Embracing Identity: Nurturing Compassion and Understanding in Gender Diverse Families - SE4EP2- Wayne Brown

Embracing Identity: Nurturing Compassion and Understanding in Gender Diverse Families - SE4EP2- Wayne Brown

Today, we're honoured to have Wayne Brown join us. Wayne's remarkable journey from an educator in underprivileged schools to a licensed clinical social worker and advocate for those facing rare medical conditions highlights his profound commitment to promoting mental health, educational excellence, and fostering a more empathetic society.

As the founder of the Acromegaly Community and Willow Grove Counselling, Wayne's work embodies the essence of compassion and advocacy. 

His balance of professional commitment with his role as a loving husband and father of three offers invaluable insights into nurturing empathy, care, and understanding in both our families and communities. Join us as we explore Wayne's life of compassion and advocacy, and how his experiences can enlighten us on the path of parenting in the digital age.



Sponsored by Skill Samurai - Coding, Maths and STEM Academy | | www.skillsamurai.com.au

AI-generated transcript


Jamie (00:00.946)

Hello parents and welcome to Parenting in the Digital Age, the podcast where we delve into the unique challenges and insights of raising children in today's fast -paced tech driven world. Today we are honored to have Wayne Brown with us. Wayne's remarkable journey from an educator in underprivileged schools to a licensed clinical social worker and an advocate for those facing rare medical conditions highlights his profound commitment to promoting mental health, educational excellence and fostering a more empathetic society.

As the founder of the Acromegaly community and Willow Grove counseling, Wayne's work embodies the essence of compassion and advocacy. His balance of professional commitment with his role as a loving husband and father of three offers valuable insights into nurturing empathy, care and understanding in both our families and communities. Join us as we explore Wayne's life of compassion and advocacy and how his experiences can enlighten us on the path to parenting in a digital age.


Jamie (00:01.433)

Wayne, welcome to the show. Pleasure to have you. Can you start off by sharing with our listeners in your own words what you do and what you're passionate about?

Wayne Brown (00:08.782)

I am a mental health counselor and as well as I run a practice, I teach university and my primary area of advocacy is the area of family counseling, family therapy and issues related to the incredibly complex world of family counseling and family therapy and family dynamics.

Jamie (00:38.873)

Wonderful. That's broad and I'm sure it comes with its challenges, which we'll discover throughout our chat today. Can you share a bit about your early career as a teacher and maybe how it shaped your approach to clinical work?

Wayne Brown (00:53.07)

Sure. Before I went back to school for a second career as a social worker, I taught in Buffalo City School as a social studies teacher for many, many years. And as you will get with inner city schools, there's a lot of poverty, there's a lot of adolescents raising their...

younger siblings, there was a great deal of interpersonal familial dysfunction. No one was setting out to maliciously misraise their children. But when you've got children who are being raised by grandparents, you've got parents who are working two and three jobs to keep a roof over their head, a lot of responsibilities fall to the younger members of the household.

and you end up with teachers who are frustrated because kids can't do the homework and children who are frustrated because they go home and they have to make sure that their younger family members are fed and diverted and clothed and put to bed on time because their older family members have so many other obligations or

Now, even worse are out of the home due to broken family, due to jail or prison, due to a million other issues of urban struggle.

Jamie (02:32.249)

Yeah, pardon me. You do some really great work with people facing gender related challenges. Maybe for our listeners, can you first explain a little bit about what gender related challenges are and perhaps why it's important for parents to understand these issues in the context of children's development.

