As a parent of a transgender child I am often asked a LOT of questions. I have been given more advice, criticisms, suggestions, and “how-to’s” on how I should raise my transgender child than I got as a new parent with a newborn baby and zero idea what I was doing.
The problem is not that people want to help.
As a single mom, I need all the help I can get some days. The issue lies in how people want to approach me in regards to my son and the oftentimes extremely offensive nature of the message they are portraying to me.
As a parent, no one wants to feel like they are doing something “wrong.” Most of our biggest fears lie in screwing up our kids in some way.
So what do you say to someone whose child has come out as transgender? How do you help without coming across as condescending or abrasive?
My son came out over a year ago now and I still get comments from people that I wish they would keep to themselves. I’ve grown and in many circumstances I’ve learned how to respond (or not respond) to anyone with “advice” that doesn’t align with path we’ve chosen to take after carefully consulting professionals for guidance.
But that doesn’t mean that I still wish people would use caution at times when approaching me or my trans child regarding his gender identity.
If someone you know comes out as transgender, here are some things to say (and not to say) to support the parents of a trans child.
Don’t ask if a parent has considered this may be a phase.
Of COURSE they have. The very first thing that crossed my mind was if this may or may not be a fleeting thing with my child.
How long do I need to wait to find out?
Do I grant his requests or do I wait until I know for sure? The reality is, I don’t live in my son’s head. I will NEVER be able to say that I 100% know or understand what is going on in that little brain of his.
Something like this is foreign to me because I have never experienced these thoughts or feelings. So, in our case, I have to take his word for it.
The most important thing to remember in this is that even if it IS a phase, we want nothing more as parents than to show our kids that we love them unconditionally, right? Putting a timeline or expectation on their requests to change names/pronouns/clothes/etc only puts conditions on my love for my child.
And trans or not, I never want to send my child that kind of message.
Don’t ask about genitalia, EVER.
I am not sure what it is about trans people that makes the public think they have a right to know about someone’s genitalia, but it’s utter BULLSHIT.
My child nor I owe anyone any kind of explanation about what is under his clothing. It’s rude, but not only that, it’s inappropriate.
I’m trying to teach my kids about modesty and how to be careful with strangers and having a young trans child with family or friends asking about what’s going to happen when they have BOOBS is just not helping. Let me and my child’s doctor deal with the physical stuff — it’s none of your concern.
Ask questions, but remember who you’re talking to.
I have always been a firm believer that if someone is confused, misunderstands, has bad or unverified information about trans people, I prefer they come to me.
Ask me and I will get them the information they need TO understand or to dispute the fallacy they have read or learned about elsewhere. Not all parents have this approach.
Ask if it’s ok for you to share your understanding with another parent, but be thoughtful in how you relay your information. A lot of parents that are open are willing to talk about these things, but make sure you don’t forget that you’re talking about someone’s child.
You’re discussing a sensitive topic that is very important to them and remember to use caution with your words.
Don’t tell parents what your friend/mother/brother/uncle says about this.
I don’t care if you have a trans family member, if your neighbor is trans or your coworker does things differently. Trust that as a parent I am taking the steps to be as informed and as knowledgeable as possible and I am making sure to contact the appropriate professionals to help me along the way.
When it comes to parenting in general, EVERYONE has a different perspective or approach.
There is no “right” way for any parent that works universally for others. It feels like a direct insult as a parent when someone questions my ability to parent my child in their best interest, trans or not. Leave other perspectives and parenting styles at the door because me and my kids might choose to do things differently.
DO use the name/pronouns and language someone asks you to use.
If a friend or family member has a child come out and they make a point to request pronoun and changes of you, DO. IT. This is not up for debate.
The reason this is so important is because the suicide rate among trans youth is upwards of 50% and the ONE factor that changes that statistic is support.
Support in the home being the biggest contributor, but support in school, with family and friends, and elsewhere is also very important.
Don’t ever intentionally misgender someone and if you make a mistake, APOLOGIZE immediately. It’s okay to mess up, it’s NOT okay to keep messing up.
Make a conscious effort and don’t question it. If you feel awkward changing someone else’s pronouns when you talk to or about them, imagine how awkward they feel having to continually ask you to not misgender them. It’s mortifying and, more importantly, it’s dangerous.
Don’t bring God into it.
A lot of parents I’ve talked to struggle with values and beliefs in this kind of situation. I am a firm believer in science and data. Research and proof.
For me, God was a non-issue.
But for others, and many in my own family, God was a sensitive topic.
Many parents are in crisis when their child comes out. They feel lost, scared, terrified that they will do something to impact their child negatively when deep down they really are trying to do what’s best, even if they aren’t sure how.
Bringing values up in this situation can cause immense guilt and shame for a parent and their child. Leave God out of the conversation because believe me, if they are very religious, they have already thought of this.
I have heard from a number of people that my son can’t be trans because “God doesn’t make mistakes.” And to that I say, “you’re absolutely right. God made my child this way and for that I’m immensely grateful.”
DO ask how you can support them and their child.
A lot of people had advice and suggestions on how I should handle the situation with my son. Even if (especially if) I wasn’t asking for it. But not many people came to me and asked how they can be helpful.
A simple question, yet so profoundly supportive. Don’t tell another parent what or how you will be there for them if their child comes out. ASK your friend what or how you can help them and what they need to feel supported by you…and others.
The biggest thing to remember when you’re talking to parents of trans kids is that they are parents, just like you.
If there is something you wouldn’t like to hear as a parent regarding your kid, don’t say it. If you think you have to quiet your voice to a whisper before you utter the words you’re about to say, don’t.
If you hear someone using the wrong terms/pronouns/name when referring to the child, correct them.
It truly does take a village to raise kids and the village of support for parents of trans kids can be small and isolating at times.
People sometimes forget that we are parents first and foremost and our ultimate goal is just to see our kids happy, healthy and living their lives as authentically as possible. Be the type of friend or family member you would want if something controversial and often misunderstood were to come out in your family.