Many transgender children struggle with their identity and development, while parents struggle with readily giving acceptance and support. Family support and validation of their gender identity is the most critical thing a transgender child needs to be confident and grow. Without this support, transgender children can suffer from depression and mental health problems that put their health and well-being at risk.
The following are important ways you can love and support your transgender children.
- Love them for who they are. There is nothing in the process of transitioning that is easy for teenagers; they have so many outside influences and social forces pulling at them at all times, and one of their fears most is losing a parent’s love and acceptance. Personal insecurities can lead to mental health and substance abuse issues, which is why it is of paramount importance that they have a safe environment to come home to. Love them, listen to them, and make sure they feel supported, safe and comfortable in their own home at all times. The unconditional love and support from family will allow an easier transition for everyone. It is okay to share with them that you may be having a hard time as well and that you are in this together.
- Take it slow. Social transitioning does not need to be rushed. If you think your child may be transgender, seek the advice of someone experienced in trans patient care. Resources and providers that work with the transgender community will be essential. Keep in mind that many physicians have little or no experience with this special niche in teenager or early childhood development, so take the time and work to find someone experienced. Appropriate health professionals will be able to guide you through connecting with your local LGTBQ center for resources and providers that work with the local transgender community.
- Consider their family-building future. Although they don’t want to have a family now, they may at some point and you can help secure their future family. Many gay or transgender persons feel that if they come out or transition that they will never have children of their own. Your help thinking through their family-building options will give them the security that if they choose to have a family some day, that door will remain open. For trans persons hormone suppressive therapy can affect their future family building. To preserve their fertility options, they may want to consider cryopreserving their sperm or their eggs for future use. This is a medically sound, well worked-out process. Helping them think about their future and supporting them in their present will let them know how firmly you are there for them. Your emotional, and possibly financial support, is a huge part of the overall acceptance you will be giving them.
- Understand the statistics. The suicide rates for transgender children are high. Suicidal thoughts develop from lack of acceptance and understanding, and a large part of this comes from their family. Transgender children who struggle with transitioning without the family support also suffer from high rates of homelessness because many are rejected by their own nuclear family. You want to make sure that they know that you want them to be alive and love them for who they are. Remember that when any child is born we cannot predict who this child will become, but that should not change how much you love and care for your child.
- You have the right to be confused. Most parents feel responsible, but the literature does not support that there is anything you did or are responsible for that led your child to be who they are. You can’t program who your child will become so the open line of communication between you and your child is critical. It is okay to say that you don’t fully understand, but it is very important that you tell them that you support them no matter what.
- Embrace and educate. In addition to embracing your child for who they are, the ability to show your child role models will play an integral part in their own acceptance of social transitioning. Some great examples of well known transgender people include:
- Laverne Cox – Well known actress and LGBTQ+ advocate. She is well known for her starring role on the hit Netflix series Orange Is The New Black.
- Caitlyn Jenner – Caitlyn Jenner is a television personality and retired Olympic gold medal–winning decathlete. She is well known for her public transition, much of which was documented on the TV series Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
- Chaz Bono – Chaz Bono is an actor, writer, and musician. His parents are entertainers Sonny Bono and Cher.
- Jazz Jennings – Jazz Jennings is the youngest person to become a national transgender figure. She and her family are featured in the reality series I Am Jazz.
- Janet Mock – Janet Mock is a television host, writer, director and transgender activist. Her memoir Redefining Realness was a New York Times bestseller.
- Know where to turn. Find the closest LGBTQ organization and someone in the community who can be a sounding board. The nearest LGBTQ center may have a social worker, staff member, or volunteer who can be a great help to you and your family. There are also many community centers that offer trans counseling groups for teens. National organizations that can help include PFLAG.org (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a great resource for parents and families that could point you in the right direction to finding local resources as well as providing ways for you to be involved in advocacy in your area. For kids, GLSEN.org (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) is a youth awareness and education organization working to create safe schools for all children. They offer student clubs, safe kits, and lots of programs for kids K-12 to get involved in.
Written by Dr. Mark Leondires