Adolescent Substance Use and Recovery In The LGBTQ+ Community with Beck Gee-Cohen

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Adolescent Substance Use and Recovery In The LGBTQ+ Community with Beck Gee-Cohen

Parenting a teen or young adult through substance use or addiction is a massive challenge, but layering on the complexity of a child who is questioning their sexual identity or openly part of the LGBTQ+ community can make it even more difficult. 

This episode is a must-listen for parents who are wondering how to approach their child with questions around sexuality and identity, or who have an openly gay or transgender child who’s also struggling with substance misuse or addiction. It’s complex, it’s confusing and it’s crucial to have this conversation.

Beck Gee-Cohen joined me for this enlightening conversation around gender, sexuality and substances and shared how his work at Visions Teen in Los Angeles is helping adolescents in the LGBTQ+ community. Listen in to hear:

  • how Beck’s family of origin and childhood impacted his use of substances during adolescence and his young adult life
  • why LGBTQ+ teens and young adults often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their identity and sexuality in today’s society
  • why he credits his eventual sobriety for being able to work through suicidal thoughts and not follow through with them
  • why it’s important to recognize gender as a foundation to a person but also know it’s a part of a bigger whole
  • what Beck needed (but didn’t get) from his family growing up as a gender non-conforming person to better cope with the stress
  • what research shows about young people growing up in non-affirming homes vs affirming homes 
  • how to make your home and yourself a safe place for a LBGTQ+ teen or young adult 
  • ways parents can open a conversation about gender and sexual identity with their kids and their friends
  • questions to ask if you’re a parent searching for substance use treatment for your LGBTQ+ child


This podcast is part of a nonprofit called Hopestream Community
Learn about The Stream, our private online community for moms
Learn about The Woods, our private online community for dads
Find us on Instagram: @hopestreamcommunity
Download a free e-book, Worried Sick: A Compassionate Guide For Parents When Your Teen or Young Adult Child Misuses Drugs and Alcohol

Hopestream Community is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and an Amazon Associate. We may make a small commission if you purchase from our links.

