I have a 10 year old transgender son who has been out for almost 2 years now.
Everything and nothing has changed within that time.
He hasn’t changed much at all, aside from being a happier, more well adjusted child, yet everything about me- my thinking, my beliefs, my circle of friends, my priorities- everything has changed for me.
They say that when your trans child transitions, the parents transition, too. And those words are so very, very true.
The caterpillar to the butterfly analogy certainly applies to our kids, as they become themselves within this amazing, beautiful journey. Their wings spread far and wide.
And we, as affirming parents of trans kids, fly right behind them, finding our own wings, navigating a new path with so many unknowns in the beginning of the journey.
There’s so much I wish I knew a few years ago and I hope that imparting these key points will assist other parents who might be new here.
Here’s what I wish I knew:
1. That Trans Kids Exist
And that it was even possible that my kid was one.
I knew that transgender adults existed, mostly thanks to visible folks such as Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono, so it sounds silly in my own brain now that I didn’t realize that trans kids existed. If they’re trans as adults, it’s quite obvious to me that they were trans kids. I know this now.
But, like many of us, I was confusing gender identity with sexuality or sexual orientation, therefore, I was certain that being trans was something one would realize when they’re older, maybe teen years, maybe young adulthood, which is when we muddle through our sexuality. After all, Chaz was an adult when he came out, as was Laverne and Caitlyn Jenner, even.
Jazz Jennings was the only trans child visible and I knew very little of her story. Truth be told, I didn’t want to know her story because I judged her parents for encouraging her young transition.
Yes. I was one of those folks who thought this way. I didn’t understand how this works. So, I parented this way, rooted in my ignorance.
I simply didn’t know that trans kids existed because I didn’t inform myself. I wasn’t listening to others lived experiences. I wasn’t believing them.
Trans kids exist.
Trans adults were trans kids.
They just conformed to what was expected of them. Societal norms are one hell of a mute button.
2. That The “Wait and See” Approach Is Harmful
When my child began displaying non-gender conforming preferences at the age of 2-3, I followed his lead in the sense of “allowing” him to dress in boys clothes and play with boy toys, and eventually even caved to the boy hair cut at 6, but I fully dismissed him as he begged to change his name to a boy’s name, as he imaginary player as the male character, as he drew himself as male.
I would respond to him by saying, “we will talk about this when you’re older”, and shut him down.
What I know now is that I was soaking him in shame.
I was perpetuating bad information about gender that we’ve all been given.
Kids have a concept of their gender by the time they’re 3, (often times even before the age of 3 but prior to that, they done have the language yet). This is a fact.
None of us cisgender (non trans) folks waited until we were adults to identify as the gender we are. Neither should our trans kids. Because they know themselves.
It’s quite simple. We just need to listen.
And the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, as does every other major medical association.
I hear often from parents of older trans kids (teens and young adults) that I’m fortunate that my child came out so young. I didn’t understand why I would hear this so often at first, but now I do.
Had I have listened harder, sooner, I would have saved my son quite a bit of pain. And some parents don’t listen, don’t hear, don’t even see it coming at all because their trans kids don’t even trust them with the information, soaking their kids in shame for years and years, when there’s then so much unraveling and unpacking to do by the time they come out. (And yes, some trans folks don’t figure this out about themselves until they’re older, which is just as valid as knowing from a young age!).
To “wait and see” is such an insidious thing to do and needs caution.
The sooner transgender kids are affirmed, the easier their journey will be. Full stop.
Does that mean that every kid that gender bends is trans? Absolutely not.
But when they’re consistent and persistent about how they identify- believe them. They know.
3. That It’s Necessary to Cleanse Family and Friends Out
When my son came out, we knew we’d lose some family and friends, and we did.
And that’s totally ok.
Actually, it’s better than ok- it’s necessary.
When your young child comes out as trans, it’s a way of taking the trash out of your lives.
Not everyone will understand this journey, of course, but not everyone will even try to understand. And those people need to get packing and move along.
We were humbled by the love and support we received. It was amazing. And it came from the most unexpected places at times.
There’s a giant difference between tolerance and acceptance, though.
In the beginning of this journey, tolerance was welcomed. We were just glad people weren’t being outwardly terrible to us.
A few months in, I realized that tolerance actually felt pretty terrible. It was that feeling similar to when you’re in high school when you’re talking to the cool group of friends, but you know when you walk away, they’re shit-talking you.
That’s how our daily lives began to feel when my son came out. And it didn’t feel good. At all.
