Good communication can support a healthy relationship, be it with partners, family, or friends. Active Listening is a specific kind of communication, which many people find useful for enhancing understanding.
This article is part of our series “Sex and Sexuality for Trans People”.
Active listening is a form of therapeutic or empathetic listening, which focuses on understanding the speaker’s perspective, and encouraging them to explore their thoughts and emotions. Like most skills, active listening takes time, effort, and practice to learn. Other types of listening include critical listening (listening to evaluate the information or message), and informational listening (listening to learn). Active listening is neither of these: it’s purpose is help you listen thoroughly and understand the speaker’s point of view. Often active listening is used when supporting someone, building trust, and discussing difficult experiences. It can help the listener focus on what is being said, rather than their thoughts about it.
Show you’re listening and make it easier for the speaker to continue by giving feedback. This may include facing the speaker, making eye contact, leaning toward them, nodding, or saying ”yes” or ”mm hmm”. Assure them with verbal or non-verbal cues that you want to hear what they have to say.
Defer judgement while you listen. Remain open, rather than quickly forming an opinion. If you find yourself disagreeing, try to see the situation from their perspective – it doesn’t mean you have you have to agree. Remember that the point is to understand their experience.
Allow for pauses, give the speaker time to reflect and explore their thoughts. Avoid rushing toward problem solving.
Reflect back what was said with questions, such as ”so what you’re saying is…”. Mirroring means using the same words as the speaker, and shows that you are listening. Paraphrasing is putting it into your own words, and shows that you are trying to understand.
Listen for the message, as well as intent and emotions. Listen for what is being said, and what is being left unsaid. Watch and listen for non-verbal cues. Tone, facial expressions, and body language can help you understand the emotions and the strength of the emotions, as well inconsistencies between what is said and non-verbal cues being expressed.
Name the emotions
Name the emotions without making a judgement on the accuracy of the facts, for example ”it sounds like that was really frustrating for you”. You can validate the speakers emotions without having to agree with their reasons. For example, ”if you thought x it’s totally understandable why you felt y”.
Ask questions to encourage the speaker. Relevant questions help build or clarify the speaker’s thoughts. Open ended questions invite them to elaborate. Ask what they’ve tried or or what solutions they see rather than offering advice. If you don’t follow, ask for clarification – ”what did you mean when you said…?”
Don’t interrupt the speaker with your thoughts or actions, and try to stay focused on what they’re saying rather than thinking about your opinions or something else. Never interrupt or finish a sentence for the speaker. Changing the subject (even subtly) can make the speaker think that you are uninterested or have not been listening.
Summarise the speaker’s main points at the end of the conversation, so that you both know whether you have understood them correctly. Be concise, and be prepared to be corrected. After the conversation, the speaker and listener should have the same understanding of what was said.
March is PRIDE month in the Wellington region, and our friend Mindy, age 14, is #GoingCoastal on a 160km walk from Castlepoint to Kāpiti, together with her mum Kylie. She is aiming to raise funds for GMA to support other young trans people, especially those who might not have an amazingly supportive family like hers.
This is Mindy’s second walk to fundraise for GMA – in 2019 when she was 12 she raised over $1,400 with #MindysWalk from Carterton to Kaitoke, which you can read about here and here and in the news here.
Huge thanks to Mindy and her family, and to everyone supporting young trans people to thrive.
When you are born, you are assigned a sex – male, female or indeterminate – depending on the appearance of your external genitalia. You may feel that the sex you were assigned is correct. This is called being ‘cisgender’. You may feel that the sex you were assigned is incorrect. This is called being ‘transgender’.
Gender identity refers to an innate sense of who you are. This may be the same as or different from the sex that was assigned to you at birth. How you choose to express your gender identity varies from person to person.
Gender dysphoria is a term used to describe uncomfortable or distressing feelings that some people experience because the sex they were assigned at birth does not match their gender. Read more about gender dysphoria.
If you are transgender, or experience gender dysphoria, you may want to take steps to be recognised as your gender, rather than the sex you were assigned at birth. These steps may include changing your name, wearing clothes that affirm your gender, taking hormones or having surgeries.
Sexual orientation is different to gender. It refers to who you are attracted to and may be described as heterosexual/straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, takataapui or using other terms.
Gender diversity is a term to cover the range of possible gender identities, such as female, male, transgender, intersex, non-binary and takatāapui.
If you are unsure about your gender, or your child is unsure about theirs, there is support available to help you.
What is gender identity?
When you are born, you are assigned a sex – male, female, or indeterminate – depending on the appearance of your external genitalia. You may feel that the sex you were assigned is correct. This is called being ‘cisgender’. You may feel that the sex you were assigned is incorrect. This is called being ‘transgender’.
