Appreciate when a young person comes out to you.
Coming out is scary. Your transgender child has probably tested you with a series of trials over time – listening to your comments, watching how you respond to topics, jokes or slurs. Based on your previous responses, they decided you can be trusted. There may still be fear of rejection, ridicule, and abuse, but they are hoping the parent they love and depend on can be counted on again. When someone comes out to you, your primary task is to respect their courage and honesty, thank them for trusting you, and continue caring for them.
When someone shares their gender identity or sexual orientation with you, you have received a confidence which must be respected. Breaching this trust can be emotionally and physically damaging. Be guided by the wishes of the person who confided in you. Coming out it is a gradual process and the timing of who knows and when should be controlled by the person coming out.
Examine your own biases.
Male and female roles are strongly defined in our culture: boy or girl, pink or blue, transformers or dolls, players or cheerleaders, and many other messages constantly define male/female roles. Despite modern trends, most of us are products of a gender rigid society. You can’t be free of that just by deciding to be — it takes an intentional effort to break free of assumptions. Try to inform yourself —– read, seek reliable, factual resources, and talk with your loved one about their experience and point of view. It’s a gift you give yourself and your child.
Learn where to seek help.
Familiarize yourself with the supportive referral agencies and counselors in your denomination and area. LGBTQ helplines and support groups can connect you with experienced people and organizations. There are many websites and online resources listed in our Trans Resources section at www.strongfamilyalliance.org
Maintain a balanced perspective.
Sexuality and gender identity make up a small but truly important part of every person’s identity. Your transgender child is still the same person you have known and loved for years. That person is still there and cares enough about you to be deeply honest about themselves.
They have trusted you with the most personal and risky information they can share, and they are hoping you will still love them. It’s urgently important to do so. However big this difference may seem to you, the larger person, the child you love, is still there. Don’t let a smaller part overshadow the whole.
Understand the meaning of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing.
Sexual orientation is about attraction to another person. This describes romantic, emotional, or sexual feelings toward others. People do not choose who they are attracted to, they simply are.
Gender identity is about self-perception. This is a person’s inner sense of being male, female, somewhere in between, or neither. This is an awareness of who they are, rather than who they are attracted to, and is a separate issue with unique complexities.
Help connect the young person to transgender resources, support groups, and alliances. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth feel alone, afraid, and ashamed because of religious, societal, and familial pressures. You can assist by listening with care to their feelings and concerns, offering a supportive and non-judgmental presence, and remembering they are valuable to the world.
Anticipate some confusion.
LGBTQ youth receive so many messages that their orientation or gender identity is strange or sinful, they may be confused or even attempt to deny who they are. While many youths are aware of their sexual orientation and gender identity even before early adolescence, this awareness can take years to fully integrate. Often, they are in the middle of adolescence when their self-image is rapidly changing. You can help by:
Affirming to them that their feelings are normal and natural.
Allowing them to wonder about themselves and try on different ideas. This is typical of the teen years when most people struggle with questions of who we are and how we fit in the world. This is no different for transgender youth. Listening to their thoughts builds communication and can provide insight. Parents often find themselves jumping to “will my child want surgery?” when often gender identity changes begin (and sometimes end) with changing pronouns and name.
Remembering that no one can be talked into or out of the gender they identify with, even if it is not the one assigned at birth.
Help, but do not force.
If you are comfortable with your gender, you may not fully understand what it means to be different in ways transgender individuals experience. We often urge young people into behavior, clothing or experiences that are familiar to us or that served us well in the past. We also urge them toward things we would do or use because those are comfortable to us and well known.
The best clues for how to help will come from your loved one. Don’t force him or her into your frame of reference to make it easier for you to understand. Remember, teen years are often a time for experiments in appearance, activities, and interests. Be open and patient.
Challenge anti-trans remarks.
Speak up whenever you hear anti-trans or anti-LGBTQ jokes or disparaging language and try to remember to function as if there is a transgender youth in your midst (even if you don’t think there is). Your words and example will send the message that offensive remarks will not be tolerated, and that you are affirming of LGBTQ people and their families. You will also signal to LGBTQ youth that you are a safe person with whom to talk. Don’t perpetuate injustice and ignorance by remaining silent. Defend others’ dignity.
Parents Reconciling Network. (2014) Tips for relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer & intersex youth. Reconciling Ministries Network. https://rmnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/prn-supporting-youth.pdf
(Revised by permission.)
“As we began to share her truth, with her blessing, we learned what the important people in our lives think - and the majority of them reacted in love to the news. We discovered that we no longer cared so much about what the non-supportive people think.”
Mother of a transgender daughter.
I did a lot of grieving over the loss of the image I had of my only son in my mind and heart. I had to deal with the loss of my previous perception of our relationship and the loss of my expectations of the future… Eventually I found friends, relatives and colleagues I felt safe to talk with about this change in our lives. I also chose to get some therapy to help myself process my feelings and to be the best parent I could be to our daughter.”
Mother of a transgender daughter.