Your son is now your daughter. Your daughter is now your son. When your child comes out to you as transgender, what do you do?
Not a phase
While gender nonconformity can be a phase, just as gender conformity can be a phase (one I am quite familiar with myself), gender identity is usually not a phase and yet — “it’s just a phase” is the most common response to coming out as transgender.
Kids who come out as transgender face rejection in a way they’ve never faced before. Why would anyone walk into that if they weren’t sure?
Amanda Jette, mother of 12-year-old MTF (male to female) Alexis, says, “No one ever questions my gender identity or asks me if it’s just a phase.” She’s right. As a straight woman, she doesn’t get questioned. In fact, a lot of actual phases people go through aren’t really questioned either. Certainly not like this.
“I would never go through a phase of thinking I was a woman trapped in a man’s body. One’s sense of gender is simply too fundamental of a feeling to be mistaken. It’s not clouded by the excitement of a sexual moment. It’s not momentary at all,” says Robert*, father to Jude*, a high school student who came out as FTM last year. “What if it is a phase? What’s the harm in providing support anyway?”
When your child comes out as transgender, a common response is that of losing the son or daughter you once had. Robert recalls the day after his son came out, looking at a picture of him as a 2-year-old child and feeling weepy like he’d lost that little girl. He recovered quickly, though, realizing that he was interpreting his son’s coming out as a switch, when really, Jude had always been transgender. “The only thing that has changed is my vision of who Jude would be, not who Jude is.”
“Just because it was a new concept for me does not mean it was new to her,” says Amanda Jette, who is raising a transgender daughter. Transgender children are no different when they come out than they were before. The conversation is different. Our understanding is different. The weight of carrying a secret alone is different for the child. The next steps in terms of medical treatment are different. But the child is exactly who that child always was.
Will my child be safe? Will our community turn away from our family? Will we be OK?
In talking with Robert about his experience raising his FTM (female to male) son, I asked him to share the hardest part of raising a transgender child, but I already knew what he would say: fear. Fear is big for all parents, as we all want nothing more than our kids to be safe and happy. Statistically, the trans community is less likely to be safe or happy. That’s terrifying.
“The trans community as a whole faces greater risks of depression, suicide, homicide, violence, drug addiction and poverty. That’s the stuff that can keep you up at night as a parent,” Amanda Jette shares. These statistics are far more horrible for transgender children who are rejected by their families.
Sam, mother of Rachel*, a 6-year-old MTF, worries about school bathrooms, pool parties and the reactions of other parents. “Today she is stealth at school, but tomorrow that could change,” she says. “Will she be accepted or will parents picket in front of the school?”
Parker Molloy told Slate, “A parent who accepts their transgender child for who they are is a hero.” A hero, indeed. Identity is complicated. Raising a transgender child challenges the identity of the child, the parents and the rest of the family. Working through it, getting the pronouns right, facing the fears and accepting these children for who they are is not only worth it, it’s necessary.
*Names changed to protect identity for Robert, Jude and Rachel.
More on transgender children
Meet a courageous transgender 5-year-old
How to handle transgender kids like a third-grader
Transgender first-grader given girls’ restroom rights