Children are not born knowing what it means to be a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’, they learn it. But, no two experiences of gender identity development are alike. For some, understanding their gender identity is a complex process that can last well into adolescence and adulthood. Many individuals feel their gender does not exist in a binary: boy or girl. Gender is more of a spectrum where individuals can express varying degrees of both masculinity and femininity. People who identify as Transgender identify their gender differently than the gender they were assigned with at birth, but may identify anywhere along the spectrum of gender identity.
My Child is Telling Me That They Are Transgender. Now What?
It is very normal for parents or caregivers to experience a range of emotions during this time. You might wonder if your child is going through an experimental phase, or if they are confused. Some may feel a deep loss of the child they once knew. Others may feel confusion and shock, that there was no ‘sign’ that led their family to believe that their child identified as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. However, your child did not choose to be transgender just as no one chooses to be ‘male’ or female’. Your child is still the same person at heart. Try to take this new information as an opportunity to learn more about your child.
Why Is My Support So Important?
No matter when someone chooses to ‘come out’, knowing they have your support is critical to their well-being. Research tells us that 60% of transgender youth who do not have supportive parents consider suicide and approximately 57% of them will actually attempt to end their life. However, in youth who have supportive parents and family, only 4% attempt suicide- a rate that is 93% lower compared to youth who lack support. In fact, youth with supportive parents were also significantly more likely to not face homelessness and depression, to have better self-esteem and reported that they were more satisfied with their lives.
How Can I Best Support My Child?
- When your child discloses to you that they identify as transgender, the best thing you can do is to reassure them that you love them and that you will continue to support them as best as you can. It takes a lot of strength and bravery for someone to speak their truth. It is likely that your child has been thinking about their gender identity for quite some time and that they have been considering and working towards coming out to you. They have likely already considered the potential rejection they might face by doing this. Your support and encouragement can make the biggest difference in helping them to thrive and lead a happier life.
- Ask them questions about how they identify and what they need to feel themselves and be comfortable. Do your best to use their preferred name and pronouns. Try not to make assumptions about how they should look or feel or what steps they need to take in their transition journey. This journey is unique for every person and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to be trans.
- Truly accepting your child’s trans identity may challenge everything you thought about gender as well as your own personal values and beliefs. You might be afraid for your child and for their future. Many parents will experience a wide range of emotions during this time, from grief to confusion, to disappointment, guilt, joy and acceptance. Know that you are not alone and that it is okay to feel these emotions. It is important to take care of you too. Having your own space to explore these feelings can be very helpful in order to support your child in their journey of truly becoming themselves. There are a number of resources for parents of trans kids that you may want to access.
As much as this is a journey for your child, it is also one for you and your family and perhaps even an opportunity to bring you closer. It may not always be easy. Know you haven’t done anything wrong. Take it one day at a time. The more you learn and the more you see your child happy to be living as their authentic self, the more peace and comfort you will begin to feel.