Wayne Brown (02:53.454)

So I work with a lot of family members on issues related to gender and gender identity, especially as it relates to some of my younger adolescents. And by adolescents, we're defining as...

approximately 10 years of age to right around 20 years of age because the frontal lobe of the brain does not finish fully for me until approximately 25 years of age. And thanks to hormones in our food, children start to hit puberty earlier and earlier. As children grow up, as children explore, it's

acceptable. It's expected that children are trying to figure out their bodies and they're trying to figure out what brings them pleasure and how they get pleasure. When we were younger it was less socially acceptable to to go outside of the cisgender heterosexual norm that

so many of us were raised in largely due to peer pressure. And peer pressure made for social normalization of cisgender heterosexual individuals. As I've been working in my practice for years, I'm noticing not only a normalization within younger individuals,

of gender nonconformity as might be described by cisgender heterosexual individuals, but also a great increase in that amongst middle -aged and older individuals who are starting to explore their own gender and gender identity. It's

Wayne Brown (05:07.886)

more socially acceptable. The younger generation has shown true ambiguity as to who identifies as what and who chooses to date whom. It's truly beautiful and it's made younger people's exploration of their own sexual identities far

more comfortable than you and I maybe had growing up. And it's really enabled some of the older generations to also say, hey, maybe what I was sold as what is acceptable sexually is a smaller scope than I choose to navigate it.

Jamie (06:04.441)

Yeah, it's a tremendously, it can be a tremendously challenging path to navigate for both children and parents, particularly older parents who were raised with certain views and beliefs. So I'm going to try and ask these questions with curiosity and sensitivity, as I don't think that I'm the most qualified person necessarily to be asking this. But I do know that we've got listeners who are.

impacted by some of these challenges and who may be genuinely curious and wanting more information to be informed themselves. So what are some common signs that a child might be experiencing gender related challenges, firstly, and maybe how can parents approach conversations about gender identity, you know, with more sensitivity?

Wayne Brown (06:54.83)

I think the best thing that a parent can do is to be supportive of their children. Regardless of whether or not your child is exploring their gender identity or their sexual identity, the greatest thing that all parents can do is listen more than talk. You're not going to scold your child into

being straight, so to speak. The best thing you can do by pressuring them into a certain value code is to shut off communication. So if you notice that your child is drawn towards clothing that might not conform with their birth gender,

or they're drawn towards certain hairstyles that might not be their traditional birth gender or what have you.

I embrace the idea of it's their body and no haircut no matter how bad has ever killed a person. So if your kid wants a haircut that they don't necessarily think matches with your values, it's not, I think we as parents tend to.

hyper -identify how our children look, how they behave, how they interact with the world as a reflection on us. If your child wants to go out with a hairdo that you disapprove of, is the world really gonna spin out of its axis if they do that? I remember the 80s very well and many of my friends went out with multi -hued mohawks and...

Wayne Brown (08:56.974)

I know for me and for many of my friends, we are very glad that social media did not exist back in the 1980s. So, you know, we all did things when we were younger that maybe we wouldn't do again had we had the chance. Some young people will explore gender. Some younger people will explore...

sexuality and they will come back and find themselves identifying as cisgender heterosexual people, more generally referred to as straight people. And some people will grow up and explore different genders, different sexualities, and they will stay there. It's not that one parent did it right or one parent did it wrong.

it's giving your child the space and the opportunity to be truly who they are. There are recent statistics that I can actually cite for you. There was just a study that was published not that long ago. Let me pull that up. Sorry, I don't have these numbers at the drop of a hat. It...

was just published recently. It's the 2022 United States Trans Survey and 93 ,000 people almost were surveyed, 94 % of whom said they lived at some point as a gender other than the gender of their birth. And

94 % said they were at least a little or very happy with the results of who they are today. Nearly, I'm sorry, 98 % of individuals who are receiving hormones for their gender identity or transition were a lot more satisfied or a little bit more satisfied with their quality of life. Those are...

Wayne Brown (11:14.382)

Those are pretty strong numbers. And what we're ultimately talking about is just providing children the opportunity to figure out who they are, something that our generation, frankly, did not, our generation's parents did their best and did not have the quality of insight, the quality of information to normalize mental health care.

and to normalize the idea that not everyone is the same. I do have to say, and I know this interview is going to play at a different time, but this interview is and this conversation is taking place on the day after the International Transgender Day of Visibility, and I do appreciate that.

