By Kristen C. Dew, LMFT, CST
As International Trans Week of Visibility wraps up, I am reflecting on our services and am so proud to be the owner of a therapy practice that helps the trans community.
I thought today I would write a post on a couple of really common questions that have been coming up lately. These answers are not thorough, and seeing a therapist who specializes in gender to help with your family’s unique concerns is your best bet for support.
My Child is Saying They are Transgender or Non-binary. What Does That Mean?
At birth everyone is assigned a sex, Male or Female. Assigned Gender or Sex At Birth (AGAB/ASAB) does not always align with how people feel. Sex is biological, and still there is great variation to how biology presents itself- it’s not as straight forward as you may think. Gender on the other hand is a social construct- we are socialized to behave in ways that align with our society’s expectations for what is “male” or “female”. Some folks realize their assigned gender does not fit with who they are, and those people are transgender. You can learn more about transgender identities HERE. Some folks realize that they are both genders, their gender changes, or they do not align with any gender and those people identify somewhere on the Non-Binary spectrum. There are many NBi (Non-Binary) identities such as agender, genderfluid, genderqueer, or bigender and you can learn more HERE at the Non-Binary Wiki page. Gender is very unique to each person, so there is no way to know exactly what it means for your child unless you talk with them compassionately and non-judgmentally.
As a Parent, How do I Respond When My Child Wants to Talk About Their Gender?
First, get support for yourself from someone who understands all of this stuff. It is normal for parents to have a variety of reactions to hearing from their child that they are trans, non-binary, or questioning their gender. You may feel compassion, empathy, warm fuzzies, and closeness from being trusted by your child, but also confusion, uncertainty, frustration, disbelief, fear, or grief. Your child may want to change how they look, their name, and their pronouns. They may change these things more than once. It is certainly a lot to manage as a parent. You are your child’s #1 support team and it could mean a much higher rate of adjustment and well-being for your child if you are able to be affirming and supportive through this process. Tell your child that you love and accept them as they are and affirm how they see themselves by using their chosen name and pronouns. Tell them you will work on being affirming, and talk to your therapist or support group about how you are thinking and feeling.
What if my Child is Just Confused or this is a Phase?
Whether your child is questioning their gender and/or sexuality or seems quite sure of it, it is very important to be supportive and affirming. Research has shown that many LGBTQ* youth know from a young age what their identities are, but are afraid to come out from fear of reactions from others. Many individuals take time to come to understand how they truly feel and who they are, and as they discover more words to describe their identity their language and presentation may change over time. That is perfectly ok and healthy! Trust that your child knows how they feel and figure out how to be supportive. It is very scary to come out and risk not being accepted, which can often be mistaken as confusion or uncertainty. You will never harm your child or mislead them by supporting and affirming them.
Where Can I Get More Information?
- Join a support group for parents, friends, and allies of LGBTQ* people
- PFLAG Meeting: https://pflag.org/find-a-chapter
- A Facebook Support Group can be a GREAT resource! Check out Transgender/Parents/Family Support Group or Parents of Transgender Kids
- Triangle Community Center
- Growth Therapy is working on a parent support group – check the services page for more information!
- Find a local therapist who can listen and respond to your concerns. Make sure to ask them about their credentials and training with LGBTQ* folks
- Good Websites for Information
- The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals or The Transgender Teen by Stephanie A. Brill and Rachel Pepper
- The Gender Creative Child by Diane Ehrensaft, PhD