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Massage Today
November, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 11

Massage Helps Youth Meet a Need for Understanding

By Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT

Lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) youth face unmeasurable stresses on a daily basis surrounding gender identity, bullying, family conflict, academics and more.

Massage is not merely the act of skin contact; it is the practice of honoring the body while creating understanding and establishing safe boundaries. These elements can increase a young person's self-esteem and self-awareness, thus providing LGBTQ youth essential tools to deal with difficult obstacles they face.

While there has been growing tolerance, stigma, peer rejection, bias and bullying are still commonplace for LGBTQ youth. Children who are categorized as LGBTQ, gender-fluid or gender-variant often experience bullying by peers, teachers, adults and even family members. Harvard School of Public Health cites one in 10 children are bullied or abused for gender nonconformity. And 85% of gender nonconforming children/youth are cisgender, meaning society's demand that a person's recorded sex and assigned gender, gender identity, gender expression and public gender perception match and identify as heterosexual in adulthood. According to the Academy of Pediatrics, gender identity is securely established by age 4, creating in some cases, decades-long struggles for LGBTQ youth.

The judgment and stress do not simply stop with LGBTQ children, but can extend to the children of LGBTQ parents. These children might still experience bullying based on their family and, in many cases, may not have extended family support (grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc.).

The traditional school setting in our society often presumes that all children will fit into cultural gender norms based solely on their anatomy. When a child falls outside of these norms, school can be an uncomfortable place, and that child's social-emotional and cognitive growth can be negatively impacted.

A child's experience at school can significantly enhance or undermine their sense of self. This is especially true for gender-variant and transgender children, who frequently are the targets of teasing and bullying. A child cannot feel emotionally safe in such a hostile and unsafe environment, thus creating issues with learning, social interactions, self-esteem and more. Unfortunately, a large majority of the LGBTQ community are victims of some type of abuse, which in many cases is sexual in nature.

Why Massage for LGBTQ Youth?

"My opinion is that every pre-teen or teen at some point will feel different," said New York-based LMT, Amanda Brand. "Whether they are confused about which group of friends to roll with or, in my case, ask the questions of how do I fit in (being a girl who likes girls and 90% of the time looks like a boy)?"

Massage for both youth who identify as LGBTQ and for those who are the children of LGBTQ parents can have a positive impact on their self-esteem, self-perception and coping skills for a world that is not yet tolerant of who they are and/or the families they come from.

"I think the stress and anxiety produced by living in a society where you are classified as 'other' can be lessened with positive touch," said Jaimie Oller, an LMT from Portland, Ore., who provides services at Q Center, which is the sponsor organization for Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC), assisting youth ages 12 through 23 and their families.

Massage can help address issues of feeling worthless, low self-esteem, self- perception, anxiety and other emotional and physical stressors that can lead to substance abuse, self-harm and suicide. LBGTQ youth are at higher risk for suicide, homelessness, dropping out of school and other risk factors facing young people than non-LGBTQ-identified youth. Through nurturing touch, we create opportunities for education on safe touch and healing emotional, physical and spiritual scars through the use of verbal and non-verbal communication.

Therapist Considerations

Always ask clients their preferred pronouns. This can include he/him, she/her or any other variation. Ask at every appointment. Children's identities are fluid and their expression may also be such. It is not uncommon for children to change around their pronouns while facing gender-identity challenges.

Ask what their preferred name is, even if this is not their legal name. Many children who experience a shift in gender identity may choose to use a name that better suits this process.

Ask about their body perceptions. Children facing gender-identity issues often have negative association with certain parts of their bodies. This can be amplified by a lack of understanding by their family of origin, puberty or other adults in their life questioning their feelings.

Provide a safe, nurturing environment. Children who are gender-fluid or gender-variant often experience bullying by peers, teachers, adults and family members.

Studies also show that having just one person who cares about a youth who identifies as LGBTQ can drop their risk of self-harm dramatically. One person, any nurturing person, including a massage therapis,t can make a huge, life-saving difference for a young person.

Resources

  1. Trans Active website: www.transactiveonline.org/index.php. Updated 2013. Accessed June 18, 2013.
  2. American Psychological Association: Guidelines for psychological practice with lesbian, gay and bisexual clients. American Psychologist, 2012;67:10-42.
  3. he Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals, by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper.
  4. Gender Spectrum website: www.genderspectrum.org. Accessed Sept. 14, 2013.
  5. Garofalo R, Deleon J. Overlooked, misunderstood and at risk: exploring the lives and HIV risk of ethnic minority male-to-female transgendered youth. Journal of Adolecent Health ,2006:38(3).
  6. The Gender Book: http://issuu.com/thegenderbook/docs/the_gender_book.
  7. World Professional Association for Transgender Health: www.wpath.org; click on Publications and then Standards of Care.

Click here for more information about Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT.

 

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