Jamie (12:09.945)

Yeah, yes, I'm quite telling numbers there. And also back to your earlier point as parents, listen, you know, just approach these conversations somewhat the same way with a bit of curiosity and an open heart and just listen more than you talk. But that's hard.

Wayne Brown (12:26.382)

Yeah. Your children will tell you if they feel safe talking to you.

Jamie (12:31.801)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And the last thing we want to do is shut them off. You know, so there's no communication and you know, all parents, we all want the same thing. We just want our kids to be happy. We want our kids to be happy. We have...

Wayne Brown (12:42.35)

Right. There's a line that I live by that I truly, truly embrace and that is, as a parent, we are only as happy as our unhappiest child.

Jamie (12:56.601)

I've not heard that before. I like that a lot. Now, I imagine that obviously parents are facing their own challenges when helping a child navigate these sorts of gender related issues or identity issues. So for somebody or as a parent who's perhaps new to this, where do you start? Like, what's your advice for, you know, I'm just hitting ground zero. We're starting to have some real early conversation with the child. You know, I don't have the knowledge, the tools. What do you recommend?

Wayne Brown (13:23.278)


Parents who are being exposed to this for the first time, parents who maybe grew up in an environment that was not open to such dialogue. I grew up in a similar household. I am empathetic to that reality. I'm empathetic to the idea that we were raised that certain things are just certain ways.

My first step is to acknowledge that new can be different and can be scary. And that, again, if they are open to the conversation, their children will lead them where they need to be. Much like we would talk to our younger children.

in sometimes correcting them or over correcting them, that kind of panic sets in with parents and it becomes much of the same conversation of not everything is about you, mom and dad.

Yeah, if your child is exploring their sexuality, it's not because you failed them. It's not because you didn't go out and kick the ball around enough with them or put them into enough sundresses. I have three children myself, two girls and a boy. One girl is about as athletic as they come and the other would rather be in a dress than anything else.

Wayne Brown (15:02.254)

And the boy kind of splits the difference. He does whatever he does. And I don't know where they are going to be in their mid to late 20s with any of them. But if I raise them right, if I raise them to believe that exploration is safe and figuring out who they are as an individual.

they will feel safer coming to me when they do have a concern, when they do feel unsafe with peers, when they do feel unsafe in socializing when they're in high school or college. And with that knowledge, with that insight, I'm going to be able to stay out of the curve if they find themselves in trouble.

Ultimately, that's what we want to do as parents is be the safe space so that way when things do start to get confusing, get overwhelming, get difficult, that they'll come to us. And it's rarely gonna be that they come to us about gender and sexuality because, I mean, if my kids are...

straight, if they're gay, if they're transgender, whatever they are. I really don't want to hear about my child's sex life. What I do want to hear about is when they feel unsafe if they go to a high school party and they feel comfortable enough telling me that, hey dad, some things are going on this party, I don't feel safe, can you come grab me?

and you don't get access to that information if you can't handle the information of, I think I like Joe instead of Jane.

Jamie (16:59.513)

That's pretty powerful stuff, Wayne, because if a child doesn't feel comfortable opening up and you've created those barriers, because let's face it, we would have been the one that created the barrier. It can be dangerous. It can be, you can put it.

Wayne Brown (17:15.406)

We grew up in the environment. I mean, when I was in middle school, to be called gay was the most frightening thing in the world. And kids today, they honestly do not have the comprehension in most public school settings. They don't have the comprehension of...

gay as a pejorative or gay as something to be afraid of. If you're trying to figure out who you're attracted to, cool, so is everyone else. None of us met our forever spouses when we were in middle school. Why are we getting mad at our kids for trying to figure out their sexuality?

Jamie (18:03.897)

Yeah, when we're listening to conversations of other parents who are faced with this situation, I often hear things like, you know, my child's too young to be making this decision now. My child's too young to be exploring this now. What's your view on that? Is there a too young, you know, at five years of age, should parents be encouraging their children to normality if that's their belief? Like I've got.

