Being a parent often brings about curve-balls that take us for a surprise. While you may not have expected your child to be transgender, your reaction is imperative to how it all plays out.
There are behaviours and responses that parents can be mindful of, ensuring they support their child in the best way possible. The ramifications of coming out as transgender to an unsupportive family can be tragic.
Sadly, some parents have been known to respond poorly to the news of their child being transgender. This has ranged from isolation to rejection to violence. On the other hand, some parents want to be supportive, but lack the understanding to do so properly. Supporting transgender kids makes the world of a difference.
“Acceptance and support from parents and caregivers promote well-being among LGBT youth and help protect them from depression and suicidal behavior” – Ann P. Haas, Ph.D., Director of Prevention Projects for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Having knowledge on the complex nature of what it means to be transgender can make all the difference to how much support parents can offer their child.
Accept their gender identity
Regardless of how you feel about your child’s gender identity, it is crucial that you accept it.
“Rejecting your child’s identity as trans, or forcing them to “prove” it in some way, can be profoundly damaging.” – Joel L. Young M.D
This includes using their old name or midgendering them with incorrect pronouns. If you genuinely slip-up, apologise. Deliberately misgendering them or using their old name is a form of psychological abuse, Dr Young explains.
Accepting and understanding your child’s gender identity might mean you’ll need to learn more about it. Understanding the difference between gender and sex is part of understanding why your child identifies as a different gender to their sex.
Gender is a social construct, while sex is the “biological underpinning of gender”, according to Dr. Young.
Let your child call the shots on their gender identity
There are no rules on what it means to be transgender. Not every transgender person chooses to transition, dress a certain way or changes their hobbies.
If your child identifies as a boy, don’t assume he will suddenly become interested in football. In the same way, if your child identifies as a girl, it doesn’t mean she will want to wear dresses and become a dancer. Every child is unique in their own way.
“Similarly, don’t “out” your child. It’s up to your child to determine with whom they want to share their transgender status. Teachers, friends, and grandparents do not need to know until your child is ready to tell them. Give your child control over their own story.” – Dr Young
While you may want to show support for your child, making a big display of their gender identity may force them to share this information with people they may not want to share it with.
While your child might benefit from therapy and can consider seeing a transgender-friendly psychotherapist, they don’t necessarily need treatment.
“Transgenderism is not a mental illness, and your child’s sense that they identify as another gender does not demand treatment.” – Dr Young
Dr. Young also warns that parents should avoid pushing their transgender children towards surgery or hormone treatments. Each person should call the shots on whether or not they want to take this step and at what speed they’d like to achieve it.
By making a conscious effort to provide a supportive environment, transgender children are less likely to suffer from depression and resort to homelessness. Having their family home as a “safe space” is imperative for them to flourish as their true selves. It is crucial for families to put their energy into accepting, supporting and embracing their transgender kids, rather than challenge it.
There isn’t a single happy story that involves an unsupportive family.
Find out how The Wiggles shared a message of support for trans kids.