Every family has values and rules, and it’s important to realize these do not necessarily change for a transgender child. Parents sometimes think they should handle things differently for an LGBTQ child, but that is seldom true. Two ideas to keep in mind:
- How would you normally handle friendships, dating, or activities?
- How have you handled them with other children in your home?
Play by the usual family rules.
As much as possible, take the transgender aspect out of the decisions you make. It can be helpful to ask yourself questions like, “Am I treating my child differently because they are transgender?” Or, “How did I (will I) handle this with my other children?” This can help ground you in the usual way your family addresses dating. This means curfews, acceptable places to go, permissions required, and responsibility can be consistent for everyone.
For non-romantic relationships, handle those similarly as well. Your child may have come out to some friends and not others. That is their choice. Allow normal school and social activities, friendships, and teams. If your child has a special interest like music, sports, academics, or animals, help them pursue it. These can help keep balance and perspective in your child’s life.
Let the transgender individual set the boundaries.
Due to social or activity restrictions, some transgender youth may not come out to their group or school. They may want to avoid conflicts about sleepovers, club activity, sports teams, campouts/retreats, etc. They prefer to keep their identity private, often until a relationship or some situation arises where they feel it’s important to be open. Let them set the pace. Be ready to back them when they want to be more open. By the same token, support them in coming out to people, joining activities that appeal to them, and expressing themselves as they choose, even if it feels scary to you.
Don’t assume every relationship is romantic or sexual.
Like everyone else, transgender youth have friends that range from mere acquaintances to friendships to crushes. Be sure to leave room for a wide mix of relationships for your child, and don’t assume every friendship is romantic. Avoid assumptions and just ask your child about friendships as you usually would. This is part of keeping communication open and helps keep their romantic interests from being an unspoken secret in the family.
Be prepared for heartache.
A common fear for parents is the loneliness their child may face in the struggle to find a romantic relationship or loving partner. While this may be a risk, their process is the same as any young person.
Finding a good partner or relationship is a challenge for everyone. Your child will be attracted to others who may or may not feel the same. They may face rejection, breakups, or heartache. There will be dates of whom you approve and others you dread. You may feel regret when a relationship ends for your child because you liked that person, or relief because you didn’t care for them at all.
These are all normal events in young lives and are no different for transgender lives. As a parent, you can be an advisor, an advocate, a comfort in loss, and an encourager in need — but you can’t keep these normal events from occurring. Let them find their path. Your best role is to be a safe, supportive resource as they work their way through life.
Help them find their community of people.
If possible, help your child find safe groups where they can meet or connect with other LGBTQ youth. Isolation leads to loneliness and despair. See our Transgender Resources list at www.strongfamilyalliance.org for possibilities and support your child in joining or participating in accepting groups. Find a trusted LGBTQ or transgender adult that your family can get to know as a positive role model.
Remember this is a community issue, not just a personal one. Such connections should not all be LGBTQ focused. For instance, the same is true of sport teams, schools, clubs, or community activities. Finding connections where your child is accepted can also provide a supportive adult community for you. If you are active in a church that is not accepting of LGBTQ people, it’s important to consider finding a faith community that is and involving your family there.
Welcome your child’s friends.
It can be very comforting to know and meet your child’s friends. Providing a place for popcorn and movies or get-together activities is a great way to do so. You could host a club meeting, organize a team barbecue, or serve as a school supporter for any club or activity your child enjoys. Even something as simple as providing refreshments at a school event gives you a chance to put names to faces and get to know friends better.
An unexpected thing can sometimes occur: you become a trusted adult. If your child’s friend is transgender or LGBTQ but not out to their own family, you may find they feel attached to you. An accepting adult may be new and hopeful to them. Be accepting but let them find their own path with their family. Do not out them, or your child, to their family if they have not chosen to do so. If a child has not come out to their family, it may not be safe for them, and coming out must always be the individual’s choice.
“I was so confused and afraid when she started dating in high school. I was terrified she’d have a bad relationship or get used or settle for someone just because they were gay. Thank heavens we had older kids, so we tried to use the same rules, but it was still hard. It was years before I realized all those things happen to every kid: bad relationships, breakups, manipulative friends. I just tried to be there for her, whatever happened. But some of it was bad.”
Anonymous Mother from Texas.