Wayne Brown (18:28.366)

How many times have you seen a five -year -old celebrate a birthday and one of the family members sings, what's your girlfriend's first name? It's socially acceptable within the older generations for our young people to be straight. If we can joke about, hey, do you have a girlfriend yet? Then we're accepting the premise that children...

can start to become aware of their bodies. Any parent who has a child who takes a bath knows that they're trying to figure things out. And it doesn't mean they're acting out sexually. It means they're figuring out their bodies. And it's healthy. And it's okay. If the child is not physically acting out sexually, then...

by all means, if they're 5, 6, 7, and they're noticing that they would rather spend more time with same gender people, opposite gender people, who is it for us to say what is right? Not everyone wants to be the football star. And not everyone is going to be the football star. So let our kids be kids.

Jamie (19:49.369)

Yeah. Yeah.

Wayne Brown (19:57.006)

if they find themselves attracted to same -gender people or opposite -gendered people or people who you can't identify their gender at first glance, okay. If they're, you know, in elementary school, middle school, early middle school, there's zero chance they're dating. So let them be friends with who they want to be friends with. If they're...

in middle and of middle school going into high school, yes, they're going to start to be attracted to one person over another. And that's okay because realistically the statistical likelihood of a child marrying the person that they liked when they were in middle school or high school is extraordinarily low.

And if they do end up marrying someone of the same gender or of a non -binary gender, the question becomes, do you want an invitation to the wedding? Do you want to meet your grandchildren? If the answer is yes, then the

best thing you can be is to be supportive and to be loving. And that will ensure you that when they are in middle school and high school, if the significant other is saying you're doing something that feels discomforting to our child, that they'll come to us. But I want you to think back to when you were young and...

if you told your parents, I really like Joe or Jane or whoever, and they openly cringed or they flinched or they felt uncomfortable, even if they didn't express it, we knew it. And what did we know when we did not have our parents' support or our guardian support as we were discussing something related to

Wayne Brown (22:12.814)

significant others and dating and what have you. We just shut down and say, no, everything's fine. Let kids figure out who they're going to be. It's not an attack on the parent. The parent didn't do anything wrong. The guardian didn't do anything wrong. The only thing you can do is love your kids.

and give them the space to trust you enough to feel like they can talk to you about harder things other than what's in the pants of the person they're attracted to. Because if you're that obsessed with what's in the person's pants that they're attracted to, you're probably thinking about it more than your kid is.

Jamie (23:04.281)

Yeah, make a lot of sense. Can you share a bit of advice, perhaps, Wayne, on how parents can advocate for their children in environments that may not be as accepting or understanding, maybe even in schools or maybe the commonplace is extended family gatherings.

Wayne Brown (23:27.182)

So if your child finds themselves within a family that's not as accepting as maybe the parents are, the best thing that the parent can do is to be that child's advocate. And...

If the extended family continues to put up barriers or make judgments or harshly treat that child, then be the parent, be the guardian, be the advocate and say, you know what? We can't come to this holiday dinner. And if someone says, well, why not?

Well, because the last time we had an event or the last time we attended an event, Jane, maybe Jane is going by the name Onyx now. And everyone refused to call this person Onyx. Your birth name is Jane and I will only call you Jane. Okay. Then.

We cannot attend this birthday party or Easter or Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever the holiday is. We are not going to make ourselves available because our child is the most important person in our world and they do not feel safe. If the parents side with the child, if the guardian side with the child,

then the rest of the family either has to abide or has to accept that they are losing access to this family and then they have a decision to make.

Jamie (25:25.369)

Yeah, yeah, very, very true. I'm seeing this in an extended family gathering of our own with a young person and watching the grandparents deal with that is interesting and challenging. And I think they've done a tremendous job actually of listening and opening their heart and being empathetic and sympathetic to that young person's situation.

Wayne Brown (25:53.038)

And that's really the best thing to do is just as the child is, because you bring up an excellent point there, Jamie, just as the child is struggling with their own sexuality, there is a chance that the older person is also struggling with figuring out modern norms of sexuality. And to a point, it is perfectly okay.

to ask questions. What is the point? The point at which the child feels at ease talking about their gender and their sexuality. And as soon as it becomes invasive, as soon as it becomes hyper -specific, that's where the parent or guardian has to step up and say, okay.

