What do I need to know?
When I first found out my child is transgender, I panicked. I had heard about transgender people but, like most of you, I didn’t get it. It didn’t affect me.
I am an accepting and inclusive person, but this threw me for a loop. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.
It seemed the reality I had been living for the past 16 years was a lie. What was I supposed to do with all those memories of my daughter? I worried what our family and friends would think and how they would react.
Here are the top 10 things I’d like other parents whose child is transgender to know:
Transgender people have existed across all cultures since time immemorial. Gender norms and expectations are different now than when we were growing up, and will continue to change. You probably didn’t even know half of these options even existed while you were growing up. I know I didn’t.
There are no solid statistics, although researchers estimate approximately 0.6% of adults in the United States, or 1.4 million individuals, identify a gender identity that is different from the sex they were assigned when they were born. This number does not include children. At the time of this writing, there are 4,127 members of one Facebook group for parents of transgender children alone.
Current research supports the theory that gender is hard-wired in the brain from before birth. Even though we have great influence over our children, parents can’t change their child’s expression of their gender or true gender identity.
It’s imperative you understand that you did nothing wrong and there is nothing wrong with your child. What we can do is help our children to have a healthy, positive sense of themselves in relation to their gender.
3. Don’t panic
We all have hopes and dreams for our children and this can seem like the death of those hopes and dreams. Although your child is transgender, remember that their dreams are still possible, including finding someone to love and having a family. The journey just might look a little different than initially expected.
Try to change your perspective. Always remember that anything is possible.
You may need to grieve the loss of the son or daughter you’ve raised and loved as such before coming to accept your new child. This is normal. If your child is more ambiguous and does not clearly identify as female or male, or as neither, it’s natural to feel confused and disoriented. Let yourself process those feelings.
Be honest and reassure your child. Tell them that you are overwhelmed now, but that you love them no matter what. Try to be positive with your child. Share any negative feelings you may have (hurt, fear, or disappointment) with other adults, not with your child. Find support with others who are going through similar experiences, either locally or online.
5. Life goes on
While it may seem like your world is ending because your child is transgender, this can also be the beginning of another. You and your child may find that life continues mostly the same and not as much changes as you initially feared.
Most of all, remember that this is still your child, just in different packaging.
6. Listen to your child
Your transgender child is, naturally, afraid of rejection and how their lives might change. Listen to what your child says about their own needs. They know what they want to be called, how they want to look, and other things that make them more comfortable. There are no rules.
To better understand what your child is experiencing, ask them these Questions to ask your transgender child. Listen carefully to their responses
7. It’s your child’s life
Life is much more difficult and stressful when you’re pretending to be someone you’re not. The acute distress many transgender children feel about their bodies will start to resolve during transition.
Your child will likely become more at ease, more comfortable with themselves, and overall happier with their lives with your support and acceptance. This could be an illuminating, positive and even inspiring experience for both you and your child. You may learn more about your child, about gender, and about our constantly changing world.
Try not to make assumptions or decisions about who your child will become or how they will get there. It’s their life. They get to decide.
Your child has likely known they were in the wrong body for a long time and waited to tell you for a multitude of reasons. They may be telling you now because the stress they feel and the need to live their authentic self has become too difficult to hide.
As much as possible, let your child set the pace to come out publicly (or not).
9. It’s important to affirm your transgender child’s identity
Being trans is neither a choice, nor a lifestyle. As a parent of transgender boy, I have learned that the most important thing you can do is to accept, support and encourage your child to express who they know themselves to be.
If transgender children are forced to deny their true gender and are unsupported, suicide is a significant risk. A survey of over 6,000 transgender people revealed that 41 percent reported having attempted suicide at some time in their lives. Providing a sanctuary of security and support for your child is the single most important factor in promoting lifelong health and well- being for your child.
10. Information and support are available
While some people may be judgmental and supportive, there is also extensive support in unexpected places. I didn’t know what to expect when I told people my child is transgender. Despite my fears, my family and friends accepted my trans child with open arms. They respect and validate his identity.
Transgender people are much more prevalent than previously thought and there is more acceptance in the world than you know. It’s likely you have already met a transgender person. You just didn’t know it.
There are numerous local resources and online. You may meet other families struggling with these same issues and create strong friendships.
What other questions came to your mind when your child told you about their authentic self? Leave a message in the comments and maybe myself or another parent could help you out.