Grief. Fear. Safety.
Telling Family & Friends.
Transgender, non-binary and gender diverse people have a lot of fear and grief.
For their safety. For being perceived different. When taking a risk to disclose to someone that they are different from the person's image or perception of them.
For parents, no one knows how they will feel or react until they have a transgender, non-binary or gender diverse child. Many different worries and concerns can surface but every parent is different. We recognise that everyone has their own personal path when processing their child’s declaration of changes in identity, pronouns, names, expression, etc.
Some parents are overwhelmed with sadness, grief and/or loss when their child comes out. There is often the grief and fear that comes with agonizing and worrying about the safety of their child navigating life as a transgender person.
There can also be the loss of expectations parents had for the perceived “normal” future of their child, such as getting married and having children in a “socially accepted” way. There can be the feeling of “losing” a daughter or son. They may have grief behind the thought or sentimentality they had put into the name(s) they chose for their child. Family photos of their child before coming out may bring feelings of sadness.
There is also the discomfort of telling family and friends and the “unknown” as it pertains to what their response will be…sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected.
Hopefully some of these resources will help you during that time and to move through it.
By Sam Dylan Finch. 2017.
"There are lots of parents out there trying to be supportive, who just want the space to process their feelings about their trans children coming out without hurting anyone – but they aren’t sure where or how to do it. And I get it. It’s an emotional time. I’ve watched my own parents come to terms with my transition (slowly, but surely). And, as an advocate, I’ve helped guide plenty of loved ones through this process.
I’m not here to tell you that your feelings are wrong or bad – I’m just here to help you figure out the best way to deal with them.
You’re allowed to be scared. You’re allowed to be confused. You’re allowed to be overwhelmed or angry, even. But it’s not your child’s responsibility to make you feel better. It’s your responsibility, as a parent, to put your best foot forward, and take care of yourself so you can better support them."
Coming out letters - templates
Skipping Stone. Calgary.
"Coming out" sample letters for transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming youth.
"Coming out can be scary, challenging, exciting, relieving and so much more all at once, and for some sharing this through writing is more comfortable. To give a place to start for those who might need, we’ve created these template letters."
Mom Transparenting blog post. August 2018
“I joined groups and asked questions and met with other families of children who had come out as trans. I wanted to know IT ALL. But one thing I hadn’t prepared myself for was the grief and that accompanies the “loss” of your child. Your child as you know it is gone. And with that comes an intense amount of sorrow.”
Sarah Kennedy Coaching. Blog post. (US)
“My clients frequently come to me speaking of loss and grief when their child comes out, particularly parents of transgender children. They speak of “losing their son or daughter”, feeling unable to cope with requests for change. They worry that something is wrong because of the strong feelings they are having, as if it means they are not accepting of their child when nothing could be further from the truth. Acceptance is a feeling separate from sadness and grief. Because all feelings come from our thoughts, they are separate and distinct from one another. So when a parent comes to me with this line of thinking, we start by looking at what we know to be true.”
How parents can support a child who comes out as trans – by conquering their own fears, following their child’s lead and tolerating ambiguity
Interview with Em Matsuno. April 2021. (US)
“Young transgender, or trans, people face high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide.These elevated mental health risks largely stem from external factors such as discrimination, victimization and – most especially – family rejection rather than from being trans. Em Matsuno, a research fellow at Palo Alto University, is currently developing and testing an online training program called the Parent Support Program to help parents better understand and support trans youth. They talked with The Conversation U.S. about their findings and how parents can be better advocates – and avoid common missteps – when a child identifies as trans or nonbinary.”
By Rhiannon Jones. Contributed to The Globe and Mail. July 12, 2021. Alberta.
"We do not know what will come next as we learn the culture of our new world. I am wrapping my soul around him, trying to pad the hurt that might come, but excited for his future. I know he has obstacles in front of him, but I take solace in that he does not have to face them alone. My bad days are mostly distant.”
By Tammy Plunkett. Blog post Jun 2020. (Canada/Alberta)
“When I told friends and family that our 11-year-old was transitioning, I was inundated with praise for supporting him. But that’s because I was hiding my grief, anger and sadness.”