That's not an in -bond question because you wouldn't ask our child what they were doing physically with an opposite sex gender person. And this is where you build that strength of connection because our children are watching everything that we say and do.

Jamie (27:05.977)


Wayne Brown (27:19.95)

and they're watching it most closely when we don't realize they're watching us.

Jamie (27:27.801)

Very true. I feel that pressure as a parent every single day and I make so many mistakes, you know, and it's only through listening and chatting with people like yourself on these podcasts that I learn to be a better father. So thanks for your time there.

Wayne Brown (27:43.598)

I'll be honest with you, and this is this is so important for parents to remember Jamie We're all We're all winging it. We're all doing the best we can as parents and I always tell my parents if at the end of the day you're laying down and you're sweating the small decisions and You're worrying about did I do this right or did I do this wrong? then

you're doing the right kind of parenting. Because the parents who are most involved do sweat the small decisions and we do worry about whether or not we're doing right by our children or not. It's the most healthy place to be is worrying about whether or not we're doing a good job with our kids. So continue to worry about it, continue to advocate.

Jamie (28:34.873)


Wayne Brown (28:39.278)

continue to read. There's a wonderful graphic novel out right now. It's called Gender Queer. I forgot the name of the author, but it's an individual who is a graphic artist who wrote a book all about their figuring out their own sexuality. And it truly is just a

Warm experience it wasn't that the person woke up and said I hate my parents. I'm gonna be queer it's far more complex in that sexuality is an extremely complex

way of being and unless you met and met your first date and fell in love and married and you're gonna die happily ever after with that person then you had growth and learning to do about who you're attracted to and what you're looking for. Jamie do you know anyone who is

currently married in a long -term relationship with the first person they ever had a date with.

Jamie (30:01.017)

one, but it's very rare.

Wayne Brown (30:02.638)

Think of all the people you know. I know zero. And yes, this is a corrupted sample size, but I would challenge people to have empathy for the reality that your child is gonna date a lot of people in life. And some are going to meet certain needs, some are going to meet other needs.

And eventually, hopefully, they find the person who brings them a sense of happiness, a sense of identity, and makes them feel...

feel loved and how the person who they love for the rest of their life chooses to dress or wear their hair or wear their clothes doesn't really matter to Grandma or Grandpa. I remember years ago I had a cousin who was gonna get married outside of her religion which

back in the 80s was a hugely upsetting thing in a lot of older people's lives. And my grandfather, one of the people in my family asked my grandfather, what do you think about this cousin marrying outside of the religion?

and he thought about it for a second and this man who didn't have a seventh grade education and was one of the wisest people I ever met said they're gonna be alive a lot longer than I am. If they bring each other happiness, who am I to say otherwise?

Jamie (31:48.985)

Yeah, that's wisdom right there. Right there. Let's change the conversation a little bit. You've founded a nonprofit, is that right? Tell us a little bit about that.

Wayne Brown (31:55.949)


Wayne Brown (32:00.846)

I did.

So I founded a nonprofit back in the early 2000s. I was diagnosed with a rare pituitary disorder called acromegaly. It's the same tumor that Andre the Giant had, as well as Kevin O 'Quann and a number of other celebrities.

It's a rare pituitary disorder that when you have it in your prepubescent years will lead you to grow many, many feet taller than average with a larger body size than average. There are a few basketball players in the NBA who had it.

I had it after my bones fused, after I finished growing. So I just kind of grew out and I gained about 50 % of my body weight. It had a tremendously negative impact on my emotional well -being and my own ability to self -regulate. It was...

It was an extremely dark and difficult time in my life. In the early 2000s, the internet was still very much in its infancy. And the only thing that I could find about acromegaly was that if you were to not have the surgery successfully and or you were not to get on medication that.