Brenda Zane, Beck Gee-Cohen
Brenda  01:50
Welcome friends. I have such a special episode for you today. I had been looking for a while for someone who I could have a conversation with and learn from about the unique challenges LGBTQ+ youth experience, especially related to substance use and treatment. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Beck Gee-Cohen, who is the director of LGBTQ+ programming for Visions Adolescent Treatment Center in Los Angeles. Beck is a master’s level clinician with an undergraduate degree in sociology with an emphasis on gender and sexuality and also has a master’s degree in addiction counseling. He has worked in the mental health and substance use field for over 10 years in various capacities. But the main focus of Beck’s work has been invested in the LGBTQ+ community, adolescents and their families that does trainings with treatment facilities on best practices and has led workshops about LGBTQ+ issues, trauma, adolescence, and gender and sexuality. We had a truly educational for me at least, and very meaningful conversation. And Beck was generous enough to share a lot about his own personal experience as a transgender male, growing up in a Catholic non accepting home with an alcoholic father, struggling with addiction, and also then finding his way to what he does now and serving youth who identify in the LGBTQ+ community and those who are questioning their sexual identity and their families. 
There are a lot of resources for you in the show notes this week at And now please listen in to an amazing discussion with Beck Gee-Cohen. Welcome Beck, to Hopestream. I’m super excited to have you here today. It’s a conversation I’ve been wanting to have and trying to find the right person hasn’t been easy. So I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to just kind of sit and chat with me about all things well, I guess substance use and gender and identity and lots of questions that I have. So thanks for being here. I really, really appreciate it.
Beck  04:14
Oh, thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited about this conversation. Yeah, always excited.
Brenda  04:19
Well, I think it’s really going to help parents who are really struggling with knowing what to do, what to look for how to find resources, all of that. So I feel like it’s gonna be a goldmine for those parents. But before we get started, I like to ask my guests a question just to get to know you a little bit better personally, not that we’re probably not gonna dive into that. But I always like to ask what did you want to be when you were growing up? Is there something when you were little that you wanted to be or you thought you wanted to be?
Beck  04:52
I love this question because I actually asked it on my social media the other day because I came up with you sure of myself. Yeah. Well, I wanted to have two jobs, and one was to be the president. Perfect, perfect timing. I kind of do want to do that right now as well. But to be the president and to be a lion tamer, so I don’t know…
Brenda  05:16
of course, I feel like those are kind of the same job. 
Beck  05:20
And they’re kind of the same job. And I feel like I’m, I’m living my best life as close to those two things as possible. Working with teenagers, you know, and parents, I think it’s kind of a little bit of lion taming in and of itself, you know.
Brenda  05:36
Where did the lion taming come from? That’s really interesting.
Beck  05:39
No idea, I must have maybe I just had gone to the I was like, five, so I must have just went to a circus or something. And, you know, I have no idea.
Brenda  05:48
That looks like a highly dangerous and exciting job.
Beck  05:50
Yeah, yeah. Sure.
Brenda  05:53
Very cool. Well, why don’t you just start out and give us a little bit of background kind of where you’re from what you do, how you got to be doing, what you’re doing? And then we’ll dive into a little bit more specifics, but just sort of give us the maybe like the Beck 101?
Beck  06:08
The Beck 101? Yeah, sure. So I’m from Los Angeles, I live here now. I’m back after 20 years, I I am the director of LGBTQ programming at Visions Adolescent Treatment Center. And it’s always a good self reflection, because I’m a person in recovery, I’ve been sober 15 years, and to the job that I do now is not anything of what I expected me to be, you know, like, where I’m right now. You know, 16 years ago, as a bartender, and a DJ at a gay bar in Santa Cruz. And here I am today working with teenagers. And I think how I got to doing the work that I did was, you know, first and foremost is getting sober, was the first thing, the first step into my career, basically, and I started working with teenagers in Montana, and then went back to school, went back to college, you know, finished my undergrad, finished my graduate degree and, and then started working in the field of addiction and mental health. 
And being part of the LGBT community, it was always something that I wanted to work with. Almost like a living amends, in a lot of ways is working in the community to heal the community and a lot of ways and so that’s always been my passion. And adolescence is where, where I’m at now, I’ve worked with adults, in treatment facilities, I’ve worked in outreach for, you know, treatment programs, I’ve been to a lot of them around the country around the world really, and, and then I do training and facilitating workshops on LGBTQ and working with parents and clinicians, and but my real passion is working with adolescents and in their families, who are dealing with either substance use issues, mental health issues, all of the above and really helping to heal. I like to believe that I have a part in helping the healing process. You know, I’m just a small part. But I like to believe that that’s, that’s my, my path. That’s what I was born to do.
Brenda  08:33
That’s so beautiful. It’s amazing when you find that spot, isn’t it? I know, I’ve found that in the last couple of years transitioning from a career in corporate America advertising, to doing what I do now, and helping parents really kind of navigate through this scary time of working with their kids through adolescence and addiction and all of that. And it’s really, I don’t know how you feel about it, but I just feel like it’s one of those things when it clicks. And you know, it’s the right thing. It’s like, this is what I was supposed to be doing.
Beck  09:07
Yes. I mean, I feel it’s hard work. And I feel tired every night I get home and I just but I just am so full, you know, even depleted and full all at the same time. It’s hard to…I can hold both of those things
Brenda  09:25
yeah, well, it’s better than being depleted and empty, because I think a lot of people are in I was in that stage for so many years of being completely exhausted. And then also just feeling like why am I even doing this? What’s the point behind it? So yeah, it is very satisfying, to be able to help and I love that you’re working with adolescents because it’s so hard. It’s so hard if you’re just the average Joe, totally conforming, totally, you know, have it all together adolescent, it’s still hard. So when you start layering on some of these complexities, there is a lot of healing that’s needed. So thank you for the work that you do. Because it’s so needed.
Beck  10:13
Yeah, I also work with young adults too, I should say, I don’t want to like hold to adolescence, but I think like adolescence, probably, you know, 13 to, you know, 25-26.  But yeah, my primary job is, is adolescence, but I also work with young adults too. And it’s just a different, it’s different with young adults, you know, there’s definitely has to be some buy-in after 18. Right, a lot of ways there has to be, there has to be willingness for me like working with teens to I think we don’t give them enough autonomy, to have that willingness to seek out help, you know, and give them options in that way. And but young adults, it’s just, it’s a little harder for parents, I think, you know, to have some buy-in.
Brenda  10:58
