In June, my 19-year-old left home in the middle of the night and drove 14 hours from St. Louis to Virginia Beach to be with a 28-year-old man (the two had met online). A week later, after a lot of panic and tears from my husband and me and some frank talk all around, my child came home — and announced plans to transition from male (the sex that was assigned my child at birth) to female. Our drum-playing, car-loving, video-gaming “son” was actually our daughter. Mom and Dad, meet Jasmine. It was the biggest parenting curveball of all time: My child is transgender. The child I had adopted at age 3, whom I had known and loved for 16 years, was not who I thought they were at all.
My two immediate thoughts were: “How could I not have guessed this?” and “So that’s why we’ve been struggling with anxiety, depression, isolation and anger since middle school.”
As a child, my daughter was a rough-and-tumble, sports-loving “boy.” There were no explorations of gender identity — not that my husband or I saw, at least. But when puberty hit, she realized she was different. The other boys wanted to date a girl, and she wanted to be one. She pushed these feelings down because she thought if anyone knew, she would be unloved and abandoned. So instead, she doubled down on boy-ness. She attended an all-boys high school, played football and grew a beard. I didn’t see her gender because she kept it secret — locked away.
When you believe something about you is so flawed that no one could possibly know and still love you? That takes its toll. For Jasmine, that looked like years of slowly moving away from all that she loved: sports, music, friends. Now, I understand why she never went to dances or on dates and never had many close friends. If you’re terrified to share the truth of who you are, of course you’re going to become more and more isolated.
When Jazz came out as a transgender woman, everything got better. Her relationship with me and my husband is much stronger. And all those years of not being able to figure out what exactly was causing her to struggle so much? They just melted away.
Not that we didn’t have awkward times. When Jazz came home as Jazz, she was nervous about being “out” in public, and I was nervous too. She asked me for advice. Me?
“Honestly,” I said, “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out together.”
We went shopping for clothes. I found a transgender makeup class at Sephora that she could take. Jazz has also told me she appreciates an introduction. She wants people to know about her, and she’s excited to finally be who she is. So: “This is my daughter, Jazz,” I tell people. “She’s transgender and just came out.”
Back when Jazz drove to Virginia Beach and sent me a text that read, “I am a woman in love with a man,” I could have reacted in several ways. I could have reacted in some awful ways. But instead, I chose acceptance — and it made all the difference.
If your child or someone else’s comes out to you as transgender, here’s how you can choose acceptance too.
Accept the declaration & take baby steps
Joni Stacy, cofounder of Academy LGBTQ, tells SheKnows that small adjustments can make a big difference. “You don’t go from coming out one day to being in a gay pride parade tomorrow. You get time to adjust, and small changes over time make a big difference.” Transgender youth need love and acceptance and will seek it wherever they can — even if those who accept them are involved in risky or illegal behavior. So why not accept them yourself, where they are? When we show acceptance, we are creating a safe, supportive space for them to avoid those risky behaviors.
Support your child — it’s their greatest chance for success
When loved ones find out that a young person is transgender or nonbinary, many are deeply fearful for their child’s health and safety. But guess what’s the best predictor of a trans or nonbinary person’s continued health and safety: clear and consistent parental support is.
Kelly Storck, licensed clinical social worker and author of The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are (and who also happens to be Jazz’s therapist), tells SheKnows that trans kids who have full, clear and consistent parental support perform better on all measures of well-being — and markedly better than kids who have somewhat supportive or unsupportive parents. “This means you have the greatest power to influence the health and safety of your child, and it all starts with love and acceptance,” she adds.
Don’t expect to have all the answers
Because kids don’t expect you to. What they do expect is for you to walk with them to find those answers — even if it’s just to Sephora.
Expect to make mistakes
Sometimes, my husband and I would mess up our daughter’s name or pronoun by accident. But as long as we self-corrected, she was OK with it; Jazz knew we were trying. “Kids have a sixth sense about your intention,” Stacy explains. “As long as you are honestly trying, they will respond.”
Realize that this is good news
Although parts of a child’s transition process may prove difficult, their coming out should be seen as a positive. Storck says, “Having a child who understands the importance of being true to who they are — and who trusts you enough to share deeply personal and often risky information — is an honor. Do your best to treat it as such by thanking them for sharing and providing them with support and affirmation in many forms.”
We had a “re-birthday party” for Jazz on her 20th birthday to celebrate her true identity and to visibly demonstrate our acceptance. What your child needs, of course, may be entirely different — so just focus on their needs and let them take the lead.
No child experiences gender in a vacuum, and children aren’t the only ones who transition; families do, emphasizes Storck. Her book offers tools to help your child thrive in all aspects of life and help you as a parent grow in understanding and support.
Stacy also uses the Family Acceptance Project as a resource for education, and websites such as The Genderbread Person can help in your understanding too. “Having a universal language to start from is the first step,” said Stacy.
Here are some other books Storck recommends on the topic:
- The Gender Quest Workbook: A Guide for Teens and Young Adults Exploring Gender Identity
- Gender Creative Child
- Helping Your Transgender Teen
- The Transgender Child or The Transgender Teen
I say that this experience is akin to buying a new car. You didn’t notice the car until you owned one, and then suddenly, you start seeing it everywhere. I didn’t think I knew any transgender people until Jazz came out, and now we have a whole network. We have been welcomed into an amazing local “family” here in St. Louis. And if you’re on the lookout for your own family, there are plenty of resources to help connect you:
Jazz is so happy now, and the past few months of her life have been her best yet. We never saw this coming, and yet we are glad we’re here. Of course our daughter has struggles ahead of her, but don’t we all? And now, she gets to face those obstacles as her true self — with the love and support of her family.