Photo courtesy the author

What NOT To Say To Parents Of Trans Kids…

And what we’d say back, if we had the guts

Bridget Sampson
9 min readJul 24, 2020


Disclaimer: I am only speaking for myself here, as a parent and as an Emeritus Professor of Communication Studies (with anonymous validation from some pals who also have trans kids, but other parents of trans kids may disagree).

“It’s probably just a phase. Your kid always had social and emotional challenges. This could be just another way they’re trying to get attention. It’ll pass.”

I’m ashamed to admit it, but part of me hoped that was true in the beginning too. Then I went through the long, eye-opening process of educating myself on all the medical, scientific, therapeutic, sociological, and other sources of credible research to learn the truth. It’s all out there if you want to learn it too. Just ask me and I will happily give you piles of reading, research, documentaries, and much more.

Please know that this is NOT something someone does to get attention. There may have been emotional issues that were attributed to other things that we now realize were due to the gender dysphoria that our child was too afraid to admit to, in some cases, too afraid to even contend with in their own mind.

Please avoid the word “phase” when talking about someone who’s coming out as transgender. I’ve personally never seen or read about a case where it was just a phase or an attempt to get attention, and I’ve studied this a lot now. You can read more about my journey, the mistakes I’ve made, and some of what I’ve learned in my last Medium article, What to Do When Your Kid Comes Out as Transgender.

“That can’t be. Your child was always so clearly a male/female.”

Please educate yourself. I would love to help you do so and don’t want you to feel ashamed or guilty about asking for resources. You see, transgender and non-binary people often hide their true selves for very good reason. Just because my child lived out the expectations of their assigned gender to be safe in the world, and because of all the consequences of coming out and transitioning, that doesn’t make it any less possible that they are actually transgender.

If we are telling you this, it’s true. Please trust that and speak to us with that mindset. We understand that you may be shocked due to your lack of information on and exposure to the subject. And it’s okay to tell us that too.

Please just don’t deny our reality. Rejecting what a transgender teen (or transgender person of any age) knows to be true is a big mistake and has been deadly. If you don’t believe me, take it from Endocrinologist, Dr. Spack, in his talk, How I help transgender teens become who they want to be. (It’s a very informative talk and I hope you watch it, but I wish the title were: “How I help transgender teens become who they are meant to be.” This is not a “want,” it’s an absolute necessity.)

“Oh, you poor thing. This must be so hard for you. How selfish of your child to put you through this.”

What’s much more important is how hard this is for my child. We live in a transphobic world. And gender dysphoria can be excruciatingly painful to live with. Having to think about transitioning and all the reactions of the people who know you can be quite daunting. Many transgender people who haven’t come out yet have family members, partners, friends, employers, etc., who they fear will reject them once they become their true selves.

Yes, I am concerned about my child and am working to learn and get caught up. But don’t worry, I have found an amazing support group of parents who share my experience, and I’m seeing a wonderful qualified professional who helps me with coping strategies, not pity.

Blaming my child or accusing them of intentionally hurting me with something they didn’t choose makes no sense.

Parents do need help with managing their emotions, not because their kids are being selfish, but because their kids are going through something really difficult and need their parents to understand it and support them through it. If you are one of these parents, find help please, so that you don’t add guilt and worry about your struggles to your child’s challenges. I highly recommend the book The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens.

“Wow, I’ve never met anyone who’s transgender before. How rare it is.”

Actually, you have almost certainly met someone who is transgender. You just didn’t realize it. Many transgender people transition quietly and pass as their true gender with no problem in casual relationships. Many other transgender people keep their secret buried and live as their assigned sex for their entire lives, or maybe finally feel safe to transition in their sixties, seventies, or beyond.

Think it’s rare? Please reconsider that idea, or you may be very uncomfortable in the coming years. There aren’t more transgender people all of a sudden. It’s just that now we live in the information age, where kids and adults alike can go online and find ample credible scientific and medical research to confirm their suspicions about themselves and find support. Many more transgender people are coming out and transitioning than ever before — but they’ve always been here.

In my city’s support group alone, our membership consists of 2,000 families with transgender kids. We’re all working hard to catch up and learn all we can and provide as much support as possible. My daughter came out at 19 and prior to that, she appeared and acted fully male in all the stereotypical ways.

Can you imagine how many hundreds of people she came across in those 19 years who would have sworn they never knew a transgender person?

You can join us, or continue to live in denial and exclusion of a significant portion of the world’s population. I trust that most of you will want to join us, whether you realize that you do know transgender people yet or not.

“I don’t care that your kid is transgender. It makes no difference to me.”

I actually wish you did care. Are you aware of the statistics on suicide attempt rates, discrimination, violence, and other obstacles transgender people face? Do you know about the laws that protect almost every other identity, yet exclude our children? That they have no reliable, widely supported protections for the most basic things that other kids can count on, like being able to go to the bathroom in the public restroom that they clearly look like they belong in?

I appreciate the intention, but the phrase “I don’t care” often doesn’t come across as the benevolent sentiment that people who use it seem to think it is.