Right, after 18, things get way more, well, they get way more complex, but then also, in, in some ways, a little bit more simple. Because as the parent, you can say, you know, what, this is your, this is your choice now, and emotionally, it’s probably a little bit harder. But you know, to some extent, when it is out of your hands, it can be a little bit of a freeing process. So anyway, why don’t you just tell it’s always complex. I know, I know, it’s complex, it really is, there’s so many avenues like, there’s just so many different paths, people can go down and ways that they can find what they need. And sometimes it just takes a long time. That’s what I tell parents a lot is sometimes it just takes time. And you can’t rush that, you know, you just can’t rush it. No matter what – you want so badly as a parent, you just want to like fix it and make the change for them. And that’s why I do what I do with my community is to help moms, I tease them sometimes I’m like, your job is to sit on your hands and bite your lip. And that’s it. Be helpful when you can be helpful. But that’s your job right now, especially if they’re over 18. 
Well, why don’t you share your story around sort of growing up as a non-conforming gender person? And please excuse me if I get language wrong, because I’m sure I will. And I would love for you to correct me because I’m doing that all the time with people with substance use language. Some of it can be very, I don’t know. I don’t know what the word is – not damaging, but insensitive, I guess. And so yeah. If I do that, just let me know. It would be great just to hear your story.
Beck  12:52
Sure. You know, I, I think I think I was about well, I do know, I was around four or five, when I saw I was assigned female at birth, and I identify as a trans male, that is just to give some context at the start. So my journey to that in, in my gender journey, my sexuality, journey, all of that. I would say, if I look back, it was around five years old when I was kind of different. I knew I didn’t fit into girl culture, I would say I had a different name. I went by boy-Roger, it was the 80s. So you know, like, my sister was listening to a little bit too much new wave. So but it was a couple of years. And you know, when I went to school for the first time is really when I knew that that’s really kind of where gender rules started, like gender, you know, lines, like boys go in this line, girls going this line, and I was always going to the boy’s line. And teachers were like, no, you’re not a boy, you have to go  And it was just, like, I started to realize I was different, and not so much. You know, and of course, this is all looking back. Right? I mean, I could imagine what it was like at the time, I just know, from stories and just from, you know, experiences, but there weren’t like words, in that time period. You know, this is like 83, 84 at least where I was growing up even in Los Angeles, like outside of Los Angeles. There weren’t really word for transgender, you know, not that there are today you know, like there is today so there wasn’t like the internet with Google, you know, you couldn’t Google that. It was just, it was you’re a tomboy, you know, you just wanted Of course, you’re a tomboy. Everyone wants you to wear pants, you like to get dirty and so that was the terminology that was used and but I was pretty seriously not part of that. 
And in my experience I remember, growing up and knowing like it was, it was really kind of like, for my mom at the time was like, Well you can be basically you can be a boy at home, but at school, you have to be this way, you know. And so I kind of started to learn to navigate, like, masking really early on. And it’s been my experience with LGBT people, that they learn to hide who they are really early on. A side note of the story, I grew up, my dad is an alcoholic. My mom is a perfect codependent. And, you know, it was very much and so that is part of my story as an adult child of an alcoholic, you know, that I also learned to lie about the alcoholism and addiction in my household, right. So everything’s good on the outside, just don’t come to my house, that kind of stuff. So, so that was all kind of intertwined, right, that was happening in my life. And, I was really good student, you know, I think when you are good, you have good grades, people don’t bother you as much. You know, I think I learned that early on, you do well in school, no one’s gonna look otherwise.  
Brenda  16:29
For sure, it is a good thing to hide behind.
Beck  16:32
It is Yeah. So, you know, went through, got to high school, really found out that I like girls, you know, so maybe I’m gay. And that makes sense. And, but did not come out. I grew up fairly in a fairly religious household that I knew early on, that I wasn’t going to be accepted, or felt that I wasn’t going to be accepted. The messages were clear. I went to Catholic High School, like it was like very much like, yeah, so I knew that it wasn’t going to be accepted. So I was in relationships with other girls and those kinds of things, but it was hidden. I started drinking at like 14, going to parties, but still doing really well in school. But would party on the weekends like to oblivion. I knew when I first took a drink. It was like, cool, like, this is nice. You know, it was, this makes everything, you know, if I was caught making out with someone, or you know, it was like, Oh, it’s just the alcohol. You know what I mean? It was like, I could hide, I could make stories up. 
And that’s what I was good at. I think I was, before I was addicted to alcohol and drugs, I became addicted to like lying and dishonesty. I think like I because I was so hiding myself, like I was just so I didn’t, I couldn’t be who I was. And so alcohol and drugs just became so easy for me to grab on to. Fast forward, 21, I started working in a bar, which is a great way of having drugs and alcohol at my fingertips. And at 21 I met the first trans man that I had ever met before. And still, at this point, it was like, flip phone time, you know, like, early 2000s. And, I didn’t even know that was a possibility. I was living myself living out like, out except to my family. As like, lesbian, queer identified female, right? I was living up in Santa Cruz. So I  got as far away from my family as possible. So they didn’t know what was going on. I was so good at it. When I got sober. I told my mom I was getting sober. She was like, she had no idea I had a drinking or drug problem. That’s how good I was. And how far away I ran on that. 
So I met the first trans guy, and I was like, wow, he’s telling my story. You know, and that’s me. But I didn’t come out for another 10 years after that. Oh, yeah, so 27 I got sober. I was done with drugs and alcohol. I had a friend that was sober. She helped me to basically, you know, did 12-step. I didn’t go to treatment, which I should have. Which sometimes I’m like, gosh, I wish I would have went to treatment. I mean, I wish I could go right now and take a 30 day break. Just a group therapy, do some really intensive work on myself. That’d be great. I’m into it, but I think, yeah, so you know, I did that I got sober. And then I contacted that guy again. And I said, Hey, like, you know, because I equated that,  maybe because at late at night when I was using, and by myself, I was like, having this crisis of gender and like going, oh, my God, this is what’s it, but I’m not going to tell anyone – when I got sober, I was like, Okay, I’m not going to tell anyone, I’m not gonna share that. 
And I was five years sober when I found myself suicidal and ready to, you know, ready to die. And. And luckily, I think recovery actually saved my life in so many ways. But in this way, in particular, was like, I was saying, my mind and body to not kill myself. Had I been drinking and using at that time, I think, I think it would have ended up very differently. So I found a therapist, I did some really, you know, first thing I said, she said, What can I help you with today? And I said, I’m trans. It was like, the first thing I said, out of my mouth. She’s like, Okay, cool. What does that mean? You know, like, what’s that? Not? What does that mean? being trans? But what does that mean for you? 
And I started that journey, and then progressed to today where I try to help families and kind of do more early intervention, work, education, you know, with families around this piece, so that these kids don’t get to that place. I think kids are coming out earlier and earlier, because of the internet because of being able to see themselves, you know, we have, we’re having totally different dynamic conversations around gender and identity today that that was not there when I was growing up, you know, and I just feel lucky and blessed to be able to do my part and helping that I think it’s, it’s a good repair for me and my family to do this work for my family dynamics to be able to help other families. And yeah, that’s the short 101. 
