By a Parent of a 15 year-old Trans Child
You have no idea
When you bring that beautiful little bundle home, you have no idea what surprises it will bring. Listen and watch and allow. Gender identity and fluidity start to show up very early. Separate sexual orientation and gender identity in your head. They are different. We saw our child’s actions as behavioral choices that needed to be addressed for his safety. We did not get that his behavior was a matter of gender identification and self-expression. And this early misunderstanding caused a great deal of pain.
It’s unfortunate that gender identity can surface right along with the terrible 2s. Because we saw much of his behavior as willful, we actively discouraged his variant self-expression, and with the full support and help of a psychologist who obviously did not understand gender identity.
By the time he was six, my happy baby had become so angry and hurt, he threatened suicide. Back to the mental health profession we went. This time he was diagnosed with anxiety. A correct diagnosis, but another missed opportunity to identify and support his gender variance.
The key is this: You cannot make your child more comfortable with one gender or another.
That’s already been done. It’s built into the brain. Designed by God. The only power you have as parents is also the most important, and that is the power to make your child feel comfortable and celebrated or embarrassed and shameful.
Get ready for preschool, bullies and well-intentioned adults
Be upfront with providers. Tell the day care manager the truth and that you expect full support. Educate those who will care for your child. Bring resources; contact PFLAG to give a presentation. If you get resistance, find a new provider. You have more power here than you will ever have in public schools. Use it and enjoy it.
Bullies, if they haven’t already, will come out in preschool and will be an active and hurtful part of your and your child’s life, probably forever. Just as the parents of minority children teach their kids how to navigate in a world full of bigotry, you will too. From overt hate crimes to subtle, pernicious two-faced false support, you, your family and most especially your child will see it all. Do what you can to protect your child. More importantly, do what you can to prepare your child to deal with it.
If you haven’t already, you will now find adults who will attempt to "teach" your child the proper, acceptable behavior for his or her gender. This will range from frightening to punishing or even threatening. The most egregious of these well-intentioned adults are the sports coaches. They are the only adults still allowed to bully our children. Don’t tolerate it. One of the most important gifts I gave my son was lambasting a coach who was trying to "toughen him up" with verbal and emotional abuse.
Marital health and managing the great divide
If there exists a set of parents who agree on how to raise the most mainstream and conforming child, I have yet to meet them. The stress of raising a child with gender variance can and does rip families apart. One study claims 40% of trans kids are kicked out or run away. Don’t try to do this alone: PFLAG, therapy, support groups, good friends, a stiff drink once in a while. Use them all. Guard against sacrificing either your child or your marriage. You don’t have to understand or agree with your spouse. You do have to keep the child out of the middle, and you do have to treat everyone with respect and demand they do the same. A safe and nurturing childhood is a precious thing, and it must be protected. A healthy marriage is also a precious thing, something to last long after the children are grown and gone.
Schools, teachers and guidance counselors
I thank God that we have the dedicated educators and guidance counselors that work in our schools as part of the village that is raising my child. They are some of the most caring and hard-working professionals. But you have to be prepared: the system is bigger and more powerful than the individuals in it.
We found an undercurrent of bigotry painted over socially correctness. I don’t mean to be critical. I don’t think any individual has meant to be hurtful. I think we live in a binary society, and I think teachers, coaches and students don’t understand. I doubt that gender variance is part of their training. They mean well; they love kids. But until you get educated on this issue, you’ll likely do more harm than good.
Finding providers educated on gender
Telling your story. Again and again. That’s what it takes. By the time puberty came along and gender arose again in our house, we were in the hands of a wonderful therapist who recommended we see someone with experience. We had decided to put my son on puberty blockers, so I was looking for two trans-friendly providers: a psychologist and an endocrinologist.
The search was far more painful and difficult than it should have been. I started with our pediatrician, who had never encountered this before, so he wanted to learn more. That led him to the head of pediatric endocrinology at the state university medical system, who told him that my kid needed be in the care of a psychologist and a team to help him. But he could not recommend one. Nor did he offer to research to find someone.
Meanwhile, our family therapist had recommended two providers in the next city. Both were fully booked. They gave me more names of people who gave me more names. And I told my story, again and again. Finally we found a psychologist in our city, but he didn’t get teens and transition issues. Next provider was an hour away, but he had experience with trans kids. He is working out, and is helping our kid find his way through this. Then came the search for an endocrinologist. The first one, also an hour away, did not take insurance and wanted $400 for the initial consultation, with no guarantee to treat my kid. Finally I found one in our city. He charges me a $10 copay, and treats me and my son with respect.
Safety and decision-making
Get real and get there fast. The statistics are against you. Your child is at higher risk for depression, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, violence and premature death. Your job is to make sure your kid knows how to be safe. Make sure your kid knows about hate crimes. Make sure he or she never goes out without friends near by. Alone is vulnerable. During the teen years, be so careful of parties. Be so careful of drinking. Booze makes for bad decision-making. Parties and high-testosterone sporting events need to be attended with caution. I am not saying lock your child in a closet. I am saying be careful and teach your child how to be.
Finally, hold yourself gently
Raising a child who is trans or gender variant is difficult. It’s scary. It’s more than you bargained for. It’ll likely be more than you comprehend. So please hold yourself gently. Forgive yourself for not knowing; for not understanding. Hold your spouse gently. But mostly hold your child gently, so very gently. Because the world will not, even if it’s just the world of preschool and play dates. And finally, if you are involved with a family on this journey, if you’re a teacher or an administrator or a provider, please be gentle; please be kind; please get educated. You simply have no idea how much it will mean to them.