It’s a tough road but it’s been successfully navigated
You’re probably freaking out right now, but please take a few moments to read our story; if this helps you in any way, these words serve their intended purpose.
Four years ago, at age thirteen, our assigned-male-at birth child came out as transgender.
After knowing her only as male with what we felt were zero signs, we were shocked. We didn’t know anyone at the time who was transgender and barely understood what it meant.
Caitlyn Jenner was our only frame of reference for a transgender person transitioning when our child came out to us; this was not a comfort.
I immediately poured myself a giant glass (read: bottle) of red wine, hugged my husband and cried, mainly because I felt like I’d failed my child because I didn’t see this coming. (She told us via text, and was spending the night away from us at a friend’s house. This time to process a bit was a gift I didn’t realize until later.)
Then I took to the internet to see what research I could do to figure out what was going on in her mind, and cried much more — hysterically this time — at what I found online.
That was an awful mistake and one of the reasons I decided to write you this letter.
1. Hunting around the internet for transgender news stories is a terrible idea when you’re first getting started.
If you haven’t already started Googling all things transgender, please discontinue if at all possible. If you still feel compelled, please visit Genderspectrum.org; it’s full of helpful information.
Unfortunately, stories about transgender children committing suicide, attempting to commit suicide, or having serious mental issues and ending up on the streets, on drugs or as sex workers rise to the top of many internet rankings.
The horror you read about online does not have to be your reality. I now know several dozen parents of transgender teens and interact with hundreds more online, and most of these families are well-adjusted and living their best lives.
The other challenge? These stories make you spiral and imagine the worst for your child when right now you need to focus on how you can give your kid the best of everything.
2. Seek out a local support group for LGBTQ+ youth and parents. There is no substitute for human interaction with parents sharing the same experience. It’s emotional and scary, but we’ve been there and will help.
If you’re fortunate enough to be in Richmond, Virginia or nearby, our suppor group is called Side By Side and they’re a lifeline for families needing resources and connections with other families.
In Richmond, we also have a specialized group for families supporting gender non-conforming children called He, She, Ze and We. This group meets at Side by Side and in other locations and will be launching a website soon. For more information, please contact He, She, Ze and We.
Many communities also have PFLAG, PFLAG is the first organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, supporting their parents and families, and allies. There are over 400 PFLAG chapters.
A strong group will never try to convince you that your child is transgender or that they “should be.” This is not a meas of conversion — they will listen and support.
3. Seek counseling for both you and your child.
You don’t have to see the same therapist but see someone please, right away. If you don’t know a strong therapist, please ask your support group for recommendations.
Counseling is critical for parents, children and in some cases, siblings. My other two children didn’t need counseling, they were very supportive and even though I brought them to our therapist, she felt confident they were emotionally very healthy. More about their story here:
The Sister They Always/Never Knew
Playing cards on the glass-topped table in our rented vacation condo, they look just like three ordinary kids…
4. If you don’t have access to counseling or a local support group, there are online groups who can help you.
These are “hidden” Facebook groups that your friends cannot see you participate in; only members within the groups can see activity and they are also parents of LGBTQ and/or transgender kids.
Again — nothing substitutes face-to-face human interaction but if that is all that’s available to you due to economic, geographic or other challenges, contact me through my Medium profile and I can get you in touch with a reputable online administrator for potential group admission.
Warning: There are some groups that do not screen their members well and as a result, there are frequent arguments about questions and topics. Ensure your group screens members, has a confidentiality agreement and endorses positive online interactions for the best experience.
Please read and agree to all the rules.
Full disclosure: I did not read the online rules carefully for one group, broke them and was banned from one group (I shared some comments I received anonymously in a Medium post as a means of education). I deleted that post immediately upon finding out and didn’t intend to put anyone at risk, and learned a valuable lesson.
Other than the negative interaction I had with that very large transgender parent Facebook group (the issue was using my daughter’s birth pronoun which many found offensive), every other one that I’m involved with has been supportive and allows me the opportunity to pay my experience forward.
5. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
Just like they tell you before your plane takes off, you have to be able to breathe first before you can help anyone else. This news can knock the wind out of you, and just when you think you’re under control the emotion can hit you in waves when you least expect it.
Allow yourself to breathe and feel every emotion you’re feeling. The change curve is real, and you may slide back and forth on it several times during this transition.
This may include crying — as my therapist intelligently suggested — alone, never in front of your kids. She told us that they’re watching our every move (even when we don’t think they are) and if we’re freaked out, they’ll be scared.
6. Remove toxic people from your family interactions as you work through this. I hope you don’t have any; some families don’t (we didn’t — but know several folks who do).
This is difficult but required for true progress. All you can do is educate and support others but you cannot afford to manage anyone else’s emotions but yours and your children’s. This sounds harsh but trust me, it’s the reality.
7. If stress is getting the best of you, find a healthy outlet.
For me, it was yoga, writing and prayer. For you, it may be walking hanging a punching bag in the garage, journaling or venting to a friend.
How Yoga Helped Me When My Son Became My Daughter
An unexpected solace during my most intense life change
8. Focus on what’s staying the same vs. what is changing.
After I worked through the gut-wrenching reality that I needed to support my daughter by using female pronouns and the new name she chose nearly a year after coming out to us, I saw that she was really the same kid, just with different packaging.
In fact, she’s more confident and happy now that before she came out to us. I focus on that frequently because she’s still my firstborn and she’s wonderful, even if she’s a different seventeen year-old than I expected.
It’s okay to grieve certain aspects of your expectations or what you see as having lost (for me one trigger was the birth name); just try to focus on the person inside who is the same amazing human being you’ve always adored.
9. Once you feel confident that through therapy that your child is truly transgender (sometimes kids aren’t sure or are exploring their spot on the gender spectrum), tell people at your own pace.
There’s no rule book for “coming out” and no guide that states a Facebook post, letter or other public proclamation is the right approach.
I’ve seen parents do this any number of ways, from a slow trickle of conversation among close friends to a beautifully-crafted, mailed letter and each method was the right one for their family.
They key is that you don’t need to tell anyone until you and your family are feeling more confident. It’s no one’s business until you decide it is.
10. This transition isn’t a finite process that will end in three or four years, this may be a cyclical process and every child and family are different, so prepare for a marathon, not a sprint, and repeat any of the above steps.
A couple of families I know have supported their child through hormone therapy and subsequent gender reassignment surgery after ten + years of coming out when they are adults and are comfortable making adult decisions.
Some transgender people never pursue any medical intervention, so having surgery isn’t necessarily the end-game either.
11. Add your own idea or proven-method here.
This letter is what worked for us, and your family may have a fantastic approach that helps you cope and move forward with your new reality.
Please share it in the comments so others can learn.
A Mom Who Cares
P.S. I’ll be thinking about you and sending good vibes. You’ve got this. It may not seem like it today, but it’s going to be okay.