#1: Transgender teens are just experimenting/ confused/ trying to get a rise out of people.
Teens try on identities, and it makes sense that they might travel around on the gender spectrum to feel out what is right for them. However, any teen that strongly identifies with the opposite gender, to the point where they dress, act, and might desire bodily modification to look more like the opposite gender, is not playing around. Any teen can choose to dress like the opposite gender for fun or fashion, but a teen who tells you that they strongly feel they identify with and “should be” the opposite sex needs to be taken seriously. A teen who states they are genderqueer, a third gender, or don’t identify as male or female should also be taken seriously. I can’t guarantee it’s not a phase- but to me, the risk of accepting a phase as a serious issue is much less than the risk of dismissing a serious issue as a phase.
#2: The appropriate response to different gender behaviors is to tease, ignore, or punish them, and then they will go away.
This response will alienate and/ or humiliate your teen, and any transgender youth is already at high risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other threats to mental and emotional health. For the sake of your kid’s mental health, and your future relationship with them, don’t react negatively if they seem to be exhibiting transgender behaviors. Feel free to ask about them and what they mean, though- your teen might be happy to have the opportunity to talk.
What you should do if you think your teen is transgender, and more importantly if they think they are, is find a counselor for your teen. Not to talk them out of it- if they are truly transgender, this is impossible- but to help them explore what is going on in their life and their gender identity and manage the stress of having a gender identity that is not “the norm.” Find a counselor trained in counseling adolescents about these topics, and talk to them about your concerns, too.
#3: Transgender people are doomed to a life of mental illness and substance abuse.
I mentioned that transgender youth are at high risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. However, this is far from a given, and supportive parenting can do a great deal to lower this risk. Being a transgender teen is not fun, especially when there is social stigmatization involved. Your teen may feel isolated, frustrated, and suffer insensitivity and bullying outside their home. Your unconditional love, support, and care can be what they need to get through this time while staying emotionally healthy. This is a point in your teen’s life where you can make a huge, positive difference in their future- isn’t that what every parent wants to do?
#4: Parenting causes people to become transgender.
People have claimed that being transgender is caused by overbearing mothers, neglectful fathers, or traumatic experiences. There is no data to support any of this. In fact, there are interesting research studies hypothesizing that the brains of transgender people are structured differently than people who are not transgender. Suffice to say, none of your teen’s transgender leanings or behaviors are a result of something you did or didn’t do.
#5: If I have a transgender teen, they are going to want hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery (i.e. a sex change).
Some transgender people do end up having these interventions, but some don’t. Some people don’t desire them, some people can’t afford them, and some people may choose hormone therapy but not surgery, or vice versa. If you are wondering if your teen is thinking about these more permanent options, ask them.
#6: Transgender people are all attracted to the opposite sex of their chosen gender, i.e. MTFs are attracted to men and FTMs are attracted to women.
Transgender people might be attracted to men, or women, or both, or neither. Being transgender is completely different from being a gay man or a lesbian (or as another blogger put it, being transgender does not mean you are so incredibly gay that you just want to change genders and be straight.) Being gay, lesbian, or bisexual involves sexuality and physical attraction, while being transgender involves identity. A lesbian may love women, but she won’t want to change her body into a man’s in order to do so. A transgender MTF may love women as well, and also feel like her biologically male body, or traditional male gender expression, is wrong for her.
What other things have you heard about transgender people that may or may not be true?