Many parents are uncomfortable with the idea of transgender identity. They may have been taught that being transgender is a sickness, perverted or immoral. Many parents do not yet know anyone who is transgender. They may react to their child’s disclosure with tremendous discomfort.
The first step in addressing your discomfort is learning more about transgender identities in general and your child in particular. Previous blogs in this series provide much of the information you need. My previous blog includes suggestions for learning about your teen’s experiences and feelings.
Many parents experience a deep sense of loss when their son becomes a daughter or a daughter becomes a son. By the time your child has reached adolescence, you have come to enjoy this boy or girl as someone with a stable gender. Some of your appreciation of your child is connected to your own feelings and assumptions about what it means for the child to be female or male, and what the future holds in store. Despite the notion that we live in a culture where anyone can do anything, regardless of gender, we carry many differing expectations for men and women. These ideas deeply affect our views of who our children are and who they may become.
It is important for you to have as much time as you need to grieve any feelings of loss, and to talk things over with your spouse or partner, close friends and family, or a mental health professional. It is helpful to let your child know about your feelings of loss, so your teen can understand the ways in which this is a difficult adjustment for you, but it is best not to dwell on this with her or him. It is not your child’s job to help you with this loss. Other supportive adults can do that for you.
As a parent you may also worry about what others will think when they find out your child is transgender. You may be worried not only about others’ opinions about your child, but also what coworkers, neighbors and extended family will think of you. These worries are natural and understandable. But you must not let them get in the way of supporting your child and making decisions in your child’s best interests.
In general, parents inform only a small number of close friends or family members initially, while these issues are being discussed and considered. Once a decision has been made for a social transition, you can consider various options for informing others in person, by phone, by letter or email. It is important to be ready to present this new information in a positive, affirming light, stating that you and your child have come to realize something essential about his or her identity. Request that others adopt the new name, corresponding pronouns, and a respectful manner.
When you speak to friends and family, it is important to acknowledge their discomfort and let them know if you felt the same way at first. Tell them that you welcome a chance to respond to any questions or concerns they have about your child’s transition. Ask for their acceptance and support. You will see, if you have not already, that you are making a major transition as well when your child transitions.