Sarah Kennedy Coaching. Blog post. (US)
“Your story is important. Your full experience of being a support for yourself and the LGBTQIA+ population is important. A marginalized population cannot make change on its own. We must own our role in becoming educated allies who are emotionally present and ready to support. To those who say it is not our lane, I offer a map to choose a different highway.”
Navigating your feelings [as a parent]Gender Spectrum. (US)
“Understanding our child’s gender can be a hard road for parents, and even though we may not have chosen this, it is our road to navigate”
By Vanessa Nichols. Blog post. May 2020.
“So, your child threw you for a loop, came out as trans recently? Or maybe not so recently. I know you’re scared. That’s fear under every single statement and thought above. It’s fear. Recognize it as such. It’s new, it’s foreign, it’s big, it’s scary. And if your child is transgender, it might mean that their life will be so.much.harder. And that feels big and scary.
My trans son tried to tell me from the time he could talk that he was a boy. I didn’t believe him. For years. But they sure are their own people, after all. They’re never that imaginary person in our minds. They are them. And a piece of them might just be that they were assigned the wrong gender at birth. A piece of them might just be that they’re transgender. Because it’s really scary. And confusing. We’ve known that there’s no manual for motherhood, but this wasn’t even on your radar.”
Gender Spectrum. (US)
“Parents of gender expansive children face challenges around sharing information and keeping your kids safe. We can help with these often challenging decisions.”
Gender Spectrum website. (US)
“Parenthood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that they are exactly the person they are supposed to be. And that, if you’re lucky, they just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be.” -- Quote from the book “The Water Giver” by Joan Ryan.“As this quote hints, parents can make a tremendous difference in how children experience their gender. Recognizing that every family is unique, with different family dynamics, as well as cultural, social, and religious influences, we can help you navigate the gender journey of the children in your life. When we talk about “family,” we are not referring only to people related by genetics. Families can come in all configurations, including adoptive or foster parents, grandparents, extended family, mentors, or one’s chosen family made up of close friends. Similarly, “parenting” can be done by a variety of adults in a child’s life, not just by legal parents or guardians. Our work is for all types of “family” and all adults who “parent” a child.”
By Sarah Kennedy Coaching. Blog post. (US)
“Often when a child comes out, parents come to me saying:
“I don’t know what to do.”
“I’m afraid for their safety.”
“I don’t know how to handle this”
“What’s going to happen?"
They have a story in their head filled with questions and concerns. But when we break down these stories, we can see that they are often just that – a story – our imagination at work.”
Resources on gender for all children and youth
Gender Spectrum. (US)
“View our collection of resources and answers to common questions to help all parents, caregivers or family members learn more about gender and youth.
e.g. My gender journey / Sample letters for family and friend / understanding gender / the language of gender / parent, family, community / communicating with family and friends / privacy and safety / supporting families and youth......"
By Nicole Pecoraro. Scary Mommy blog post 2018, updated Oct 12, 2020.
“My child, as I knew him, was no longer the same person. And in his place there was a new, different child that I was still learning about. I was changing words, changing the way I referred to and reacted to my child. Everything changed.“
By Denise O'Doherty. Book. 2018. (US)
“Mom, Dad - I’m transgender”
"In one second our lives can change forever and that is what happens to many parents when a child 'comes out' and tells them they are transgender. Even if you had a suspicion that something was 'different' about your child, parents still experience a multitude of conflicting feelings about how this will affect their child, themselves, their family and others in their lives. Whether your child is 5 or 50, most parents are not prepared to know what to say, what do next or how to care for themselves in the process of what is about to unfold in their lives.
This book was written to ...give parents insight and awareness to understand what happens to them when their child 'comes out' as transgender and to give parents direction and effective suggestions on how to deal with the many issues parents commonly face with a transgender child. Issues include dealing with grief, denial, depression, anger, shame and guilt. Knowing what to say to others and how to deal with resistance. How to deal with religious, cultural and social issues.
Most importantly, how parents can reach a level of acceptance and why this is essential for the parent. In addition to parents, this book can educate family members, teachers, educators, clergy, counselor’s therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, other related healthcare professionals and anyone who loves a transgender person."