Brenda  22:13
Wow, that is quite the story. I was thinking, as you were talking, just wondering, sort of what the family dynamics were like, how does a family did you have brothers or sisters? Or how did that whole thing work? Because there had to have been some tension between your dad doing what he was doing. And then you feeling the way you were? I can’t imagine how that sort of all gel together.
Beck  22:37
Oh, yeah, it was a mess. You know?
Brenda  22:42
Because I was thinking, that’s incredible. 
Beck 22:48
I think like all good alcoholic families do,or even families without alcoholism, but with codependency and things, we’re really good at just associating and everyone just kind of do their own thing. And have their own lives. And then come together and it’s like explosions, right? Like, just explosions and for me, my explosions were actually less explosive outwardly, but internally, so I went in on the television, I love TV today, I check out with TV today – could be a bad thing. And now with COVID, you know, it’s really bad. But I would watch TV families and be like, I wish that was my family. And that’s how I would kind of check out and numb out prior to using drugs and alcohol, really. When I came out, I was 22. My family, I was like, 24, I came out to my sister first, my sister’s gay. And the reason why I didn’t come out to my mom or brother was that they made a statement when I was about 16, that my sister was living in sin, and she was no longer you know, 
Brenda  24:02
So she had already come out to them, to your family and so that’s… 
Beck  24:06
she had not come out to the family, but she was living away. She’s 12 years older. And so she’s living away. She hadn’t really come out. But she had, I mean, my sister and her partner have been together 27 years, you know, so they’ve been together a long time. And, but we knew, it was pretty obvious. And so, hearing those words at 16, I think, you know, one of your questions was one thing that you would say, you know, like, and one thing like was, hearing that from my brother and my mom, hearing those things really stopped me from coming out. It was like, oh, you’re not a safe person to come out to. Oh, I’m not going to be loved by you. Like, these things are not okay. I came out to my sister because I moved in with her and so I came out to her, I think when I was 16, 17 I’d come out to her and when I moved in with her, it really allowed me at 18 to be who I was, you know, be myself and at least in at that moment, I hadn’t shared about the gender piece, but as part of the LGBT community was able to be out and proud and do my thing, you know, but that didn’t stop the alcohol and drugs from happening, that didn’t stop the shame that I felt of not necessarily feeling a whole lot of love and affirmation from core people in my family.
Brenda  25:41
Well, there’s so much there, I think, just trying to imagine the level of anxiety and stress that would have been inside just from knowing that you were feeling a certain way, not being able to live that externally. Wondering why your family wasn’t gonna love you. If you shared that. I mean, there’s just, I can see why, you know, drugs and alcohol would be just an immediate salve, like, oh, my gosh, that could just in a lot of times, and I don’t know if you guys talked about this at Visions, as you know, the drug and alcohol use makes sense. It makes total sense when you think about it, because it’s solving a problem. Not the healthiest way to solve the problem for sure. But, but it sounds like that even after you were able to, you know, be with your sister and be out and more real and who you were you still were turning to substances to just sort of what were they doing for you? At that time?
Beck  26:49
Yeah. I mean, they were the solution. Right? It’s like the solution for the underlying problem, whether that be suppressing identities, sexuality, gender, my own feelings of having an alcoholic father, you know, I mean, it’s, then that’s why I mean, it’s complex, right? It’s not just, you know, when I work with kids and the LGBT community, right, it’s not just being trans or queer, gay, or any of that. It’s part of it, but it’s not all of it. And so we have to have a parallel process, and working through that stuff. And so it can be part of the focus, it’s just not all the focus. And so for me, that was a big part of it, right? It was a big part of my own identity and my own coming out process. It was a huge part of my using. But it wasn’t the only thing. 
Brenda  27:54
Well, it’s a multi layered onion. And it seems like you know, you’ve got all kinds of things and, and the gender and identity and all that is just one piece of it, because you’re still just a kid growing up in a family with issues and going to school just like anybody else. So it just sounds like, I’m sure, in the work that you do you’re trying to peel back that onion and all the different layers of it to see what’s there. because like you said, there’s that’s one piece of it, but it’s not the whole picture of what you’re working with, or why somebody might be using substances.
Beck  28:32
Right? And I do believe that it is like a core, I use the analogy with my teenagers, like a foundation, right? I think gender and sexuality are foundational of any human being. And if I’m trying to build a house, which, if I’m trying to build relationships, a life and all of that, if there are cracks in my foundation, if there are things that I’m hiding, right, under a nice rug, if I’m hiding any of that stuff, whether and that could be anything, but like, in around gender and sexuality, if I’m not true to myself, because of this, that or the other, I wonder why the foundation, the relationships and the house keeps falling in on me, right. I wonder why it’s not stable, and because we haven’t worked through that and trying to talk to parents about that, too. You know, it’s really important, these are foundational core themes, that are part of a kid’s life, that are part of everyone’s life. If you’re heterosexual or not trans, if you’re cisgender, you don’t have to worry about that because that’s kind of the world around you. The world has been made for you, by you, right, but for us, it’s not, it has not been and so we’re just trying to, to kind of navigate and so drugs and alcohol can help with that in a way because it just pushes it down. It’s a bandaid on a damn wall. You know what I mean? 
Brenda  30:13
It’s like, well, it might hold for a little while, but not too long. Yeah, that’s true. I never thought about that. And I love the visual of a foundation that some people, if you’re cis-gendered, you don’t have to worry about it, you don’t even think about it. And so that’s a really, really good point, I think, for people to understand, especially if you’re a parent, with a child who’s dealing with this is that there’s a whole element of stuff that we might not even be aware of, that they’re dealing with. So that’s really good. What did you need most? So if you could kind of get in a time machine and go backwards, and rewind and do this all over again. And these are probably things that you help your clients with, but what would have been most helpful? or what do you think you needed most, maybe at various times, in your journey that you didn’t have?
Beck  31:17
You know, I think it’s interesting, because when I think about my five-year-old self where, my mom was just kind of, like, let me play and be who I was, like, I feel very grateful for that, whether she was, you know, my mom had to work a lot, you know, because of the alcoholism and all that stuff. So she couldn’t be physically present a lot. So I kind of just did my own thing, latchkey kid, you know, very much, so was raised by my grandma, who, you know, she was the best thing in my life. But she was also deaf, and let me do whatever I wanted, and served me ice cream for breakfast. So, I mean, I won really…
Brenda  31:57
You gotta love grandma’s!
Beck  32:02
