When our parents won’t accept us: A letter to the child of a transphobe

Dear K,
I’ve chosen to call you by the initial K because I don’t know your real name. Actually, all I know about you is the transphobic, ableist myths your father wrote about you in USA Today this week. So I’ll use your last initial as your name, and I hope that’s OK.

Your father wrote a lot about you, K, and almost all of it was bad.

He described how you had recently started feeling like you might not be cisgender. I started feeling that way in high school too. Another thing we have in common is that our dads just don’t believe us.

Your dad says you can’t be transgender, K, because you played with girls’ toys as a child. So did I. I liked to watch sailor moon, play with barbies, and use my mom’s makeup. I also liked to play with trucks, in mud. I did all that because it was fun. Toys didn’t determine your gender, and they didn’t determine mine.

Your dad also insists you can’t know if you’re trans because you’re autistic. I can’t speak to what that experience is like for you, but I do know that you are the best judge of your own personhood and your own feelings. It’s really sad and pretty messed up that your father thinks that either being transgender OR being autistic somehow limits your understanding of yourself. Your father also claims a therapist said you’re wrong about being trans. But that therapist hasn’t been trans and hasn’t been you. You know who you are, just like I know who I am.

Like you, my parents didn’t respect my gender identity when I tried to come out to them in high school, and like you, they still don’t. When I tried to come out to them, they told me they would fight me on it forever. I realized I didn’t feel safe to be myself with them. So I closeted myself and never brought up the topic again to them. It saddens me not to be able to share this huge part of my life with them. No child wants to hear that who they are as a person isn’t OK with their parents.

I was glad to read that you had the support of your school — they use your correct pronouns, call you by your new name, and support your choice of bathroom. These are all incredibly important steps in ensuring trans kids like us feel safe and accepted in school. It’s unfortunate, but we trans folks experience high rates of suicidal ideation and feelings of isolation. My friends call me my real name and pronouns. That support is really important to me. What we need as teens are for people and institutions in our lives to accept us for who we are, to help us get through our experiences, and to let us know we’re loved.

Your father tried to demand that your school deadname you (call you by your birth name instead of your chosen name), something we know causes great harm to trans people. I’m glad your school refused. I’m a little older than you, and when I was in school, President Obama’s guidelines to the Department of Education required schools to affirm students’ gender identity. The Trump Administration rescinded these guidelines last year, to placate people like your father who wanted to insist you be forced to be cisgender. But people are fighting back against Trump’s transphobia. Just this week we learned that over 120,000 people submitted comments protesting Trump’s attempts to allow discrimination against trans people in health care.

There are a lot of fighters out here, working for a world where parents love and respect their children; where they listen to us, not silence or belittle us. It sounds like you’re a fighter too — you’re fighting for your right to be the gender you are. Keep going. We have your back, your school has your back, and together, we are all going to end the ignorance and transphobia that keeps transgender people from fully living our lives.

Love,

Max

Max Lenhard (pronouns they/them) is a student organizer with Advocates for Youth and a junior at UNLV.

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