Wayne Brown (33:46.19)

that your likely lifespan would be 30 to 50 years of age. So this was, I got this diagnosis about eight years after my father died from brain cancer. So it was, it turned our entire family's life upside down. I did my research as best as I can.

I had the surgery and it worked for a while. Medication was how I was able to maintain myself. Medication was $1 ,000 a month. $1 ,000 US a month. And this is back in early 2000s dollars when $1 ,000 was really more than it is today. And it's still a lot today. The...

Biggest problem that I had was that there was no real support for individuals with this tumor. I went to a brain cancer support group locally and I looked around at all these people who were thin, gaunt, just trying to not look like skeletons. And here I was, I was gigantic and I knew I didn't fit in.

So I created a support group called Acromegaly Support on Myspace that grew into Acromegaly Community and it is now an organization acromegalycommunity .com or .org. I think it's both now. I've since retired from the organization and we do have...

When I was running the organization, we had four Aussies. It's so much like what we're talking about with gender and sexuality. People want to feel validated. People want to feel seen. And what our organization did was it offered support not only for the patient, but also for the family members and the loved ones of the patient.

Wayne Brown (36:02.734)

because medical diagnoses are a family event. And when you're talking about these major life events, you're talking about how they impact the entire family system. And if it's impacting the entire family system, shouldn't the entire family be entitled to support when all this is being figured out?

Jamie (36:31.097)

tremendous impact. It's like the ripple effect, you know, you started something that's no doubt a legacy, but certainly something that's impacted the lives of many people and their families. So thanks for your generosity.

Wayne Brown (36:45.102)

We have members on six continents.

Jamie (36:49.401)


Wayne Brown (36:50.35)

And the only thing our organization offers is support and visibility. If people within the sound of our voice do have questions on this, this is something they can certainly reach out to me about if they're impacted by it, not only themselves, but also loved ones. And I'd be more than happy to direct them in the proper path because...

This is a really hard disease to have by yourself.

Jamie (37:25.337)

It is thank you for your generosity and I'm sure actually, well, how can people reach out to those listening that may be impacted by that or anything else we've spoken about on today's show?

Wayne Brown (37:37.934)

Yeah, you can go to my website. It's willowgrovecounseling .net. That's W -I -L -L -O -W -G -R -O -V -E -C -O -U -N -S -E -L -I -N -G .net. And we have a whole bunch of podcasts that I've done as well as we're building up our archive.

of blogs slowly but surely. And on there if someone has questions about parenting, if they need help, if they need support, they can absolutely send, click the contact me and absolutely mention this podcast and I will get back to them as quickly as I can.

Jamie (38:30.457)

wonderful. Thank you. We'll put that in the show notes as well. One lighthearted question we like to ask everyone that appears on our show and that is if we had a time machine and you can go back to your 12 year old younger self, what's one piece of advice that Wayne Senior would give to Wayne Junior?

Wayne Brown (38:50.286)

Let's see.

That's a really good question. I think.

Wayne Brown (39:00.398)

I think the advice I would give myself would just to be patient, that I will figure it out eventually. When I was 12, I had a lot of individuals in my life who were putting pressure on me because I wasn't figuring it out quick enough. And...

One of the things that I like to remind my adolescents especially is that you're exactly where you need to be right now for your future self. And I just, I would encourage younger Wayne to have more patience for himself than maybe the people in his life had at the time. Sorry, that's not as lighthearted as you may have hoped.

Jamie (39:56.857)

No, but it's impactful and it's wise as with all of your advice and your sharing on today's show. Wayne, you're making a tremendous impact in the lives of many with your mental health, your care, your advocacy, the, if I'm saying it right, acromegaly community that you started and founded. Man, you're making a tremendous impact. So first of all, thank you for your time, your generosity. Thank you for your words of wisdom. I certainly took a lot out of today's show and I know our listeners have.

But thanks again, and I hope we cross paths again soon.

Wayne Brown (40:29.23)

Thanks for having me. Anytime. I'd love to talk to you again, Jamie. Cheers.

Jamie (40:33.177)

Cheers, Wayne. Bye for now.