But in that respect, I was able to kind of be myself and a lot of ways, I was able to, you know, be actually who I was. I mean, what I needed was just an open mind to other -when I heard that from my brother and my mom, those closed minded ideas, the textbook in school that said, you know, homosexuality is wrong, those kinds of things,  those kinds of messages I didn’t need because I just internalized them all the time. And it tore up the fabric of my self worth, and left me open and vulnerable to, you know, so many things, so much trauma, like, bad people, drugs and alcohol, you know, it just left me open. Because trauma is a wound, right. And so I think, what I needed was just affirmation and having an affirmative home, whether they understood it or not. And that’s why I tell parents, you don’t necessarily have to understand it. You just have to be there with it and then gain understanding from professionals, from educators. And you know, I do the education. Teens don’t want to educate their parents, right. They rarely want to talk to them. They’re just trying to get through the day. Yeah, like, I don’t want to talk to my parents, God, it so big, you know, even the most affirming parents just want to know what is going on and, so I try to help with that. I try to kind of be a buffer in that way. And then also be able to talk to the kids and say, hey, your parents want to know what’s going on with you. And it’s not a bad thing, believe me, you know they want to know what’s going on for the betterment of you. So it’s really important to have a buffer. And I think that that’s what professionals do, or should do. Right? That’s what we try to do. At least we’re where we’re at. 
So there’s a study out from the University of California, San Francisco, the Family Acceptance Project, and they talk about what it would be like what families or kids are like depression scale wise, right? depression, anxiety, substance use. LGBT kids are about 54% have depression, anxiety, substance use, without an affirming family, but with an affirming family you see that rate drops significantly, almost to the rate of average, general population teens. Just with affirmation, just with an accepting family. So that’s that’s amazing. 
Brenda  34:58
That is amazing. Could you give a couple of examples of what an affirming family might do or say, I kind of got what you shouldn’t say, for sure. 
Beck  35:09
What you shouldn’t say and  what you should say, 
Brenda  35:11
Yeah, what you shouldn’t? What does that mean? Like if a mom or dad is listening and going, Okay, I want to do that, what does that look like?
Beck  35:22
I think allowing kids to come out in their own process, but I think all kids need to hear positive, like, I think we do damage by just kind of saying things. And I don’t think that it’s intentional, necessarily all the time. I think it’s subconscious. I think it’s like, you see a trans person on TV and like, you know, a parent or brother or someone says, oh, like, it’s not a man and a woman, you know, those, those kinds of things it can be – just assume that your kid is LGBTQ, right? Like, that’s like the best way you can be like, I’m gonna assume that my kid is part of the LGBTQ community, and what would I, you know, how do I want to act because they’re always watching you, right? You no matter even if your teenager doesn’t want to look at you or talk to you, and they’re on their phone, and they’re just, like, totally checked out. They’re always watching. They’re always listening. Kids are amazing multitaskers. So they’re cued in, right. And I say this to the clinicians, I say this to the people that I work with is, we’re models of behavior. And so, we need to be aware that what we say can be damaging, even if it doesn’t seem that it’s directed toward my kid, because what if my kid is gay? And what if I say something negatively, and homophobic? Or, what if, what if the neighbor kid is gay? And I say something like, oh, I can’t believe, you know, even if just like a microaggression. Like, I’m trying to think of an example here, or just say something negative about a person being LGBTQ. Right? Like, why do they deserve to, you know,
Brenda  37:12
Why do they get a  parade? why we don’t get…
Beck  37:16
that’s a perfect example. Why don’t we get a parade? Or I don’t know why they’re just being so like, out there about, you know, their rights, you know, they get everything we get, those are special rights, though, things like that, those are pretty blatant, like homophobic and transphobic things to say, but sometimes we can, we can not even be aware of the things that we are saying that can affect our kids, right, because we assume that our kid is straight, and we assume that our kid is cisgender. And those kind of messages will further just kind of, you know, like I said, like, tear at the fabric of who they are, and maybe push them deeper in the closet, push them further away from you. And it’s really important to try not to do that. And we make mistakes, I know, you know, I just kind of come full circle, like with my mom, it’s been years that we’ve had to, you know, work on our relationship and, you know, ebbs and flows, like as a as a kid and a mom’s relationship goes, but, you know, when I came out to her as trans, you know, she’s like, 75 years old at the time, you’re 70 years old at the time. And, you know, she says, You know, I wish I would have done different, right, I wish there was, like, looking back. Yeah, that makes sense. Like, there was no words for transgender when you were five, you know, would’ve been different today. And this is like a seventy-year-old Catholic woman who can say those things. When I came out to my sister, you know, she said, I wish you could have told us sooner, and I wish you felt comfortable enough to tell us sooner. But for me, that was just an old behavior of, I can’t tell anyone who I am. Right. Those are like, some old wounds for me. 
So we want to be curious about our kids lives we want to be we want to ask questions we want to do right by them. I think as parents and we make mistakes, right? Is it just happens? Yeah. We do the best we can with what we have in the moment. Right? So I would say there’s no perfect thing to not say or to say but it’s just like having an awareness that your kid might be LGBT. And if I’m speaking directly about that, or they have a friend that is, so if you don’t know then there’s resources for you to learn these things.
Brenda  39:57
So good. That’s so good to hear. Are the questions that a parent could like if they wanted to open the conversation. Are there questions that a parent could ask that would be? I don’t know. Not horrifying, or not. I’m just trying to imagine that conversation and trying to imagine I’m thinking I’m just racking my brain as a mom, I, I don’t even know what I would say. Right? Because I’m sure it would, it would come out terribly. Like, what would be okay, or a good question?
Beck  40:37
I mean, I’m always kind of upfront, you know, I would just be kind of like, I think it’s opening the door. I think we don’t have to, full on ask like, hey, are you gay? We could, some parents have that dynamic with their kids, right? Some people have that kind of those conversations and open dialogue. I think, just even dropping, hey, I watched this documentary on Netflix today about trans folks, do you know any trans folks? Let’s have a conversation about it. Or, you know, if if you start noticing some, I think, trans kids kind of start, or LGBTQ youth that I’ve worked with, some of them are very outspoken. Some of them are like, you know, will share abundantly or be like, hey, these are my pronouns. And, you know, this is how it’s gonna be now and. Right. Okay, cool. Like, you know, if a kid comes up and says that it’s like, okay, cool. I’ve never heard of using them/they pronouns before, or, how can I affirm that, I want to be on board, what do I need to watch, you know, having interest in it, not just being like, okay, whatever. I think that’s what a lot of teens get. I mean teens also do that, too. But I think that they give it back to each other, right, as parents and teens, like, that’s how we communicate? Because they’re individuating, right? They’re trying to figure out themselves on their own. And it’s like, ugh, why did mom and dad or parent want to talk right now, right? That talking thing, or communication, whatever that is. But I think having, showing interest is, has always been a positive, I’ve never seen it go negatively, in a parent dynamic that I want to know more, like, cool. Is your friend trans or if a friend comes over, what pronouns do they use? You know, showing some general interest is a way to engage these kids around their gender identity and stuff. And if they’re talking about their friends, or if you’re just kind of talking about it, not necessarily directed at them, they kind of know that you’re like, oh, there’s someone I can talk to, right? 