How about just asking us how you can learn and be of support to us? Also, if you think being transgender is no big deal these days, and that most people are like you and don’t care, please watch the documentary Disclosure with Laverne Cox on Netflix to be reminded of the dehumanizing media portrayals of transgender people that have informed your (and my) perceptions of them.

“We love and support your family, but our church teaches us it’s a sin.”

We already know that. You really don’t need to say it. We have enough to worry about. We know many people will judge and discriminate against and think horrible things about our children. We also know these people are dead wrong. Our children are perfect, beautiful, and divine exactly as they are. We are proud of them for being their true selves.

Please don’t feel the need to remind us that others disagree. We really do know. And if you truly do love and support our family, you will educate yourself and try to teach members of your church that they are mistaken.

Many churches and deeply religious individuals have completely changed their minds on this issue after taking the time to learn about it. Watch a Baptist Pastor share the powerful story of his education, his change of heart, and his use of the Bible to affirm the rights and perfection of his new transgender friends.

And please read this deeply moving article by a Catholic Deacon who came to learn and speak the truth after his transgender daughter came out: “Transgender and Catholic: A parent’s perspective.”

“Oh, how interesting, so does that mean she likes girls or boys?”

Sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things. Your gender identity is who you go to bed as, and your sexual orientation is who you go to bed with. Also, I would guess that when you’re in casual conversation with parents of cisgender kids (kids who are not transgender), you don’t regularly ask about their kids’ sexual orientation. It’s really no different just because we’ve told you our child is transgender.

“So, will they be having surgery?”

You probably don’t ask your friends with cisgender children about their kids’ genitals. I have heard countless parents of trans kids share the cringy, awful, painfully uncomfortable moments when this has happened. Please spare us having to explain to you that our kids don’t want us talking to anyone about the private parts of their bodies.

“Oh, how great, you always wanted a daughter/son!”

I may have wanted a child of that gender, but I never would have chosen for my child to suddenly be in one of the most misunderstood, stereotyped, targeted, marginalized groups in the world. I may have wanted a daughter, but not one who has to fear for her life because of the pervasive violence against transgender women.

I may have wanted a son, but can you imagine holding your child while he sobs because all his former best friends at school want nothing more to do with him?

I may have wanted a daughter, but do you know how painful it was for me to see that vicious woman in the nail salon staring at her with disapproving eyes when I took her for her first manicure, which she was already so nervous about?

I may have wanted a son/daughter, but how happy would you be about sitting in a surgical waiting room with your stomach twisted in knots, praying for the surgeon to come out and say that your child is okay? (Not that you should ask us about this… see previous section… but it is one of the terrifying realities many of us face, though not all transgender people want surgery. Please don’t generalize).

We know your intentions are good, but think about the big picture of what this is like for us.

“Oh, how fun! You have to come over so my daughter can do a makeup lesson with her!”

Just because my daughter has come out as transgender, that doesn’t mean she’s interested in makeup, dresses, heels, or any of the “girly” things women are supposed to like. Her gender identity is female, but gender expression is something different. I’m sure you know females who dress in typically masculine clothes or don’t like makeup and want their hair cut short. And you probably also know men with long hair or an earring. Please don’t impose cultural stereotypes about gender on my child.

My recommendation on this one is just a slight tweak of the wording. (I don’t want you to be afraid of saying anything at all! I really don’t! We all need your support and friendship.) How about asking, “Do you think she would like it if my daughter did a makeup lesson with her?” I know some trans young women who would be thrilled to accept this kind offer and some who would rather do just about anything else.

“I’m an avid ally and supporter. But it’s just so sad because their life will be so hard.”

Yes, we know a lot of things will be challenging. But we’re really trying to be optimistic, so this comment isn’t too helpful. And, actually, there’s a lot of evidence to show that with family and community support, and with gender affirming medical care and therapy, transgender people can have full, happy lives. How about just asking us how our child is doing, like you would with anyone else?

“Oh, I totally support transgender rights, even though I’m voting for X.”

Your vote is your voice. If you vote for politicians who support legislation that discriminates against transgender people… that limits their ability to get the essential, life-saving medical care they need, or that does not allow them the full rights and privileges that every cisgender person has, then you do not support transgender rights, and you do not support my child or my family.

*In 2020, my daughter Jackie and I co-founded Transgender School to educate people about diverse transgender experiences & identities and to share our story to help people understand. We have a podcast, digital courses, webinars, and much more. See below for more information.

Our Transgender Support: Becoming a True Ally recorded webinar is now available for only $25.00. $5.00 of each sale will be donated to our support group, Transforming Family. In this course, Bridget and Jackie re-enact the emotional moment that Jackie came out and other key conversations from the following months. They also share important recommendations for those who want to be true allies to transgender people.

Transgender School Patreon Page:

Transgeder School website:

Transgender School Medium page:

Transgender School podcast: (on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher & other major apps)

Transgender School Facebook Page:

Transgender School Facebook discussion group:

Transgender School Instagram page:



Bridget Sampson
Gender From The Trenches

Proud mom & spouse, CEO of SCC, Emeritus Professor of Communication Studies at CSUN, TEDx Speaker, Trainer, Coach, Author