"My child just told me they're transgender.
What do I do?"
Some tips from other parents that can guide you on this journey.
Believe them. Believe what your child tells you as they process their thoughts and feelings. Often a child has been thinking about this for a very long time. It takes a lot of courage to voice it to parents.
Use the pronouns and name(s) your child wants, when they want. They may change over time as they learn about themselves.
Always be very positive and supportive of them in their presence. They, and you, will be working through the process. There may be more changes as they discover who they are.
Learn. Educate yourself. Learn the terminology and the difference between gender expression, identity, presentation and attraction. Learn how to support a possible social transition or medical transition.
Follow your child’s lead. Especially in regards to how and when they wish to proceed, which may or may not involve social and/or medical transitioning.
Find support for your child’s mental health. They would likely benefit from an affirming psychologist to talk to as they work things out. Possibly an affirming psychiatrist as well. Consider counselling support for yourself with an affirming counsellor.
Engage medical supports for referrals to transgender specialists if you think your child "might" need them. There are clinics in Alberta specialising in transgender patients. There may be a long waiting list. You can always cancel appointments if needed.
Find parent support meetings. They are a good place to vent and express your concerns and to ask questions. Concerns such as your fears, grief, questioning, confusion, wondering what to do and who to contact. There are good support meetings (currently online) such as: Pflag local chapter meetings in Alberta, and Skipping Stone has support groups. There are also private Facebook support groups such as Serendipitydodah – Home of the Mama Bears or Canadians Parenting Transgender Children.
Advocate for your child. You may need to make sure supports are in place if needed for school, changing identity documents, etc.
A few introductory resources….check the website for many more.
This is a great intro video that touches on pretty much all the points of concern for parents of trans children hosted by Liz Dyer and Sara Cunningham:
“Tips for parents of transgender and gender diverse children“
By Liz Dyer, founder of Mama Bears and Sara Cunningham, founder of Free Mom Hugs. March 2021. YouTube video message. (US)
“In honor of Transgender Day of Visibility Sara Cunningham and Liz Dyer share some tips for parents of transgender and gender diverse kids.”
The Skipping Stone Foundation, Calgary, (2021).
“This poster is designed to provide some foundational knowledge as well as simple, practical steps people can take to be more trans inclusive. It is a great tool to display in classrooms, workplaces or anywhere that reminders might be helpful.”
Chart includes: understanding common terms / understanding pronouns/ avoid gendered language / check your own assumptions / apologize when we make a mistake / dos and don’ts / rein in curiousity / listen.
What to do when your child comes out to you: Tips for parents/guardians. Dos and don’ts
By Egale. (Canada / Toronto)
5 Things to know about your queer child
By Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife.
Good basic poster on the basics to consider about your queer child whether trans, non-binary or other.
The You Inside Project. Youtube video. 2017. (Canada)
Excellent short animated film about a transgender child.
“Features first ‘educational transgender toy.’ Sam’s Story is a powerful short film about what it feels like to grow up transgender featuring a beautiful new cover of Roxette’s classic ‘Listen to your Heart‘.
My kid says they’re transgender. Now what?
By Schuyler Bailar. Video. (US)
Schuyler is a transgender person and advocate. “This page explains in detail why it is always better for a parent to affirm their child’s identity when they come out as trans. It includes a video, a script for the video, and additional thoughts and frequent arguments in response. And it is all backed up with empirical research and their citations.”
Genderbread Person v.4.0
A quick insight into gender with a graphic.
“A teaching tool for breaking the big concept of gender down into bite-sized, digestible pieces.” Gender identity vs attraction vs expression vs sex vs pronouns.
By Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER). Graphic. (US)
Also a graphic explaining gender. In numerous languages.
"Essential Tips for Parents of Transgender Children"
Your child came out as trans? Here's your playbook
By Cassie Brighter. My Trans Child. Parenting Trans Kids. Jul 15, 2021.
Great tips from a transgender mom.
Find a Gender Therapist
It is important to find a gender therapist — a mental health professional trained in recognizing gender dysphoria. Parents often wonder, maybe he’s just gay? Maybe she’s reacting to misogyny or objectification? Maybe my child is mimicking/copying a friend? A competent gender therapist can help you and your child sort all of this out.
Get a child or family therapist
I also recommend working with a separate therapist just to discuss potential issues independent of, or peripheral to, gender transition — social anxieties, teenage emotions, relational challenges, family stuff. (Make sure this counselor is trans-aware and trans-supportive.)
Speak with school administrators
It is important to notify the school, and work with the school administration in ensuring no bullying takes place (either from students or from teachers).
Find an endocrinologist
You should speak to an endocrinologist. Note: Be certain that they’re educated on the transgender experience and trans-supportive. (Simple clues will be in their speech. Look out for misgendering, using the child’s birth name rather than their chosen name, gatekeeping or references to openly transphobic sources.)
Find clothing and gender-expression resources
Help your child find gender-expression resources such as binders, packers or gaffs.
Help your child grow into their chosen gender expression
Oftentimes your child will need help to learn socialization skills specific to their gender (from makeup to how to sit when wearing a skirt, from clothing options to subtle social cues such as voice intonation and body movement.
Monitor & manage sibling relationships
Be mindful of the emotional experience of siblings. Whenever one sibling experiences a major life event, the other sibling/s may feel left out or de-prioritized. And manage sibling rivalry conflicts through a trans-informed lens: Your cisgender child may feel jealousy over the additional care their sibling is getting, while your gender-variant child may feel jealousy of the ease in which your cisgender child moves through their gender experience.
Approach extended family gradually and strategically
Gently shepherd relationships with extended family. Don’t just announce to the conservative, religious grandparents that their grandkid has “switched genders overnight.” Start with impersonal conversations around acceptance (not tolerance!) of LGBTQ+folk. Have impersonal conversations about gender diversity — discuss Elliot Page, Laverne Cox, etc. Tell them your child has been in distress, and that you’re working through something. Then, weeks later perhaps, tell them you’re taking your child to a gender therapist.
Look out for transphobes in your midst
You may have to cull your friends’ list. Oftentimes parents of trans kids find to their dismay that a childhood friend or college buddy is transphobic. You’ll have to use your judgment on how to negotiate that. You may choose to educate your friend. You may have to let go of that friendship. Remember, your child’s health and wellbeing come first.
Don’t lose sight of growing pains
Remember that gender issues aside, your child is going through the usual childhood-puberty-teen journey. There are many good books on parenting. I’m reading Untangled, Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood — I strongly recommend it.
See things through a trans-aware lens
See your child’s gender experience through a trans-supportive lens. Getting your first period can be rough for a cisgender girl — it can be a lot rougher for a trans boy. Noticing your voice move away from its childhood range can be affirming and comfortable for a cisgender boy — it can be devastating for a trans girl.
Consider puberty blockers
Speaking of which, please look into puberty blockers. These can be quite literally life-saving for a trans kid.
And try to be light-hearted, and affirming. Speak optimistically to your child about their future. Sure, as parents we often worry. But don’t let those worries impact your child. Kids look at their parents’ emotions and words as a compass. If you freak out, they freak out. So stay cool, Daddyo. Be chill, Mamma Bear. You’ve got this.