I had a friend call me and told me that her son came out as gay. And they had had their suspicions and whatnot. And, but what she told me was, she said, You know, when he came out to us, he said, it was easier for him to come out. Because he saw them, my friends stick up for me, like on social media around some, you know, I think it was around marriage equality or something like that, and be a little more outspoken to their family about it. And he said, I saw you do that for Beck. And so I knew it was gonna be safe for me to come out to you
Brenda  44:11
Wow, so even just sort of living a life that is affirming and curious and supportive can make things easier. Hmm, yeah, that’s really nice. That’s really beautiful. What is the support and sort of the treatment world and environment look like for LGBTQ is that? I know, you work at Visions, and we can talk a little bit about the program and what you do. But overall, is this still sort of a niche, niche type thing? Or what are the options for kids who might need to get some help?
Beck  44:57
well, I mean, I’ll say this, everyone will say yes. When you ask the question as a parent, do you work with LGBTQ youth? And every single program will say yes. Because most kids that are seeking treatment and who are needing treatment are LGBT, does that mean that every program is similar in regards to working with that population? No, because most parents don’t ask the questions beyond that. Right. And because and I’ll say this is because parents are in survival mode. They are scared. They are having panic around their kid. I mean, this is why you do the work you do, right. It’s like, you know, they’re and they’re in their reptilian brain, just fight flight, freeze, they’re just like, how do I get my kid to treatment? Right, then? So yes, so, okay, my kid is gay. My kid is trans. Do you take trans kids? Yes. Okay, great. Like, that’s all I need to know. 
Brenda  46:02
check, get them on a plane. 
Beck  46:05
So I usually coach parents into asking more questions. And I would want these questions asked of my program.  And, and usually, I tell them, because I do this a lot. And not all kids, you know, can come to my program, right? Not all kids are, are meant for Visions. And not all kids are meant for different programs. But like, at the same time, it’s important with the parameters of resources of,  some parents don’t want their kids out coming across the country to California, right. Some parents have to use certain insurances, right? And so it’s like, there’s parameters that we have to set. And so, in those parameters, we can still ask the question, so how do you work with this population? What is it about LGBTQ? What do you do for the LGBTQ kids that you have? Is their special programming? You know, how do you room trans kids? Most programs, I would say, room – the bar was set a little while back to be, let’s say you have a trans girl, right? Well, she can be on the girls unit, but she’ll be in her own room. Right, which addiction, substance use, we have two mental health programs and a dual diagnosis program. But in any situation, mental health or, or substance use, loves isolation, it feeds off of isolation, right? And so it’s like, okay, you can be a part of, but you go stay in your own room at night by yourself, which, if you think about treatment, and if you know anything about teen treatment is that like, a lot of the healing process, a lot of the connection happens at night, when you’re like, laying in your bed talking to your roommate,  talking about the day, you know, crying about this, that or other thing – friendship, right. Like, you know, that connection is very healing in a lot of ways. So, to send a kid to that to their own room, and believe me, if I went to treatment right now, I would want my own room, but that’s a different story. 
Brenda  48:28
Well, yes. Maybe not when you’re 16 or 17.
Beck  48:34
Right. But you know I think the proper way to do it is first of all, asking, because some trans kids do want their own room for safety reasons, right, you know, Visions, as the first Treatment Center in the country, I believe, because we started this like, seven, eight years ago, prior to me even working there, asking the clinical director saying, you know, how are you rooming kids? And that was the bar, right. And so they started and I said, Well, why, right, but why? And what happened was, was like, Oh, yeah, why? Why are we roomming that way? Why don’t we room cis and trans kids together?  If I have two girls, you know, they’re girls, right? So, when we talk about gender specific treatment, like girls programs, boys programs, girls wings, boys wings, rooming or whatnot, if someone is saying I’m a trans girl or a cisgender girl, like, okay, cool, you’re in a room together, right? That’s just how it is, it normalizes the experience. And that’s really, really important. A lot of places will say, Well, our license won’t allow that or we’ll room the trans kids together and that’s, I mean, that’s okay, it’s just not how I would see treatment and how I would see people. You know, trans people being fully integrated into the community, right? That it normalizes who they are, it gives them an experience. And it’s not just for the trans kid, like, let’s be honest here, this is also about opening up the doors to a broader experience of, of humanity to cisgender kids as well, right? Like, we’re not treatment isn’t I always think of like, treatment isn’t a vacuum, like we’re trying to create better humans out in the world, right? If a kid were to like room with a trans gender, a gay kid, or whatever, have this experience with someone that’s different than their experience. When they go out in the world, and someone is homophobic, transphobic, they can say, you know, my roommate in treatment was trans or my roommate and treat him as gay, like, and they were super cool. And they saved me on a daily basis. So shut up, you know, we’re creating a better world out there. So it’s not just about getting sober. I mean, that’s a big core piece of it’s not, it’s not just about getting a better handle on your mental health. It’s about, creating dynamics that that can change the world. Really, that’s how I look at it.
Brenda  51:16
Yeah, there would just be such an opportunity for education and building that compassion and just having an experience that would be so enriching going forward. That’s really, really important. I think those questions for parents to ask, because you’re right, they’re in such a vulnerable place, it’s usually two o’clock in the morning, there’s somebody who’s overdosed, or, you know, there’s so much happening, that you really do kind of fall victim to whatever sounds the most promising at that moment. And you just, you just try to get him in. So really, really valuable to know that.
Beck  51:58
And also like giving, you know, parents, for me, when I get parent phone calls, you know, is, you know, let’s say they don’t, you know, maybe they can’t, they can’t come to Visions for some reason or another, right. It’s about me giving resources to other programs that I think could work and also not just giving them an 800 number, right, it’s giving someone behaving talk to giving someone that they can like have a conversation with that off the first, you know, in the first words isn’t, well, what’s your insurance? Right? If they ask you that question, right off the bat, just hang up like that, yes. You know, we do have to get to that, like, that’s a question that we have to get to, they have to ask those financial questions. But like, I want to know what’s going on with your kid right now and how you’re doing right? I want to know, so that I can gauge is this gonna fit, can this work out, or also, maybe I have some other people that it might work for, you know, and so, because my, my job, of course, is, you know, I work in a facility, but my job is for me, like I told you at the beginning, my passion is to help kids. And if I’m not, I have to help the kid foremost, and get them the help they need and, and help the family in that way too. So you know, I will kind of plug this a little bit, I offer a parent group for parents of LGBTQ teens every Monday. And, and with who have, you know, who are having mental health or substance use struggles, right? So and that’s free for anyone that wants to it’s a Zoom event, and they can be in any program or trying to find a program or whatever, or just getting help from other parents. I just facilitate, you know, the parents kind of lead it, I’m just there. But I think it’s really important to have that connection. And not just parents in recovery, you know, like, who have kids in treatment. This has, again, that added layer of LGBTQ so parents, some parents are on board. Some parents are questioning, what is happening with my kid, you know, and so they can get that support added to the mental health and substance use pieces, right?
Brenda  54:27
all the layers of the onion.
Beck  54:30
All of them. 

