Dear parents of trans people,
I’m writing this on behalf of your child, as a friend and as a fellow trans person. It’s very difficult to advocate for oneself, especially with one’s parents, and this letter aims to help you understand and accept your child so that less of that weight is on them. I hope that you will better understand your child and be a better ally and supporter.
Your child is trans. In our society that means a lot, but you may not know what. Your child has done what all of us have, at one point or many, and come to understand themselves in a way that perhaps differs from your expectations or understanding of them. To start, let’s address what “trans” means. When your child was born—or perhaps before that, based on ultrasounds—someone like a doctor looked at your child’s genitals and determined if they had a penis or a vagina. That’s fine. Most of us are born with one or the other and it is, at times, important for medical personnel to know which hormones will be driving development. Where this starts to go awry is that, based on the presentation of their genitals, a number of expectations and assumptions are put on the fetus or baby based on the gender that is widely associated with those genitals. For many people, the binary gender assigned at birth is not an issue and, as they grow up, they feel comfortable as a boy or girl, man or woman. This is being cisgender and is absolutely okay and should be supported. However, for some of us, that arbitrary assignation doesn’t fit and leaves us feeling confused, unhappy, and without a sense of belonging. Those of us who, through whatever means, come to understand that our gender is different from what was assigned at birth based on genitals, are transgender (often shortened to trans).
This self-discovery can take place at any point in a person’s life. Some of us know at a very young age that we don’t fit in the box we were put into, others of us take years to understand and accept ourselves. There are internal and external factors that play into the process of self-determination and self-acceptance, such as being raised in an environment where the existence of trans people is acknowledged or not, whether or not the child is held to strict expectations based on gender and their enforcement, and how accepting the child feels their family and peers would be. As an aside, please note that none of these determine whether a person will be trans or not. While I don’t believe the “born this way” narrative applies to all trans people, being trans isn’t a result of a progressive or non-religious upbringing. I won’t speculate here about what makes a person cis or trans, because that is an individual story that can’t be generalized for convenience. Back to the main point: your child may discover, understand, or come out as trans at any point during their life, or at multiple points. Gender for some is static, for others it’s fluid.
What does this mean for you and your child? They may choose to transition, meaning that they may have surgery, take hormones, change their appearance, voice, name, presentation, and/or pronouns. They may also choose to do none of that. Whatever they decide, it’s important to remember that their gender is valid and must be respected. If your child decides to transition, you may be uncomfortable. Suddenly the child you gave birth to or raised is different, not only from what you were used to, but from what the world around us expects. This can be a very difficult thing for you to understand or accept, but the alternatives are to lose your child (whether you decide to ostracize them, they decide to distance themself from an unsupportive person, or through suicide as a result of not being loved and accepted for who they are) or hurt them (through lack of support, disrespect, conditional love, or forcing them to be someone they’re not).
Consider yourself. Have you, at any point, examined your own life and found yourself unhappy? Have you ever tried to “find yourself”, questioned who you are, or realized that you’ve been living up to someone else’s expectations of you? The answer is most likely yes. Many of us, whether in our teenage years, during college, or in a so-called “midlife crisis”, have felt that some part of our life isn’t in keeping with who we really are. Most of us have then done something to change that and be true to ourselves, whether through changing careers, pursuing a passion, coming out as LGB+, getting married or divorced, etc. Being trans is very similar. We realized that who we are and who we were told to be were at odds and decided to do something about it. This is seen as radical and considered a much bigger deal than any of the things I previously mentioned only because it isn’t yet normalized in our society. Consider the stigma and significance attached to divorce, even just a few decades ago. As more people realized that their happiness and needs were of greater import than arbitrary social expectations, divorce became more acceptable and accessible. So, too, will being trans, though we’re still in the early stages of the process.
If your child comes out to you as trans, ask them how you can best support them. If their gender isn’t one you’re familiar with, ask them what it means. Ask what their pronouns are, then use them. Yes, you will make mistakes. Yes, you will use the wrong pronouns. Your child won’t love you less for that because you’re human and it takes time to change old habits. But sincerely try, as it shows love and respect. Tell your child that how much it means to you that they trust you with something so personal and important. Be there for them through whatever their transition is, and through the hardships they’ll face. Stand up for them against people who mock or demean them, disrespect them, and misgender them. Be proud of them for doing something as incredible as self-determination and self-discovery. Educate yourself, either through asking them questions, internet research, or reaching out to trans organizations for resources. As daunting as it may seem, your child will be grateful for the effort you put in and it will get easier over time.
What do we want for our children? Happiness, success, stability, love. We want our children to have more than we did, to avoid the mistakes we made. One way for parents to help ensure that is to accept and support our children for who they are, not who we want them to be. After all, trans or cis, is that not what you want or wanted from your parents? Love them, respect them, and trust that they know themself. Give your child the gift of being the parent they deserve.