The family is essentially the foundation from which Transgender people and members of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole are able to negotiate other personal relationships and life in general. It is the springboard from which we go on to navigate other societal landscapes such as educational settings as well as the workplace. The family is also the number one factor in the overall health, mental and physical, as well as educational success for sexual and gender diverse people.
After your child has come out to you and you have begun to navigate your own gender journey, you will find yourself at a point of undergoing your own coming out journey as a parent of a trans, non-binary, or gender-expansive child. There are many situations and settings that call for you to identify as such and this constitutes the fifth phase of the TransFamily Gender Journey.
Having conversations about your child’s gender identity or transition with others including your own parents, relatives, friends, and/or colleagues can be among the most difficult things for a parent to do. You love your child unconditionally, but what about the rest of the world?
Grandparents and other older relatives and friends often have more conservative ideas about gender roles, and thus may have a more difficult time understanding or accepting your child’s transgender or gender expansive identity.
Friends and family may have heard negative or inaccurate information about trans youth in particular. There are many myths currently percolating in the media, some based on genuine concern, yet distorted to frighted us.
Being an advocate for your child can be difficult when the person you are defending them against is your own family, so first and foremost, try to approach these conversations with patience and compassion, rather than being confrontational or defensive.
Thankfully, there are several ways to help make it easier for both you and your child to talk about your experiences and help others understand and accept your child for who they are.
First, it’s important to think about preparing for some situations that are likely to arise when you come out to others as a parent bearing in mind the impact they will have on your child as well.
Situations to Prepare for
Cases Where Others May Struggle With Terminology
Some of those with whom you share may receive the news positively. However, since this is all new to them, they do not fully grasp the transgender experience. They may have never encountered trans, non-binary, and gender-expansive people before, and, therefore, lack knowledge on how to use appropriate language in reference to your child.
Unknown to them, some of the terms they may use could be archaic and are now considered derogatory and offensive. To be fair even for those of us trying to stay on top on it, language is an ever evolving moving target. Ultimately, it is most important to use the language your child requests.
The best you can do is be patient as you correct them as well as share resources such as gender glossaries and readings on gender-sensitive language. We have created one for you that may be helpful. Check it out.
Family Gatherings, Holidays & Gifting
When your child’s journey is considerably new, it’s best to talk to your family members in advance. That is given that your child is ok with the family knowing. Make sure to discuss this with your child first. The reason for talking to family in advance is to prevent scenarios where they react in surprise and say something out of turn that may be hurtful to both you and your child.
Initiate conversations on a one-on-one basis before any upcoming family gatherings. Explain your child’s transition and stress the need for any new names and pronouns to be respected. This is a good way of garnering allies and drumming up support to help you get through conversations which you anticipate to be difficult.
For your child’s birthday as well as holidays, remind your family members to be sensitive when choosing gifts. Clothing should affirm your child’s chosen gender identity. In the event this is cause for discomfort on their part, they can select items that are gender neutral such as art supplies, books, and science kits.
Loved Ones Adamantly Refusing to Accept Your Child’s Identity
The most undesirable and unfortunate turn of events is when loved ones are determined to refuse, downplay and ignore your child’s identity, expression, and/or transition.
Their lack of acceptance may make itself manifest in various ways such as:
- Deliberately misgendering your child
- Attempts to “change” your child and make them conform to their gender assigned at birth
- Microaggressions that your child may not pick up on but are inappropriate nonetheless
When faced with this, remember that your child’s wellbeing is the most important thing. It takes precedence above all else, and this means determining what’s best for them even if that calls for keeping your child from having a relationship with a family member.
In many instances, people’s reluctance to accept LGBTQ+ people subsides with time. They may come around and change their minds. For this reason, the best practice is to keep supporting and loving your transgender child, while hoping that others will come to accept and embrace them in time.
Having anticipated these scenarios, below are some talking points that can help you have conversations on your child’s gender journey.
This is the same child you have known and loved, just a different gender:
This is one of the most powerful statements you can make. It communicates that your child’s core – the innate attributes that define them are not only still intact but amplified. Your child is the same person they have always been, the same person they have loved and cared for since birth.
At this juncture, you can introduce them to concepts such as the distinction between sex and gender (the former is biological while the latter is psychological, behavioral, social, and cultural) as well as gender dysphoria. Invite them to take a Gender 101 workshop on the basics of gender and sex.
This will not only help them understand the basics but also demonstrate the level of thought you’ve given to your child’s journey.
My child is happy living as their affirmed gender:
One of the justifications for opposition to your child’s gender identity/transition is questions on whether they’re “okay” with it.
Parents of children who have transitioned and are living openly as their affirmed gender often report that their child seems significantly happier and healthier than they were prior to transitioning.
It’s important to let them know this, and highlight that your decision to affirm your child is a show of support that has helped them lead a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life.
There is nothing “wrong” with my child or my parenting:
Let others understand that being transgender, non-binary, or gender-expansive is a normal way of life. Explain that this experience isn’t “just a phase” and that dismissing it as such is only detrimental. What your child needs is your support and validation.
It’s wrong and harmful to suppress my child’s identity:
Make it clear that attempts to change your child’s identity and make it conform to what is “normal” go against what is right for them. Denial, punishment, reparative therapy, or any other tactics are not only ineffective but also highly dangerous and can permanently affect your child’s mental health.
As you go about having these conversations, remember that your loved ones are beginning to embark on a journey you have been on for a while. Based on your own experience, reassure them that everything will work out fine. Let them know that this has been an ongoing process and you have done your own research to make sure this is the right path for your child.
Your child is perfectly normal and will, therefore, live a normal life. They will still have friends, go to college, fall in love, and engage in what they love. They are and still will be the same loveable funny, bright, thoughtful kid they’ve always been – only happier and more comfortable in their self-expression.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to offer your child the support they need as you both progress through this fifth phase of the Gender Journey. As you demonstrate your love and acceptance, there’s a chance others will feel inspired or challenged to do the same.