Now, we only allow acceptance into our lives, because this isn’t an “agreed to disagree” situation. Affirming my child was live saving. Affirming trans kids is suicide prevention.
So, we say “no thanks” to those who are merely tolerating us.
Ask questions, learn, research, read, educate yourselves. I need my son to know that he’s fully and wholeheartedly loved. He needs to go through life with this confidence so he can weed out the terrible people immediately and only surround himself with goodness. No excuses. Religion isn’t an excuse, uninformed bigotry isn’t an excuse. None of the “but that person is my aunt, uncle, best friend”, etc. type of talk. Toxic is toxic and we move on from those folks.
Be a true ally… or we don’t have a lotta space for you.
4. That There’s a Beautiful Community On the Other Side
I was terrified when my son came out because I was scared to be alone, despite the loving, accepting people in our lives. I wanted to connect to other parents in the LGBTQ+ community, walking a similar path, so naturally, I went to social media.
No, really. True story.
I found so many of our people there.
From private Facebook groups, to Instagram influencers, to Twitter handles- there’s a giant, affirming, amazing community of beautiful, colorful people that I’ve bonded with. The support we’ve found here has been so incredible, inspiring, and necessary.
We’ve built a community of support locally, too, by finding our local LGBTQ+ youth center.
All of these folks are our new, chosen, extended family.
And we are so grateful for every human in this community.
5. That Being Apolitical Was a Privilege
I was never overly political. Because I didn’t have to be.
I dipped in and out of social justice, I randomly volunteered, I voted- sometimes a Republican ticket, sometimes a Democratic- with that “fiscally conservative” mindset at times. I loved President Obama and voted for him both times, I cried when marriage equality was finally passed, I made fun of how clueless George W. was, although I did vote for him when he ran against Kerry.
I was all over the political spectrum, and often times apolitical.
Because I had the privilege to be apolitical.
Most policies didn’t affect me directly, so I was able to shrug my shoulders quite often.
This is one of my biggest regrets in life, honestly. I wish I was there for the fight more consistently long ago. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I made far too many assumptions.
Everything in politics matters to me. Obviously, with this administration constantly attacking LGBTQ+ rights, that’s my focus of activism, but politics is clearly intersectional. And it matters to be involved in all aspects, to understand policy, to understand the way our government works, how decisions are made, how to fight for the rights of all marginalized folks.
Being political when you have a trans kid is necessary. Because equality has become a political issue, unfortunately. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
My “political agenda” is to achieve equality and equity for all oppressed communities. My political agenda is to promote kindness, understanding, and fair treatment.
And there’s so much work to do.
6. That There’s Resources
I felt like I was a minnow in this giant ocean when my child came out. I felt like we were the only ones going through this.
We needed emotional support, but we also needed resources.
Thank sweet goddesses for the internet.
American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical organizations such as WPATH.
National Center for Trans Equality.
LGBTQ+ Youth Centers.
Local support groups.
Documentaries, such as Gender Revolution.
Private social media groups.
Visible trans folks, such as Alok, Jacob Tobia, Aiden Dowling, and so on.
Other visible parents of trans kids, such as Debi Jackson, Mimi Lemay, Vanessa Ford, Amber Briggle, Jeanne Talbot, Jodi Peterson, Amanda Knox, (and so many more, many who have written books!).
So many resources. I dove in, reading, researching, watching, listening. Reading personal stories and listening to trans folks was the most impactful resource to me. Connecting to other parents of younger trans kids was a close second.
Priceless resources that I was able to alarm myself with, knock down my own biases, my own hangups.
I was able to take a giant, deep breath after I connected to these resources.
7. That it’s All Going to Be OK
I once wrote a piece about being terrified that my kid my be trans. And I was. So terrified.
Because of all of the hate and misinformation that exists in the world. Because of all of the horrible, scary statistics about trans youth’s emotional health. Because of bullying. Because fighting for equality is hard.
And it was so overwhelming and scary.
But once we leaped, we never looked back.
Because once he was OK, once he was happy, healthy, and his wings soared, it was all OK. His smile, his new demeanor, his new self, a child I never met before, showed me that this was all OK.
This was all so worth it. This was all so…beautiful.
Everything else became secondary, pretty irrelevant, actually.
It’s such a gift to parent a transgender child. It’s such an education, such a journey.
I’ve come such a long way. And I’m honored to have my son be my teacher.
I’m such a better person for it.
I’m thankful every single day that I was chosen.
5 thoughts on “What I Wish I Knew Before My Child Came Out As Transgender”
Thank you for your posts. You are truly helping me get started on a path that I’m not sure I’m ready for but will definitely need to take. Your experience and honesty is very comforting.
