It can be challenging for parents to know what to do after their child comes out as transgender. There can be a rollercoaster of emotions happening. Confusion about what this means, fear about their safety, disappointment that they might have “failed” as a parent, sadness about “losing” their child, or feeling bad that they should have “seen the signs.” It can be scary territory, as well as frustrating due to a lack of understanding, the language, the pronouns, the terms, being scared of saying the wrong thing, using the wrong term, etc., the list goes on. So, what are some things you can do as a parent to a transgender child?
Here are some tips:
- There are going to be a lot of personal feelings and thoughts that come up for parents. In my years of working with LGBTQ+ youth, most parents report some frustration related to the difficulty of “adjusting,” whether it’s related to their change in name and pronouns, change in their appearances like their wardrobe, hair, make-up, or their children’s desire to come out to family. Parents will say things like, “It’s just hard to get used to calling them by their new name…They make it so difficult…I don’t know why they are moving so fast with this…It’s too much at once…or I feel like I’m losing my child.” These are the moments where parents have to take a step back and acknowledge that although they may be struggling, the best way to support your child is by putting effort towards taking the steps to accepting their child and their wishes. Parents need to take some time to process their own feelings and thoughts about the situation and not make it about themselves in the presence of their child as this can generate feelings of invalidation for their child. It’s not going to be easy, but I encourage parents to take time for themselves to work through those feelings, and for some it can look like processing or managing grief. Be aware of your own biases, beliefs, and judgements. It’s okay to make mistakes, you’re human; acknowledge, apologize, make note of it, and make the effort to do something different the next time. If you need to seek help or support, talk to a therapist, connect with other parents of LGBTQ+ youth, a simple google search can connect you with plenty of resources and guides, the Trevor Project for example has great resources for parents. Become familiar with the issues affecting trans youth, talk with your child about what they need from you. I cannot express how important it is to take time to self-reflect.
- One of the most important things you can do is listen. Hear your child out, listen to what they have to say. Be mindful of your reactions to what they are saying. At times children may feel discouraged from opening up and being honest due to people’s facial reactions or body language. Let them know you are there to listen. Put efforts towards getting to know their experience. Avoid being dismissive of their feelings, minimizing their experience and assuming they don’t know what is best for them. They know themselves best. It is okay to have questions when you’re listening to them but be mindful of talking over them. Write questions down and if you’re uncertain on whether the question is offensive or could potentially upset your child, do some research first and come back to it.
- Practice using your child’s name and/or name/pronouns when your child is not around. As stated in the beginning, adjusting to a changed name and pronouns can be tricky for some parents. Practice with trusted loved ones and on your own to get comfortable and used to using them. If you mess up, simply recognize your mistake, apologize, and move on.
- Transitioning can look different for each trans and non-binary person. There are different types of transitions: social, legal, and medical/physical. Social transition may involve using the child’s chosen name and their pronouns, a change in wardrobe and their hair. These might be the first steps some children choose to take. Consider having a discussion with your child on what their desires are, if they want to change their name and pronouns, what are they? If they want to start dressing differently, what would they like? If they want a different hairstyle, what kind? This can be an exciting time for them as they get to be creative with finding ways to express their gender, however it can also be anxiety-provoking due to fear or uncertainty of how others will react. Remind your child you are there to support them. Legal transition involves changing gender markers on legal documents like birth certificates, social security cards, or school IDs to name a few. Medical/physical transition involves puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgical procedures. The latter may be inapplicable to children, nevertheless becoming knowledgeable of the various types of transitions is crucial as the process looks different for each individual. Ask your child what steps they would like to take, consult with your child’s health care providers. Before doing so, have conversations with them independently about their experiences working with gender diverse children/individuals. You want to make sure they’re knowledgeable about working with said population and aren’t going to cause harm.
- Coming out to family members and friends may be nerve-wracking. Have conversations with your child about who they have come out to, what that was like and who else they would like to come out to. This helps to prepare for the types of conversations you all will have and with whom. Some families may receive push back from family or friends. It’s important to have in mind how you will handle these scenarios while also being conscious of what your child wants. Be respectful and mindful of your child’s safety. Avoid forcing your child to interact with family members or friends who are not accepting, stand up for your child when others are dismissive of their name and pronouns. This is a great way of demonstrating to your child that they have your support. Ask your child how they would like to come out to their family, if they choose to; do they want to be one the one that tells family members, would they prefer you do it, do they prefer not to at this time. Avoid pressuring them to come out; this is their process and when they are ready, they will.
Below are some helpful links to educational articles and resources related to transgender persons: