Learning that your child is transgender can elicit various emotions, such as bewilderment, sorrow, resentment, and apprehension, and will probably leave you with numerous inquiries. Will your child be secure? How will this affect your family dynamics? Unfortunately, many parents reach this ambiguous point with limited knowledge of what it means to be transgender. Educate yourself about transgender identity and learn how to assist your child in thriving. With appropriate resources and encouragement, transgender children can achieve contentment, well-being, and success in their lives.
Learn About Gender Identity and Diversity
It’s not unusual for parents of transgender children to experience persistent confusion regarding their child’s gender identity and to receive inquiries from friends, family, teachers, and acquaintances about it. GenderSpectrum.org, a non-profit organization that provides resources for “raising children who don’t neatly fit into male or female boxes,” indicates that many individuals equate “sex” (the biological categorization of male or female based on physical anatomy) with “gender” (one’s inner sense of being male or female). Society tends to associate wearing nail polish with “girl” or climbing trees with “boy” because of the rigid and simplistic view that gender is synonymous with sex.
However, gender is a multifaceted and diverse construct that should be regarded as a spectrum rather than just “boy” or “girl.” Some people firmly identify as male or female, while others position themselves somewhere on the spectrum or more closely with the opposite gender.
According to GenderSpectrum.org, a transgender individual is someone who identifies as a gender that does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. In the case of transgender children, they will progressively confirm their gender identity over time by steadfastly expressing their gender (e.g., consistently declaring “I’m a girl” from the age of 4 for many years, even if they have male genitalia) and insisting that their body is wrong or that their anatomy does not match their true self, sometimes attributing this to a divine error.
“Trans” is an acknowledged abbreviation for “transgender.” For example, a “transgirl” refers to a person who was born with male genitalia but identifies as female, while a “transboy” identifies as male despite being born with female genitalia. “Genderqueer” describes a person who identifies as neither exclusively male nor female. “Transsexual” is an outdated term for transgender and is being substituted as it is deemed excessively clinical.
On the other hand, a gender-nonconforming individual is someone whose conduct and interests, such as clothing and playthings, do not align with societal expectations based on their biological sex. While gender-nonconforming children are less emphatic than transgender children when expressing their gender identity, they will obstinately affirm their preferences for toys, clothing, and activities regardless of their assigned gender, as stated by GenderSpectrum.org. To learn more about distinguishing between transgender and gender-nonconforming children, potential outcomes, and the tailored support that your child may require, refer to The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals.
Although transgender individuals are considered members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community, gender identity, and sexual orientation are distinct from one another. Transgender children have the potential to grow up identifying as straight, gay, or bisexual, just like any other individual.
Give Your Child Freedom to Explore Gender
Regardless of your child’s age, it’s essential to allow them the time and opportunity to express their gender freely. Determining whether your child is transgender or not may be a straightforward or quick process, and there is no predetermined course of action. As family psychotherapist Jean Malpas suggests to The Atlantic, it’s vital to refrain from holding your child back or pushing them forward before they have determined their identity.
Instead, it’s best to let your child display their perception of themselves and the person they are evolving into. If it’s feasible and acceptable for everyone in the household, permit your child to select the clothing they prefer and the toys they want to play with.
Between the ages of 2 and 4, most children have a sense of their gender identity and will declare themselves as either a boy or a girl. However, suppose your young child persistently and consistently expresses a gender identity that is different from their biological sex. In that case, taking them seriously is important as avoiding dismissing their behavior as confusion or a phase.
Research shows that gender identity is “hardwired” in the brain and is not a mental or physical illness, nor is it influenced by parenting styles or life events such as divorce. Therefore, it’s essential to give your child the space and support they need to express their gender identity authentically.
It’s up to your transgender child to decide whether they want to transition, which involves living outwardly according to their gender identity, including their preferred clothing style, hairstyle, name, and pronouns. The decision to transition is a personal one and should be respected and supported by family and loved ones.
Build a Team for Your Child
Suppose you suspect or know that your child is transgender. In that case, it’s important to seek guidance from qualified professionals, such as a pediatrician or therapist, who affirm your child’s gender identity and won’t try to change it. Many transgender people experience emotional distress and depression due to societal pressures and discrimination, and this can occur at any age.
