Parents work through gender fluid son’s journey from “he/him” to “they”

When son identifies as gender fluid, the parents continue loving support as they adjust and try to understand how their child perceives identity.

  • Briefly describe how your child first came out to you and your initial reactions.

  • Three weeks ago, my Husband discovered that our son was self harming. They had become quite isolated in their bedroom, and although we were a little concerned about them, we generally thought that it was just teen moodiness and puberty.

    We both spoke to them separately, and gently suggested that they are obviously very unhappy about something. We didn’t force them to share and told them that it was okay to struggle. Lots of people do, including teens. We told them that we loved them no matter what, and they could tell us anything and get nothing but understanding and compassion from us.

    Since then, we’ve been sure to tell them that we love them regularly, have checked in on them to have little chats to see how they are. We’ve shared information sites that offer help and support for teens mental health and asked permission to inform the general physician, so they can gain access to the help available, explaining that the waiting lists are very long, but there’s still no pressure to talk, if they don’t want to. They have not felt that this is something that they want to do yet.

    It’s horrific knowing that your child is hurting themselves and resisting the urge to go in and take away the implement from them so so hard.

    Saturday morning, I go in to wake my son and get a glimpse of the cuts on their shoulder before they roll over to hide them. They also have pink nails. They had been over at their girlfriend’s house the night before, so I presume she had done it to him.

    I state,”what’s that smell, I can smell?” curiously. ” It smells like Acetone”. They sheepishly show me their nails.

    I ask did their girlfriend do that, and they said yes. I ask did you like it or did you do it under duress? They were confused by what I meant, so I asked did they mind? They said no. I said personally I’d have asked for black nails, with a wiggle of my fingers and a smile. They said that his girlfriend didn’t have any black. Ah… I said.

    They asked if they could go clothes shopping that afternoon with their girlfriend (first time shopping on their own, they are 14) and we discussed how much money should they take. I asked what they wanted to buy, so I could assess an appropriate amount, but they were reluctant to say. I said that was okay.

    I went downstairs to make them breakfast, but 10 minutes later they were hovering on the stairs, seemingly nervous. I asked, did they want to talk to me, and they nod. I say, shall I come up to you? They nod again.

    So we head up to the landing and I can see that they are shaking from head to foot. I say it’s okay, what to do want to tell me and sit down, trying not to be too intimidating, tuning slightly away, so they don’t feel too intimidated.

    They say, very shakily, that they are gender-fluid. I say okay and get up and hug them and tell them that I love them. They then add that they are pansexual. I hug them hard and tell them that their father and I love them, for them. We support them not matter what and that I’m so so proud of them.

    They seem a little happier, I can see a smile. We have a little chat about who knows, only their best friend and their girlfriend. They have tried on their girlfriend’s best dress and I respond you have? I love that dress! I want it too!
    I say if they want to send me any pics while they are out shopping, they are more than welcome to send me them.
    They say they will show me a pic of them in their girlfriend’s dress when they can find it. I say awesome. I never had a girl to do any of this kind of stuff with, and that it was quite exciting. I saw a flash of joy on their face and I will never forget it.

    A little later on, I ask about which pronouns they wish to be addressed by and assure them that they are completely in control of what happens next. I ask if they want to tell Dad, or do they want me to do it? I was given permission to break the news to their father later that day.

    We talk briefly about what level of understanding I have of gender fluidity. I share with them that many of these labels just weren’t available when I was young, but how I’ve always thought and vocalized about not being entirely female and identifying with certain male traits. I don’t know if any of the new labels would apply to me, but I could certainly do my best to understand how they are feeling about themselves.

    They ask how they can stop the nail varnish wrinkling and I say ah… now this is where I can help. We talk about how I do my nails, and they ask if I can do theirs before they go shopping. So we squeeze in a little beauty time to redo their nails, even though it makes them late for shopping.

    My son seems much happier that I’ve seen them in a while.

    When their father comes home, I take the opportunity to break the news. I know hell be supportive, but I really don’t know what he’ll say about the gender fluidity. As predicted, he’s okay! We briefly chat about how we sort of suspected that our son might plough a different path from an early age. He asks me about pansexuality and I inform him the best I can. We haven’t spoken about how he feels about the gender fluidity yet, as I guess this is going to be hard for him. I know that it’s going to cause me some issues with loss and fear for our boy.

    I’m all mixed up at the moment. I’m so happy they felt safe enough to tell us. I’m terrified for their future and really want to help them stop self harming. I’m going to talk with my husband tomorrow and see how he’s feeling, as I guess we’ve got lots to get right now. I also am very keen to educate my parents fully, giving them time to get their heads around it. This is a big hurdle and it needs to be done correctly, when my son decides they should know.

  • What concerns did you experience over the first weeks or months? How did you deal with them?

  • (As described above, and we are) still dealing with them.

    I know we’ll be okay as a family, but I think I’m going to be doing some grieving over the loss of the young man I thought we were going to see.

    I get to speak with my own personal mental health team tomorrow, so will be asking for all the support for our family that I can

  • Has your child come out to other family members over time?

  • Yes

  • If yes, who, when, and what was their reaction?

  • Girlfriend – positive
    Best friend – positive ( I think)
    Me – positive
    Dad – positive

  • What is the hardest thing about knowing their LGBTQ identity?

  • Facing the fact that my child will experience abuse and misunderstanding from people, being treated differently because of who they are.

  • What are some challenges have you faced concerning your LGBTQ child? How did you deal with these?

  • At the moment, it’s the concern over the self harm. I really hope that we can help them through this, and it doesn’t become an emotional crutch.

  • What is the best thing about knowing your child's LGBTQ identity?

  • That they have felt safe enough and secure enough to recognise their identity and be able to share it with us.

  • Knowing what you know today, would you want your child to “stay in the closet”? Why?

  • Absolutely not! Being true to who you are is the most import thing anyone can do.

  • What would you say to other parents learning the LGBTQ identity of their child?

  • Assure them you love them and that you’re so proud of them! Your child is the same person they were yesterday.
    As a parent, it’s your duty to help support your child to be the happiest and most centred person they can be.
    It’s their life they are living, not ours. The future is full of wonderful moments with your child.

  • What would you say to youth coming out to their families?

  • Take your time, there’s no rush to tell them.

    If you are worried that they might not react the way you want, make sure you have a support network around you first. Maybe a friend, or another relative might be best to approach first?

    There are lots of support groups available too, which will be very useful. use them.

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