Denise O’Doherty, LPC, MSN, LMFT, RN, a native New Yorker, is a psychotherapist, Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified IMAGO Relationship Therapist and Registered Nurse. In addition to her 25-year, full-time private practice in Houston, Texas, she is an educator, lecturer and author. Denise presents regularly to professional, corporate and civic organizations on personal development and transgender education. She has been a Clinical Instructor for the University of Texas at Houston School of Nursing. Her warm and engaging style provides enlightenment, clarity and insight. She inspires confidence while helping others seek positive change. Denise specializes in Gender Identity Issues, Marriage and Family Therapy, Relationship Counseling, Pre-Marital Counseling, Addiction, Recovery and Codependency.
Time to blossom: Accepting my transgender daughter
By Elizabeth August. Ted Talk video 2016.
“Elizabeth August shares her story about the magnitude of a mother’s love. This young mom tells how she had to grieve the death of a son while simultaneously celebrating the birth of a daughter, when her five-year-old, who was born male, asked to present as a girl. Over the last few years, Elizabeth’s journey as a mother of a transgender child opened her eyes and heart to what acceptance really means, and how adults not only need to teach children to accept others, but accept themselves. Her experiences have fostered her passion to ensure civil rights for all people. Elizabeth believes that by accepting and sharing our true selves with each other, we can create a diverse and loving community.”
DISCLOSURE AND COMMUNICATION WITH FRIENDS & FAMILY
Communicating with family and friends
Gender Spectrum website. “Parenting Resources”. (US)
“It can be nerve-wracking and scary to bring up the topic of our child’s gender with family and friends. But we have tips and guidance to help make it easier.”
How to handle family misgendering your child
By Sarah Kennedy Coaching. Blog post. (US)
“We know how important names and pronouns are to our LGBTQIA+ youth. We also know the reality that almost every family has at least one person who thinks mislabeling or misgendering your child will “change them” back into the person they were comfortable knowing. What do you do?
It's time to leave trans kids alone
By Amanda Jetté Knox. Today's Parent magazine, Jan 31, 2022. (Ontario, Canada)
"They deserve acceptance and support. But at the very least, drop the skepticism and 'concern' and let them live in peace."
A love letter to my granddaughter (who I knew as my grandson until five weeks ago)
By Maryann Durmer. Dec 2020. (UK)
“As my thoughts and heart transition to embrace this new you, please know one thing isn’t changing ― I love you.”
My dad uninvited us from Christmas dinner because my kid is transgender
“We shared the news so he and and my mom would use my daughter’s new name and preferred pronouns. In response, he shut us out completely.”
By Rev. Michelle Scrimgeour-Brown. Today’s Parent blog post, December 2020
Blog by Amelia.
“My mother-in-law has a lot of opinions about people who aren’t cisgender and heterosexual, and she keeps sharing them in front of our family, including our daughter, who identifies as transgender. What are some strategies for talking with my parents, in-laws, and other family members about the gender and sexuality of my child?”
Sample letters for family and friends
Gender Spectrum. “Parenting Resources”. (US)
“Sharing a child gender journey with families and friends can be challenging, but we have some guidance.” Four sample letters.
By Julie Malbogat. Today's Parent magazine, March 30, 2021. (Canada)
"Accepting that my kid is trans was easy. Dealing with others' skepticism that he is who he says he is? Not so much."
Gender Spectrum, Parenting Your Gender Expansive Child. (US)
“Supportive parenting can have a significant, positive effect on your child’s outlook, mental health and self-esteem.”
Great advice for how to talk to friends and family about your child’s gender.
By Sophie Labelle. Assigned Male Comics.
SPECIALTY PHOTO EDITING SERVICE
"Affirming Edits is a photo editing service that specialises in re-gendering childhood photographs as a way to save those cherished memories while also reflecting a person’s true self."
NOTE: The business is quite new and the website is "under construction" at www.affirmingedits.com
By Liz Dyer, founder of the Mama Bears. (US)
"It's not uncommon for parents of trans kids to wonder if their kid, who has come out to them as a trans person, is 'really' a trans person.