In some cases, a doctor may diagnose a person with gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder (GID) when their feelings about their gender become clinically significant. While gender identity is not a disorder, this diagnosis can help provide access to healthcare and support aimed at helping transgender individuals. In addition, qualified healthcare professionals can guide you on how to support your child’s transition to their true gender identity using internationally recognized protocols developed by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
To support your child who is transgender, it’s important to seek out allies within your family, school, and community. You can encourage those in your child’s life to read resources such as The Transgender Child. It’s also crucial to ask everyone who is aware of your child’s transgender identity or transition to maintain complete confidentiality, as this protects your child from bullying and emotional or physical harm.
Show Unconditional Love and Support
Children who identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming often face significant challenges ahead, including potential mistreatment by their peers, school, relatives, and society at large. What they need most is unwavering love and support from their parents and family. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, but it’s important to remain calm, patient, and attentive to your child’s needs.
Avoid projecting your emotions onto your child, who may already be struggling or experiencing depression. Research has demonstrated that children are happier and healthier when their parents support their gender expression. As one parent stated in a CNN video on transgender youth, “My advice to you is to love your children, try to understand them and be on their side because it’s tough fighting that battle alone.” In addition, it is important to seek out allies within your family, school, and community who can provide support and understanding. Finally, encourage those in your child’s life to read resources like The Transgender Child and emphasize the importance of maintaining confidentiality to protect your child from bullying and emotional or physical harm.
Lambda Legal, an organization that advocates for the civil rights of LGBTQ people, has reported that transgender youth face a high risk of depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts due to their struggle with gender identity. Moreover, a lack of parental support can lead to homelessness for many of these young people. Given these high stakes, more and more parents are choosing to offer unconditional love and support to their transgender children.
Once you commit to accepting and supporting your child’s gender identity, you may feel a sense of relief and freedom.
Protect Your Child’s Rights and Safety
Unfortunately, a large number of transgender children are subjected to taunting, harassment, or violence. According to Lambda Legal, numerous transgender youth quit school due to mistreatment by both their peers and adults. It is essential to monitor your child closely for indications of bullying and frequently communicate with your child’s teachers about their treatment and conduct in school.
Urge your child’s school to adopt a zero-tolerance stance towards teasing and bullying and encourage students to sign an anti-bullying pledge.
Familiarize yourself with the anti-bullying, cyberbullying, and gender-related harassment laws in your state. Regardless of your location in the United States, your child is entitled to equal protection under the law, as stipulated by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Moreover, transgender children have the right to demand that their school and community address them by their preferred name and pronoun.
To protect their child from scrutiny, some parents may opt to switch schools to more diverse and accepting communities after their child transitions gender-wise. Lambda Legal emphasizes the importance of placing transgender or gender-nonconforming youth in schools that affirm their identities. Advocacy on behalf of these youth may be necessary to ensure that their gender identity is respected.
It is crucial to work with school staff to address concerns regarding names and pronouns, clothing and grooming options, as well as bathroom and locker room use. Schools should accommodate children using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and provide access to private, single-user bathrooms and changing areas if needed. If you suspect that your child has faced discrimination, you can seek assistance.
Find Transgender Support Groups and Resources
Research has indicated that parental coaching, parent support groups, and family therapy can be beneficial in assisting families with a transgender child’s transition and needs. According to TransActive Gender Center, it is common for parents and family members to experience feelings of grief and confusion about “losing their son” or “losing their daughter” due to their child’s gender identity and expression. It is important to seek counseling to manage these emotions.
Family and friends may also require education to understand and accept the child’s gender identity and the decision to transition. Providing them with educational resources can be helpful.
Here are some additional resources that can help support families of transgender children:
- Gender Diversity: a Seattle-based organization that offers teleconference family support groups
- Gender Odyssey: a YouTube channel for families of transgender children
- Trans Advocacy Network: an alliance of transgender organizations that work at the state and local level
- TransActive Gender Center: an organization that provides counseling, support groups, and other services to empower transgender and gender-nonconforming youth and their families
- TransEquality: an advocacy organization focused on advancing the equality of transgender people
- TransYouth Family Allies: an organization working to empower trans youth and families by partnering with educators, service providers, and communities
- Gender Spectrum: an organization that provides education, training, and support to create a gender-sensitive and inclusive environment for all children
- Human Rights Campaign: the largest civil rights organization working toward equality for LGBT Americans
- GLAAD: an LGBT equality organization that monitors and shapes media coverage to create positive change for gay and transgender people
- PFLAG: an organization of parents, families, friends, and allies of LGBT people committed to advancing equality and support
- Advice on supporting a child who is transitioning
- Tips on finding a therapist who is transgender-friendly
- Recommended books for transgender teens.