often used interchangeably, but this self-created interchange of terms becomes troublesome for those who eventually bear circumstances pertaining to them in practical lives. In addition, many of us are confused when faced with terms like ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’. Hence, the point of concern is here this: are we properly aware of all this happening around us? Are we confident enough to listen to friends and family members who trust us when they share their sexuality, which might be considered abnormal by our so-called “normal” society?
No, we are not. Either because we don’t want to or because our society stops us from understanding this. Eventually these phenomena, which we have neither experienced nor witnessed, end up confounding us. This nature of blindfolding ourselves creates a sense of disconnection from the human race. We start discriminating against people and compartmentalizing them – like thinking, “She is trans, how can I eat with her?” Alas, this sounds cruel but it is, in fact, true.
We altogether are responsible for creating a situation which allows anyone to discriminate against anyone else with regard to their sexuality. We seem to be totally unaware that we are harming a human life with this indifferent behavior. Revisiting current literature, I am disturbed to quote that people who experience or share such incidences about their sexuality, either to ventilate or seek advice, are neglected to a great extent. This attitude of mainstream society results in high rates of traumatic stress, suicidal incidences, alcohol abuse and substance abuse among victims (Blosnich et al., 2013 & Collier et al., 2013).
Nurses have a responsibility to promote the concept of ‘health’ in various aspects of life – from headaches to depression, from sex to sleep, from play to pray. Apart from academics and clinical areas, they profoundly serve in communities to ensure the health of families. As a nurse, I have also been keenly involved in such community visits throughout Karachi to help families grow and understand their values and related problems from various frames of development; for example, working on the social well-being of the elderly, addressing adolescents’ health concerns, and helping teenagers to escape academic stress.
During one such family health clinical in a middle-class locality of Karachi, I met a 16-year-old boy. He was well-behaved and disciplined in talking and communicating, quick to obey commands to bring a tray of biscuits or glasses of juices, almost like a machine. I asked the child to come and sit nearby and started a discussion with him. Starting from his name and information about his school, I eventually reached a point about puberty and sexuality as part of my community assessment form.
At times during these visits, people refuse to answer when asked about personal details such as income, puberty, or intimate relations, and such was the case when I approached this boy. But with my determination as a student nurse, I managed to use ground setting, therapeutic communication and polite discussion to open an avenue and explore what he thought and knew about himself. He was so active and well-versed that he shared something about himself that children usually will not share.
I have tried here to convert his feelings into words. What he shared with me so naively was no doubt worth listening to:
“Panadol, Calpol, Silica, Phenyl, ascorbic acid tablets. Here I go, the formula to kill myself is ready. I don’t know if it’s poisonous or not, but different chemicals will surely attack the land of my organs when they will be mixed together.
Hahaha…I hate chemistry, but do you see what I’m doing? Mixing this stuff together, breaking those strong chemical bonds. I can do that. Really, yes, I can do that. But I hate chemistry. My chemistry teacher always says I walk like a girl, I shake my body when I talk, I laugh like a woman and gossip like a wicked wamp. Am I a girl?
No, the story of my body is all about masculinity; I have a mustache and physically I appear to be a male. Am I a male? No. I want to wear a sari with branded heels, I want to cook like my mom, and I love dancing to Madhuri Dixit’s melodies. The window closed inside my physical statue lightens my heart and reflects in my eyes and I see myself only as my mother in the mirror – like she dresses up and like she cooks and works, not as my father when he walks and tightens up his pants for work.
What is this? How strange…am I dreaming? Is my soul made of the same component from which my body was born? No? Is it real then? Somebody pinch me, please—
Ah, yes. This is reality. I’m the innocent girl who wants to wear a purple designer gown on her farewell party, but can’t because the boy outside this dark cave is instructed by social norms to wear a three piece suit, because ‘you are a man.’ I am the young lady who secretly loves the elder son of my neighbor, but unfortunately can’t marry him because my father wants me to get engaged to my uncle’s daughter who is a doctor. I am the mother who wants to carry cells for nine months till it becomes a live human, but it’s impossible because the person who wants this has testes and not a uterus.
I feel like the souvenir of a dancing princess covered in a superman wrapper. I’m not the person I seem to be…
That’s why I decided to take my life away, because I can neither live with it nor tell someone about it. Will my parents understand what’s happening to me? No, not at all. They will consider me sick and take me to the doctor, they will treat me with electric shock because they will think my neurons are not satisfied with each other, they will try to change them so I can understand that my thinking is wrong.
What if I tell my friends that I’m not what I look like? What will they think of me? They will not talk to me, or they might call me gay and run away from me. My career, my family, friends, relatives, my whole life will be in danger. No one will understand me, no one will accept me.
Is it my fault? No, I didn’t make me like this. It came into me since I took my first breath and it will remain until I take my last one. Mom and Dad will not think of this as natural. They will feel embarrassed of me. They might ask me to leave home. What I will do then?
I have no option left but to kill myself. There is no option visible to strive for. I can’t even tell anyone, I can’t even get help. Everybody needs an identity to exist in this world, so how is it possible for me to survive when I’m still confused about what I am? I feel like I’m swinging on some gender see-saw.
Let me drink this mixture and say good bye. I have no purpose to live for anymore.”
After listening to all his feelings, a separate discussion was set with him so that he and his family could have better options to sort this out instead of him resorting to self-harm. Various persons and relevant institutions were suggested as a referral to look to for proper solution. A follow-up was also scheduled later on.
Many such people are hurting themselves and putting themselves under immense stress, only because they couldn’t see a way out of their dilemma. A proper plan of establishing knowledge regarding sexuality from a grass-root level is essential in order to tackle these problems in the future. After laying down a deep understanding of the issue, a proper referral to seek help must be suggested. In addition, multi-dimensional people from sexual and mental health backgrounds must be involved to cater to these situations in a practical and knowledgeable manner. Family harmony needs to be established for parents and the adolescent to work towards a support system and proper guidance.
Note: The events and characters have been deliberately manipulated to maintain privacy of the client.
Blosnich. J. R. et al.(2013). Prevalence of Gender Identity Disorder and Suicide Risk Among Transgender Veterans Utilizing Veterans Health Administration Care. American Journal of Public Health, 103(10), e27-e32. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301507
Collier, K. L. et al.(2013). Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression Related Peer Victimization in Adolescence: A Systematic Review of Associated Psychosocial and Health Outcomes. The Journal of Sex Research, 50.
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