What Transgender Kids Wish Their Parents Understood

Photo: Beatriz Vera / Shutterstock
Trans nonbinary teenager
Self

The world was a very, very different place for the trans community when I came out in October of 2009, especially for trans youth.

At 18 years old, I was considered “very young ” for someone to transition.

Now, with a growing acceptance, understanding, and more accessibility, trans youth are finding the strength to call out their own identities at younger and younger ages. Thanks to the advent of social media, trans youth can find a community of peers as well as support navigating a world that can be so incredibly cruel to them for merely existing.

As much as it fills my heart with joy to witness the continued progress of trans acceptance, news of laws across the country set on denying affirming healthcare to trans youth or denying trans children their rights is a swift kick to the chest reminding me how much farther we still have to go.

Despite our steps forward, it’s still incredibly scary to be transgender — and even more so for those who may be figuring out their truth while still living under the rules and roof of another person.

Here's what I wish my parents would have known when I came out as trans.

Coming out as trans is hard. Coming out to people who control your quality of life is even harder.

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This is what I wish my parents had been for me — and what you can be for your kids.

Do the work.

First of all, I want to be upfront and say that I’m not going to be discussing any of the standard definitions or legalities surrounding being trans in America.

Questions surrounding vocabulary, medical accessibility, and statistics can dramatically vary depending on geographical location, and there’s plenty of information already existing online.

Finding the answers to these questions are important, but they’re also incredibly easy to look up. I’m not saying “just Google it,” but I’m also not NOT saying that.

As a parent of a transgender or gender nonconforming child, I urge you to get really comfortable with the reality of having to do the occasional homework.

Be part of your child's journey.

Coming out is an excruciatingly personal experience, and you should feel honored that your child wants you to be a part of this new chapter in their life.

Many, many trans youth do not feel safe or comfortable enough to tell their family, and one of the greatest signs of love from your child is their willingness to bring you on this journey.

Your child has had their entire life to figure out who they are and If they are confident enough to come out to you but are still figuring any of the specifics out, then you can work through it together.

Your child has come out to you because they love and value you. Love and value them back.

What you're feeling is normal.

I do want to acknowledge the very real and powerful emotions you may experience when your child comes out to you. No matter how progressive or unconditionally loving you believe you are, the emotional response you have is beyond your control.

You may experience deep sadness, anger, hurt, disbelief, or even shock and horror. These reactions come from a combination of your own conditioning from years and years of social messaging.

Your own upbringing, experiences or lack thereof with the trans community, and cultural exposure are going to have a big impact on your emotional response.

For example, my mother was convinced that simply because I was trans, that meant I would contract AIDS and die. She believed that because she was functioning off of decades-old propaganda of what members of the LGBTQ+ community “were like,” and she couldn’t have been bothered to learn anything to the contrary, before or since.

But you may need to unlearn a lot of things.

Chances are, you will need to do just as much unlearning of implicit biases as you will need to educate yourself on things you genuinely don’t know.

It’s not a matter of just learning new phrases you can parrot at book clubs, it’s also a matter of dismantling stereotypes and downright lies that you’ve likely been fed.

My own father was never able to shake these unfounded feelings, and my transition meant the death of that relationship. We haven’t spoken since my transition, and that includes the day of my late brother’s funeral.

Living my truth was and will always be more important to me than whether or not someone cares to be in my life.

If you are unable to affirm your child, there is a high likelihood that your child will sever their relationship with you. And they’d be right in doing so.

If you cannot affirm your child’s identity, you do not deserve the blessing of having them in your life.

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It's not about you.

A hard truth to swallow, but perhaps one of the most necessary is that you desperately need to understand that your child being transgender isn’t about you. “What did I do to cause this?” “How could you do this to me? I wanted grandkids.” “What will people think about me?”

These are all questions my mother asked me through tears when I told her that I was transgender and wanted to transition.

As I have talked to parents of trans kids and teens in the years since, many have posed similar concerns, and maybe you do too. I understand and acknowledge that these thoughts are likely reflexive and reactionary, but these intrusive thoughts are ones that you need to keep to yourself.

It is not your trans child’s job or responsibility to hold your hand and validate you while you come to terms with this change.

What you need to do is look deep inside and take inventory as to why these thoughts (or worse ones) are in your mind.

It is so important not to center yourself because while being the parent of a trans child is tough, you will never endure the 24/7 burden of prejudice that your child will experience.

Your child needs you to advocate for them personally, socially, and yes, even politically.

Please know that this is going to take time, and this is going to be hard, but you are not alone.

Being the parent of a trans child means that you are going to have a different experience than most other parents, which can feel isolating at times, but keep in mind how your child must be feeling.

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Just as your child will have access to communities thanks to the internet, communities for parents of trans youth exist as well.

If you live in an area that has one, look into your local LGBTQ+ center for family programs. Otherwise, the internet is about to become your new best friend.

Facebook groups and online forums are plentiful and having a support system to help you navigate this new world will not only help with those feelings of isolation, but it offers you an outlet to learn new things without forcing all of the emotional labor onto your child.

Your child's transition might not look like anyone else's transition.

The trans community is not a monolith and there is no one-size-fits-all version of what a transition means or what a trans person needs to feel most comfortable with their identity.

Not every trans person’s end goal involves hormone replacement therapy or surgery. The end of the rainbow looks different for all of us and to be the most affirming parent you can possibly be, communicate with your child and let them tell you what that looks like.

Keep in mind that this goal may evolve over time, and flexibility is key. What their identity looks like may change, your love and support for them should not.

Above all else, love your child.

Tell your child that you love them. Call them by their chosen name. Honor their pronouns. Celebrate their identity. Comfort them when times are difficult.

Defend them when nosy parents or extended family members make inappropriate comments or ask invasive questions.

Use your social currency as a cis person to amplify their voice whenever possible.

Protect them in vulnerable situations.

Tell your child that you love them, and more importantly, show them that you love them.

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Harmony Colangelo is a media analyst specializing in horror, teen, and transgender cinema. Her work has been featured on Fangoria, Shudder, The AV Club, Bloody-Disgusting, The Takeout, and We Are Horror. She is also the author of the cocktail book "A Year of Queer Cocktails" and the host of the teen girl retrospective podcast This Ends at Prom.