In this article we’ll cover some of the basics about what it means to be transgender, provide some concrete examples, discuss some of the challenges parents face when their child comes out as trans, and provide specific questions that can help navigate the process in a respectful and loving way.
The rights of transgender people have become a hot-button issue in the U.S. media in the past few months (Click here for some recent news articles about trans issues). It seems like you can hardly listen to the news without hearing about a new proposed bill that targets trans people. If you’re new to these issues and find the arguments and discussions around trans rights confusing, you’re not alone.
If you believe your child is trans or your child recently came out to you as trans, no doubt you’re full of conflicting emotions. Many parents experience grief akin to that of the loss of a child and the loss of all the ideas they had about their child’s future. This is completely normal and you shouldn’t feel ashamed. It is a big transition for everyone.
The very best thing you can do for your trans child is to follow their lead. If you’re confused about what their gender identity means, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just make sure you do it in a loving and respectful way. Here are some questions that can help you navigate the process:
- How long have you known you were a (girl, boy, man, woman, non binary person)?
- What does it mean to you to be a transgender ______ (whatever it is that your child identifies as)?
- What can we do to help you be your authentic self? (i.e., go shopping for clothes that make your child feel good, let them grow their hair long/cut their hair short, choose a new name that represents their true identity, etc.)
- What pronouns would you like us to use for you? (he, she, they, etc.) – this is very important and can also take a lot of time to get used to. If you make a mistake it’s okay, just do your best.
Some basic concepts
(Image inspired by the Genderbread Person from https://www.genderbread.org/)
A transgender person is someone whose gender identity (their internal sense of gender) is different from their biological sex. A transgender woman, for example, is someone who was born as a man (is biologically male) but identifies as a woman. When we talk about “gender expression,” we’re talking about how that person presents to the rest of the world, whether they choose to be more masculine, feminine, or something else entirely.
These concepts can be hard to understand because most of us grew up in a culture that has very narrow ideas about gender. You’re born a boy or a girl (a label that you get based on your anatomy) and that’s who you’ll be for the rest of your life. The problem with the boxes that we put people into is that they don’t actually reflect reality. There are people all over the world who don’t identify with the gender that they were labeled with as babies. There are also people who don’t identify as either male or female, but somewhere in between (non-binary or gender fluid). And we now know that trying to force someone to live as a girl when they feel like a boy inside, for example, can cause intense suffering and psychological trauma.
One thing that’s difficult about this process for parents is that trans people and trans issues have only recently become more visible, which means it might be something you have absolutely no experience with. The good news is that things are changing and there’s much more information available out there to help you. A great place to start is our Transgender Resources page which contains links to other important organizations and websites.
We know this is hard, just remember that this is the same child you’ve always loved and they need your support. You can do this, and we’re here to help.