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As a Grandparent of a transgender child, I thank you for your beautiful article. It is an incredible testimony of true unconditional love that has deeply touched my heart.
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My child is in the process of transitioning. She wanted to let her dad and I know that changes were coming and that my son was changing to my daughter and that her wife was working with her to help. Thank you for your insights. I am still working thru this. I want to be as supportive as possible.
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Melinda, I just want to send you some love & hope that you find other parents who can relate to all you are experiencing and feeling. To help you & be there for you on your own path. ❤️
Whatever you are feeling, I promise you that you are not alone, and that other people have been there when their kid came out to them.
I have several people in my family who are trans. My spouse (I’ll call her Sara), over a decade into our marriage, was the first one to come out to me.
While I got to hear and understand what it meant to her, and couldn’t help but support her, her mother couldn’t wrap her head or heart around it at first, and it was a hard time for everyone.
My spouse, Sara, ended up not transitioning then; she felt like she would loose her relationship with her parents, her job, her ability to support our family, and be isolated and treated badly & never be allowed to be accepted as herself. That was a very dark time for her.
Then our oldest kid came out to me. I felt like I was holding on by the seat of my pants!
My kid ended up going back in the closet, too. After all, she heard and saw what grandma had said, how she had reacted to Sara…my kid saw her own parent decide that it wasn’t safe to be out or transition.
And me (her other parent trying to be supportive), was still trying to “wait & see” if my kid would be persistent, because I wanted to make *sure* it was really the right thing for her, because I was scared, and unsure of what was right for her.
My daughter buried it, but after trying that for a number of years, realized she wasn’t happy that way. She talked about it a bit again, but was still afraid to come out.
Then we get a call from my spouse’s sibling (I’ll call her Terri) & Terri’s wife. They had something big to tell us, could we find somewhere quiet to sit down?
Now, Terri & wife had no idea about my spouse Sara, or my kid, being trans. That was still under wraps. After my spouse, Sara, told her parents, and it didn’t go well, my spouse didn’t tell another soul, for years.
Until that day we get a call from Terri & wife, and they tell us that Terri is transgender…that Terri had struggled with it life-long, not telling a soul, but had gotten to a bad place, and finally told her wife, instead of writing a suicide note. That they hoped we would understand.
And that is when Sara told them that she, too, was trans, and had been struggling with the same things.
You could say it was one of the most surprising conversations, full of surprising revelations, any of the 4 of us have ever had. Two siblings, growing up together, both of them trans, not knowing the other one was, until this moment, well into their middle age. Both afraid that they would loose their relationship with their sibling if they ever came out. Neither had any idea about the other. (None of us had any idea about either of them, until they came out…it was buried deep & hidden like their lives depended on it.)
Terri transitioned quickly, with the support of her wife & kids. We worked hard at getting my mother-in-law the support she needed, who finally agreed to join and attend the support groups for parents of adult transgender kids. It was a rough road for her…there were tears, many sleepless nights, depression & crying, there were hard conversations…but she eventually found her way home again, back to a relationship with her children (and grandchild) that for awhile she thought/felt like she was loosing, but found they were still here for her to love, loving her in return, once her heart had walked the journey it needed to. (So grateful my wife, sister-in-law, & daughter had what they needed to be so resilient & forgiving.) Now, her child she had once thought “would never look right” and “she would never be able to feel comfortable around or trust again,” she is happy to share clothing catalogues with & circle the ones she thinks her daughter would look good in & might like. Is happy to tell her friends about her daughters. Is proud of both her transitioned daughters, and her transitioned granddaughter. Loves to spend time together whenever she can. Jokes like they used to. And I am so grateful & happy to see my loved ones, my wife and daughter included, so fully happy & present, and get to enjoy life with them all. I am so grateful that we all made this journey, and made it through, instead of loosing our loved ones.
Please, know if you need a shoulder to cry on, a place to work out complicated feelings, or to ask questions, and learn, support groups with other parents are a wonderful place to help you through this. Again, my love to you & your family on your journey.
Your (adult) child is in a vulnerable time, at a time you may be struggling yourself, and the more support & the quicker you are to build that support for yourself & your child, the better. 💜 I am so heartened to see you here, clearly doing just that.
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Hey there! As an autistic trans parent of an autistic trans kid, I’d switch the sentence, “Kids have a concept of their gender by the time they’re 3,” to “Many neurotypical children have a concept of their gender by the time they’re three.”
Because many of us have very little concept of gender in general, let alone at three years old.
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