A transgender person may identify as a binary gender such as a transgender woman (who was assigned ‘male’ at birth) or a transgender man (who was assigned ‘female’ at birth). Or a transgender person may identify as a non-binary gender – this includes any gender that is not male or female.
‘Intersex’ is an umbrella term that refers to people born with one or more of a range of variations in sex characteristics that fall outside of traditional conceptions of male or female bodies. For example, intersex people may have variations in their chromosomes, genitals or internal organs like testes or ovaries. If a person has an intersex condition, they may be cisgender (agreeing with the sex they were assigned at birth) or transgender (not agreeing with the sex they were assigned at birth), or they may simply identify both their sex and gender as intersex. It is important to not make assumptions about this, but instead to let people define their own experiences.
What is gender diversity?
Gender diversity refers to a diversity of genders in addition to cisgender people.
Some people think of gender as a spectrum that includes female and male at either end and other genders in between. However, other people may think of male and female as two letters in an alphabet of other genders. Defining non-binary genders is like defining all the other letters of the alphabet, in every language. Genders are so many and varied across different cultures and throughout history.
Some people have a consistent gender throughout their life, and for other people their gender changes. Some of the words that people might use to define or describe their gender, include aikāne, akava’ine, fa’afafine, faa’atama, fakafifine, fakaleiti, genderqueer, intersex, māhū, non-binary, palopa, takatāpui, tangata ira tāne, trans, transgender, transsexual, and whakawahine.
What are some of the issues faced by people who are gender diverse?
As a population or demographic, trans people experience significantly higher rates of mental health issues compared with the general population, such as depression and suicidality.
Research shows that the disparity in mental health outcomes is a result of experiencing elevated levels of minority stress, due to discrimination in education, housing, healthcare, employment, access to goods and services, participation in public social life and input into policy and legislative decisions which affect their lives. These factors also create significant barriers to healthcare in general.
How can I support transgender people?
It depends on your relationship to them. For example, an employer has legal obligations to provide a safe workplace, a clinician has a legal obligation to provide safe and appropriate healthcare, and for whānau, support is more about accepting, respecting, learning and caring. If this is the beginning of your journey to support transgender people, there are many resources available to assist you in learning.
The first step in any case, is to use the name and pronoun (eg, she/her, he/him, they/them) that the transgender person is comfortable with, and to respect their privacy by not telling others unless they give consent
Counting Ourselves, a national report on transgender health, has just been released.
The survey had 1,178 participants, from all regions of Aotearoa, ranging from 14 to 83 years old.
The research, funded by the Health Research Council and with support from University of Waikato and Rule Foundation, found that trans people experience discrimination at more than double the rate of the general population, almost half of trans people had someone attempt to have sex with them against their will since age 13, and almost a third reported someone did have sex with them against their will since age 13. Participants reported high or very high levels of psychological distress at a rate nine times that of the general population. In the last 12 months, more than half had seriously considered suicide, and 12% had attempted suicide.
In the last 12 months, 13% of participants were asked unnecessary or invasive questions during a health visit
17% reported they had experienced reparative therapy (a professional had tried to stop them from being trans)[note: sometimes called “conversion therapy”]
36% avoided seeing a doctor to avoid being disrespected
Stigma, Discrimination, and Violence
67% had experienced discrimination at some point
44% had experienced discrimination in the last 12 months – this was more than double the rate for the general population (17%)
21% were bullied at school at least once a week, much higher than the general population (5%)
83% did not have the correct gender marker on their New Zealand birth certificate
32% reported someone had had sex with them against their will since they were 13
47% reported someone had attempted to have sex with them against their will since they were 13
Compared to the general population, participants were almost three times more likely to have put up with feeling cold (64%) and gone without fresh fruit or vegetables (51%) in order to reduce costs.
Distress and Suicide
71% reported high or very high psychological distress, compared with only 8% of the general population in Aotearoa New Zealand
56% had seriously thought about attempting suicide in the last 12 months
37% had attempted suicide at some point
12% had made a suicide attempt in the last 12 months
Participants who reported that someone had had sex with them against their will were twice as likely to have attempted suicide in the past year (18%) than participants who did not report this (9%)
Participants who had experienced discrimination for being trans or non-binary were twice as likely to have attempted suicide in the past year (16%) than participants who did not report this discrimination (8%)
Participants’ rate of cannabis use in the last year (38%) was more than three times higher than the general population (12%)
57% reported that most or all of their family supported them. Respondents supported by at least half of their family were almost half as likely to attempt suicide (9%).
62% were proud to be trans, 58% provided support to other trans people, and 56% felt connected with trans community.