Parents often share many reasons with me why they have doubts and it's not that these parents I'm talking to are unsupportive - these are very supportive parents who are having trouble believing their kid is really a trans person because their kid didn't 'show any signs' before they came out, or because their kid is not dressing the way they think a trans boy/man or trans girl/woman would dress, or because their kid is not saying what they expect a trans person to say about the way they feel.
Here's what I have been learning over the last few years from trans people, science and medical professionals:
No one can know if another person is 'really' a transgender person. No one can know if another person is 'really' male or female or non binary or gender queer or agender or bigender etc etc etc. A parent cannot figure this out for their child. A parent can only know what their child tells them about their gender identity.
There is not one way to be a transgender person and therefore, we have to trust our kids and accept what they tell us about their gender identity.
If they are not sure about their gender identity we should let them know there is no hurry, they can take their time in discovering their true self, we will support them through the process and they might find it helpful to talk to a counselor who is a gender specialist.
Many parents have what I call 'gender expectations' and when their child doesn't meet those expectations they find it hard to understand what their child is sharing about themselves. Sometimes I even talk to trans people who are confused about their gender identity because they don't line up with the 'gender expectations' they have. So, one thing I try to emphasize is that we need to stop trying to make trans people fit into binary gender boxes - that is not helpful and often times causes more confusion and delays the process of 'knowing' that our kids are trying to achieve.
We also are beginning to realize that 'insistent, consistent, and persistent,' while formerly helpful in determining if people are trans or not, may not be the best gauge in every situation. There are many trans people who did not present many signs (or any signs) before they came out. Some parents can look back and see signs, but others didn't see any evidence. All kinds of factors come into play when it comes to how and when a trans person shows evidence or signs of being trans ... things like personality, environment, level of gender dysphoria (which varies a lot), birth order and other factors can all play a part.
The bottom line is this:
There’s no one 'right' way to be trans, no definitive set of guidelines that every trans person will follow, no definitive set of signs that a parent can look for.
And we also need to keep in mind that 'transgender' is an umbrella term for the much larger gender spectrum, with an infinite number of possible combinations of identities.
One last thought ... it’s also not always the case that subtle or even obvious cues necessarily add up and mean someone is definitively transgender. There are plenty of males and females who are not trans or gender nonconforming, but by nature just seem to buck traditional or expected gender norms. There will be some people who think they are a trans person and later realize they are not a trans person and they do not fall under the transgender umbrella - instead they are just very non traditional when it comes to gender expectations or what is considered to be gender norms. If your child is that person they will have to figure that out for themselves and let you know. It doesn't help your child for you to express your doubts to them. You help your child best by being supportive and believing what they tell you about themselves. If they come back to you at some point and say they were wrong you can once again support them and let them know things like: 'yeah, that happens sometimes, thanks for letting me know, I'm always here for you, let me know what you need, I love you, I'm proud of you for continuing to strive to know your true self'.
Of course we want to understand our kids but we must remember that their journey is their own and even if we don’t understand everything we can still give them our wholehearted support!
The best thing any of us can do, and teach our children to do, is to strive to know ourselves well ... and for most of us that will be a process that will continue throughout our whole life and that's okay.”
------- Liz Dyer
Written by a Mama Bear anonymously
Posted on the Mama Bears site Dec 2021
When I tell you my child is trans
Don’t try to convince me there’s a chance they might not be.
Don’t tell me that children explore and that’s “probably all this is”.
Don’t act like my kid couldn’t possibly know themselves.
When you tell me about who your kid is, I don’t ask if you are sure. I don’t ask you for proof. I don’t tell you that who they are is a phase.
When I tell you my kid is trans, don’t say it’s because we don’t play enough sports or play too many. Don’t buy my kid a baseball or a Barbie to see if that “fixes it”.
When I tell you my kid is trans, don’t say we should “correct them”. You see, they are correcting us with their truth. Ours was the assumption. It’s our turn to listen.
When I tell you my child is trans, don’t tell me about the most recent act of transphobic violence you saw on the news. Don’t tell me my child is too masculine or feminine to “pass”. Don’t tell me the world is unkind. I already know.
When I tell you my kid is trans, don’t ask who they will date someday. Gender is about who you are not about who you like. Don’t say it’s because they look up to their older sibling. Do you look up to yours?