Brenda  54:32
Yeah, well, I will definitely I’ll put a link to that in the show notes for people so that they can find that because that that is huge. Yeah. And the same with the community that I have in The Stream. We are friendly and you know, we have parents going through this and so I think it is so important because you do feel so alone. As a parent. I mean, obviously kids are going through their own, you know, issues and struggles and the parents are also feeling alone and isolated? And, you know, wondering, did I do something wrong? Did I do something right? Who else is going through this what you know just what is going on. So that is incredibly valuable to have that resource.
Beck  55:18
And parent programs are really important to I think, like, you know, checking in on what their parent program looks like. Because this is, you know, as we know, this is a family, if you’re looking at substance use as a family disease, right? Mental illnesses the same way, it affects the family and one person getting healthy is still gonna affect the family. Because if we’re not all getting healthy together, then we’re not doing anything works. We’re in a hamster wheel. 
Brenda  55:49
Is there a question that you get all the time that you would love to clear up? You’ve been doing this for a long time and working with families and working with young people. And sometimes there can be that, like, if I could just clear this one thing up, or it says, tell people this one thing? Is there anything like that that comes to mind for you?
Beck  56:11
Yes, does my kid’s transition or even sexuality have something to do with their early childhood trauma? Whether that be sexual assault, or, you know, specifically, I get that a lot, but like, we see this I kind of intertwined like, Oh, my kid was molested at three years old. And that’s probably why that they’re trans or you know, that connection gets made a lot. Because we’re trying to find the answer for why is my kid trans? Right? Why is my kid? And that’s what we need to stop asking. First of all, if there was a link between those two things, there would be a lot more LGBTQ people in the world, we’ll just say that, right. So it can be it, you know, it’s both and like, they had trauma and they’re trans, right? Like, they have those two things. They are not mutually exclusive, right? They’re not they don’t interact in that way. Or they are mutually exclusive. One does not make the other.
Brenda  57:20
Trauma doesn’t necessarily have to be there. And you know, it’s what I think is interesting I’ve been studying trauma a lot more lately is that when we as parents, when we hear the word trauma, we immediately go to sexual abuse, physical abuse, you know, they got left in a closet at the daycare or something like that, and what’s what I’m learning and I think what’s true in my life, and also in my kids lives is that trauma can be a car accident, or a, you know, some other frightening event or something that you would just never really label as trauma. And so I just think that’s important for people to know is that our minds go to a very dark place very quickly. But that’s not necessarily always the definition of what trauma might be.

