Parent of a Trans Youth? What You Should Know
Adapted from Families in TRANSition: A Resource Guide for Parents of Trans Youth created for Central Toronto Youth Services
Other parents who have been there really want you to know…
1. You and your child are not alone
Although there are no solid statistics, researchers estimate one in 1000 people are born feeling that the sex of his or her body (how it looks on the outside) and gender (how he or she feels on the inside) are different (Roughgarden, 2004).
2. Being trans is not the same as being gay
The word “transsexuality” sounds like something related to sexuality, but it’s not. Sexual orientation and sexual identity are terms used to describe who we are attracted to and who we love.
Heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and bisexual are words you are probably familiar with. They describe sexual orientations. We all have a sexual orientation, Trans people included.
We all also have a gender identity – the inner feeling that we are a man or a woman, that we are masculine or feminine, or perhaps somewhere on a “continuum” between masculine and feminine.
Being transgender or transsexual is about gender identity. For Trans people, their bodies do not match their inner experience of gender. See MyGSA’s Terms & Concepts section for further definitions.
3. Parents don’t “make” a child Trans
That’s not how it works. Be proud your child is brave and honest enough to embark on this scary and necessary process – and trusts you enough to tell you about it. You have done well. Your relationship with your child has an opportunity to become closer, more trusting and loving through this process.
4. Allow your child to set the pace
Your child likely waited a long time before telling you about this. They may have done so now because the need to live how they truly are has become too difficult to hide. There won’t ever be a “perfect” time for your child to come out publicly. So, as much as possible, let your child set the pace.
5. Listen to your child
Trans youth are often afraid too – of rejection or how their lives might change. But they have ideas about what makes them comfortable, how they want to look, and what they want to be called. They may open up to a parent when still deciding things for themselves. Listen to what your child says about their own needs. Be careful not to make assumptions or decisions about who your child will become or what steps they’ll take. There are no rules – every child is different.
6. Don’t let fear hold you or your child back
All your child’s dreams are still possible– finishing school, getting a good job, finding someone to love, having a family. Some extra planning or precautions may be necessary, but anything is possible.
7. Your child is taking important steps toward being happier and healthier
You may not notice it right away, but as time passes you will see your child become happier, more comfortable, more at ease. Life is much more difficult and stressful when pretending to be someone you’re not. The serious distress many Trans youth feel about their bodies begins to resolve itself during transition. It might seem a bit unrealistic right now, but down the road you may even appreciate this experience. You may learn more about your child, about gender, and about the world. You may meet other families struggling with these same issues, and create deep bonds with them. Few things bring us as close as being “outsiders” together. No doubt some of what you learn will anger or sadden you – but some will be illuminating and perhaps even inspiring.
8. Your struggles are different from your child’s struggles, but your struggles are real too
The child you know is still with you, but different. You may need to grieve the loss of a son or daughter before you can truly welcome a new daughter or son into your life. Let yourself do this. It’s also possible your child does not clearly identify as female or male, and that can be confusing and disorienting in its own right. These feelings are natural. Be patient with yourself as you move through them. Your child will be aware this is how you are feeling even though you may seldom say so directly. Pretending otherwise neither helps nor builds trust.
Whatever reassurance you can honestly offer your child will help both of you. “This is a lot for me to take in, but I know we can get through this together. I love you no matter what.” might be enough. Try not to overwhelm your child with negative feelings. Whenever you can, share any hurt, fear, or disappointment with other adults – especially those who are going through similar experiences. Reassure your child (and yourself) that you will eventually find your way through to loving your new daughter, son, or gender-independent child with all your heart.
9. Know that the world isn’t going to end
Life goes on. What may seem like an end of one kind can also be the beginning of another. You and your child will find that a lot of life continues the same. While some people may be judgmental, you will also find support in unexpected places. There is acceptance in the world that you might not have known about before.
10. You’ll find helpful information and support
There are many wonderful people and sources of information that can support you and your child as you come to understand more about this issue. Hundreds of websites are dedicated to assisting Trans youth and adults, and most major cities have groups that meet regularly. Check out the MyGSA.ca Resource section for local listings.