When I share that my child is trans, don’t say being transgender has become trendy. Being trans is not a choice. Don’t say my child is SO lucky that I am their mom. I am the lucky one.
When I tell you my child’s name and pronouns don’t ask permission to use something else. Don’t tell me my kid needs to get used to people messing up. Don’t ask me what their birth name was.
Don’t tell me it’s too complicated to understand. Don’t continue to misgender them with weaponized incompetence.
If I tell you my kid is trans, don’t ask me about their future medical plans. You are not their doctor and I am not a fortune teller.
Don’t say “God doesn’t make mistakes". If you consider other types of diversity to be beautiful, why would you consider gender diversity a mistake? Don’t say you will pray for my family.
Instead work on ensuring your family members are not harming mine. And please don’t vote for people who make the world more dangerous for my family.
When I tell you my child is trans, believe me, and more importantly, believe my child. Celebrate with me! Listen with love and make space for my pride and my fear.
When I tell you their name and pronouns, practice them, use them. If you mess up, correct yourself and move on. No one expects perfection.
Teach your kids to love my kids and I promise to do the same. Join us at Pride events and listen to the stories of those who have different lived experiences so we can learn from our mistakes together. Speak up for inclusive practices in your spheres of influence even when it’s uncomfortable or scary. Tell my kid you love them, just the way they are. Love them, just the way they are.
Here's my advice”
By Liz Dyer, Mama Bears, Aug 2021
“Always speak up! Speak up and let the person know that what they are saying or doing is transphobic, biphobic or homophobic, tell them that what they are saying or doing is harmful to lgbtq people and educate them by sharing some good information or insight with them. Sharing your own story or something you learned along the way can be very helpful. People tend to listen and understand better when they realize there is a personal connection.
Is there something you can say that will change someone's mind?
There's not a secret phrase or fact or resource that will change someone's mind. You might want to say something that makes it personal before you share a fact. For example, you could say "being the parent of an lgbtq child has helped me understand this better" or something similar to that before sharing other information that will be educational and informative. But, technically you can't change someone's mind. People have to change their own mind, However, you can plant a seed that has the possibility of growing.
Is it always going to be hard to speak up and confront transphobia, biphobia or homophobia?
It will probably always be hard, but this is something that lgbtq allies should plan to do. If you want to be a good lgbtq ally you are going to have to do some things that are hard and uncomfortable. Going to a pride parade is great, but it's easy to be an ally at a pride parade. The most important work an lgbtq ally will do will be hard and uncomfortable. Allyship is not for the faint hearted, but neither is being a Mama Bear. Mama Bears make great lgbtq allies because we are brave and bold when it comes to protecting our kids and we know that making the world a kinder, safer, more loving place for ALL lgbtq people is the best way to protect our own lgbtq kids. Speak up even if your voice shakes.
What is biphobia/homophobia/transphobia?
A lot of people think biphobia, transphobia and homophobia only refers to the fear of lgbtq people, but that isn't true. Homophobia, transphobia and biphobia encompass a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward lgbtq people. The accepted definition is the fear, hatred, discomfort with, mistrust of and/or discrimination of lgbtq people.
What should you say?
Do some research and come up with 3 or 4 things you are prepared to say. Memorize a couple of important and informative facts that are meaningful to you. You will be more likely to speak up if you have something prepared. Remember, you don't have to say anything mean or harsh. You don't have to raise your voice or shake your fist. You can speak in a calm tone and be civil. For example, you can even start out by saying "I assume you don't intend to be transphobic or intend to hurt trans people" and then go on to explain that what they are saying or doing is transphobic and harmful. You can then share some helpful information and even offer to send more resources their way if they are interested in knowing and learning more. Sometimes, a friendly conversation can spark a change. But, at the very least, you have done your part and now the rest is up to the other person.
Is it really worth your time?
YES!! It's definitely worth your time. Education is the key element when it comes to diminishing transphobia, biphobia and homophobia. Even if the person doesn't change this is an opportunity for you to demonstrate to your lgbtq child and other lgbtq people you care about that you really are their ally, on their side and willing to do hard things to make the world a kinder, safer, more loving place for them to live and thrive and that alone makes it worth it your time.
Remember ... Together we can change the world!"
------- Liz Dyer