Beck  58:06
Right? It can be, you know, neglect it can be and neglect can look so many different ways. It could be you know, yeah, I think I think trauma is is just means wound, right? And trauma can affect people in so many different ways. You know, that’s why we see people who go through the same event, it affects them differently, right. I think of growing up, right? Like my, my coping mechanism from growing up an alcoholic home was using drugs and alcohol, right. And, and my sister, you know, deals with it her way is not drugs and alcohol, maybe some low workaholism. I love her to pieces, but she works a lot. You know, my brother, my brother went to religion, right, we all experienced the same thing but we dealt with it differently. And that’s really what trauma does to us. So there’s no fast, hard rule on that.
Brenda  59:04
So interesting. Maybe we could talk about that.
Beck  59:07
Yeah, that’s a whole other episode

Brenda  59:09
that is! So I’m definitely going to put information on Visions because I know you guys have amazing programming. You are a Treatment Center in Los Angeles, or you just in LA, are there more locations. 
Beck  59:23
No, we have two mental health primary residentials in Los Angeles, a dual diagnosis center in Malibu, and then a West LA extended care and IoT center, Health and Wellness Center.
Brenda  59:41
That’s great. Are there books or podcasts or programs or people or any other resources that you would offer to parents if they’re really wanting to be more supportive of their kids? Are there some sort of gems that you found?
Beck  59:58
Yeah, I mean, there’s so many, maybe I can just kind of give you a little bit of a list so people can go through. But I think if I were to tell people like to do homework tonight, if you are like me and like television, I think there’s a couple of shows, there’s one show called Disclosure, documentary, it is on Netflix, and it is a documentary about how trans people have been portrayed in the media, which could be beneficial for you to realize where maybe some of your bias has come in, right, we’re, we only know what we’re exposed to. Right. And so when you start watching that documentary, if you are a trans person, and you have not seen that documentary, I just want to kind of put a disclaimer that it can bring up some stuff it can be activating, I had to kind of pause throughout just because it was so intense, right? But I think for parents for cisgender people to watch that and just to kind of be like, Oh, my goodness, right. Like, I laughed at that, right? And it was funny at the time. And now I like if I can look at it through a lens of like, how detrimental that can be to how I look at a trans person on the street. Right? Like how that has affected, you know, maybe my mindset, it’s a really important documentary. So it’s called Disclosure. Another one is, if you haven’t watched Pose on I think that’s on I think it’s on Netflix as well, just to kind of about, you know, trans folks, if you, I don’t know if you’ve talked about Euphoria on this on this podcast at al,  on HBO. Have you seen it?
Brenda 1:01:38
I haven’t. I don’t have HBO, I’m probably the only grown adult in the United States who doesn’t have HBO
Beck  1:01:47
Okay, so get your free five days. Okay. And just power, watch it. Around teenagers and addiction, it’s probably one of the most real shows, it actually scares a lot of parents, I think and a lot of ways of like, Oh, my gosh, is this what kids are doing? I would say, you know, in my experience, yeah, this is what kids are doing these days.  But also, there’s this really great storyline kind of conversation around gender and sexuality. That is kind of intertwined in that.  The second season just started with one episode that has one of the most powerful scenes of recovery that I’ve actually ever seen on television. So I’m a big fan.
It’s very intense but a really good show around trauma, about how trauma affects addiction and effects all of those things with teenagers. And then I have plenty of books, depending on your kid, where they’re at, in their gender sexuality journey, there’s different things. If you have young kids, there’s, I have plenty of books, and I’m glad to put some links on your on your site for those. Yeah, definitely anyone can get a hold of me always, email me, I will put my email in that too. And never hesitate to reach out. I’m always glad to help where I can.
Brenda  1:03:30
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. Is there something that you’re really excited about right now? There’s a lot of negativity, is there like a bright spot or something positive going on that you’re getting excited about?
Beck  1:03:47
You know, I think like, we went into 2020 with like, a lot of hope. And then and then all everything kind of crumbled down. So like, I think we have a little bit more realistic view of going into 2021. about like, the work we have to do and the work that is upon us, but I’m really looking forward to like, to be honest to not having to be afraid that my rights are going to be taken away. Starting next year, I think that that’s something that is like, and I’ll say for the teenagers that I work with, I mean when I was 13 the last thing I was thinking about was politics. The last thing I was thinking about was my rights. The last thing I was thinking about I didn’t have that information. I just want to ride my bicycle. Right? And right. I have 13-year-olds that know more about, you know, the political world than most 50 year olds right. And so because they’re so like, information like sponges, over the last year it has been really hard to see like, working with trans youth who wanted to go into the military who were like Can’t go into the military now, wanted to kind of be just like their dads did just like their grandfathers did, right? And like, this is what I’m gonna do, but they couldn’t go in as who they are, right. And so having that lifted, that’s what I’m looking forward to just a little piece, just like that little tiny layer of the onion that will, will be lifted. There’s more work, there’s more things to do. But I think like, the relief in that is what I’m looking forward to.
Brenda  1:05:31
That’s great. I’m glad you said that because again, I think that’s a piece of that foundation that we can take for granted if we are cis-gendered. And we just are oblivious to the fact that that is a concern, even of a 13-year-old. So I really appreciate you saying that I think it’s important for people to recognize that our foundation is something we should not take for granted. So well, thank you so so much. I can’t even imagine how helpful This is going to be to parents who are out there looking for information and resources and help. And we will link to all of these things in the show notes so you can find those. But Beck thank you so much for your knowledge and your passion and all the work that you do. I really, really appreciate it.
Beck  1:06:21
Thank you so much for having me.
If you’re a mom listening to this and thinking, there must be other moms out there listening to, I can tell you that there are thousands of other moms that are searching for this same information. And for a more personal connection. You can find me and a bunch of these moms by going to my website, And there you will get lots of information about a really special online community of moms called The Stream. We have regular calls and chat sessions. We do a monthly yoga class for stress and anxiety. And it’s all positively focused. It is not on Facebook, and it’s completely confidential. Membership is on a pay what you can model, so if you want to join this community, and you need the support, you are in. 
You might also want to download my free ebook called HINDSIGHT: Three Things I Wish I Knew When My Son Was Addicted To Drugs. It is packed with information that I truly wish I had known back in the darker years with my son. And so I share it now in case it might be helpful to you in your journey. You can get that at, and I will put a link to both of these resources in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for listening. I’ll meet you right back here next week.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

the parent’s gathering place

Join us after
the episodes

Hopestream Community is a private online destination where parents find resources, education and personal connections when their child struggles with substance misuse, addiction, and mental health challenges. We teach skills that help improve communication and rebuild broken relationships, while empowering you to motivate your child to adopt or maintain healthier choices.

Learn more and join us >