Supporting your Transgender Child
All individuals are valid and deserve to receive support from their families and communities, regardless of gender. If your child has come out as transgender or is questioning their gender identity, you may be wondering what your role as their parent should be during this process. One of the most important things to remember is that your child’s gender identity and exploration are their own. Providing support for your child is incredibly important, but it’s necessary to remember that this is their unique journey. Their journey may be different from what you had envisioned for your child.
J. Flowers Health Institute is here to guide you through the delicate process of adolescent evaluations and finding the health resources your transgender child needs. This article is an overview of transgender issues and explores how to support a transgender child.
What Does it Mean to be Transgender?
Transgender individuals identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. Identifying as transgender doesn’t always mean transitioning from one gender to the other. Your child’s gender identity (how they view their gender and why) can exist on a spectrum. Those whose gender is strictly male or female identify most likely as binary, meaning their gender is strictly on one end of the spectrum. Those who identity as the gender they were assigned at birth are cisgender.
Gender dysphoria is a valid struggle faced by many individuals who are transgender. The American Psychiatric Association defines it as “a conflict between a person's physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify… sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender.” If your child is experiencing gender dysphoria, you can take on a supportive role by finding helpful resources, such as a therapist who specializes in gender exploration.1
Coming Out as Transgender
Just as people can experience gender dysphoria at any age, they can also realize they’re transgender at any age. Individuals who come out as transgender later in life are just as valid as those who realize their identity earlier. In the same way, if someone comes out in their teens or even younger, they should be embraced for who they are and accepted regardless of their age. Age does not validate or invalidate gender identity realization. Being transgender is not a phase and gender identity is not a choice. If your child has come out and you’re feeling confused or uncertain about your feelings, it is extremely important to know their journey is unique and it’s okay for them to be constantly evolving.
What are the Urgent Health Risks Facing Transgender Children?
Many transphobic people will ignorantly cite mental health struggles as a side effect of transgenderism. While people who are transgender have higher rates of mental illness, this is because of the way they are treated by society and not because of their gender identity. Transgenderism does not innately mean more struggles or pain than cisgender identity does.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the transgender community. Young people who are transgender are four times more likely to live with depression than their cisgender friends.
Transgender youth are also more at risk to attempt suicide, as one in five struggle with this.2
Self-harm can result because of a variety of struggles, with 42% of transgender youth engaging at some point.3 This is can be correlated to gender dysphoria or trying to gain control over situations in which they feel unaccepted or unsafe.
Some young people who are transgender find themselves homeless, many of which have been rejected by unaccepting families. 58% of the gay and transgender youths who are homeless have been sexually assaulted. That number is heartbreaking and points to the need for parents to support their transgender children and become allies.4 Unfortunately, physical danger exists even if homelessness is not in the equation. One survey found that 9% of transgender people included had been physically assaulted within the past year.5
Parent Concerns for Their Transgender Child
If you’re a parent who’s feeling scared about these statistics, it’s completely natural to worry for your child. However, it is not an excuse to invalidate their identity or force them to present as their gender assigned at birth. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Take time to talk with your child about ways that they can be safe in public.
How Can I Support My Transgender Child?
One of the most important parts of being an ally is confidentiality. If your child doesn’t want to publicly come out, that’s their choice. Nobody has the right to know anything your child doesn’t want them to.
Mistakes are OK if Unintentional
It’s okay if you don’t know the correct terms or if you have questions. What’s not okay is intentional ignorance, shaming, or using unpreferred names/pronouns. It may take time to get used to calling your child by another name, but it’s important to show you’re making an effort. By using your child’s preferred name and pronouns, you’re showing them that you take their gender exploration seriously.
Start with an Honest Discussion
If your child has come out to others in the family, foster open, honest conversations to discuss feelings and answer questions. It’s okay to be honest, but there should never be guilt or shame attached. For instance, honesty is saying, “I’m having trouble remembering to use your correct name, but I’m going to keep trying.” Shame and guilt look like, “It would be so much easier for all of us if you would just use your old name.” You can be open with your feelings and emotions without placing them on your child. If you feel the need to discuss your child’s transgenderism further, it may be best to begin therapy or talk to a professional that will be able to listen.
This Material Explores Sensitive Topics
The following section discusses medical interventions for both younger children and young adults. These topics may upset the reader. Please feel free to skip to the next section if these topics make you uncomfortable. Talk to your family doctor or contact the medical team at J. Flowers Health to discuss all topics relating to gender identity.
What Do I Need to Know About Medical Interventions?
While some people who are transgender medically transition, others choose not to. Transgender identity without surgery or hormones is just as valid medical options. If your child is a minor, you will need to be involved in their medical decisions and you must stay updated and educate yourself about the many possibilities available.
Reversible Treatment for Younger Children
Puberty blockers “work by blocking the hormones – testosterone and estrogen – that lead to puberty-related changes in your body.”6 While your doctor can tell you about the specific effects this could have, it is a method that has had proven results and can greatly help gender dysphoria. Temporary puberty blockers are available, which are taken periodically to pause further changes. Once stopped, the body will produce the hormones which have been suppressed.
Partially Reversible Treatment for Older Teenagers or Young Adults
Estrogen and Testosterone Therapy
Estrogen and testosterone therapy are incredibly popular within the transgender community. Many may think that these therapies are a quick or all-inclusive option, but there is a lot of variety within them. For instance, some may choose to go on an incredibly low dose and may only experience one or two changes because of this. Even if your child chooses a higher dose, the effects will not be immediate and it may take months, or even years, to see the desired results.
Permanent Surgical Procedures for Young Adults
Transgender surgery modifies the body to add or remove the characteristics chosen by the individual and their surgeon. This can be one of the fastest ways to see results but can also require a thorough vetting process. If your child is experiencing extreme gender dysphoria, surgery could provide relief.
Some transgender surgeries or hormone therapies will require your child to undergo counseling before they begin. This can be incredibly beneficial for their overall wellbeing while providing the peace of mind that comes from knowing a mental health professional is involved.
How Can I be a Public Ally for My Child?
If you have friends and family that are transphobic, your child’s safety and wellbeing must come first. While you may not choose to completely cut off these people, be mindful of what information you share with them. While you have the choice to keep these people in your life, your child has the same choice. If they choose to remove them from their close circle, you must respect this and understand they are choosing to protect themselves.
Your child matters more than strangers, or even close friends. Protecting your child in all environments is your highest priority. If someone misgenders your child, it’s not rude to correct them. If your child prefers, you can politely and firmly tell them how your child prefers to be identified. It is important for all transgender children to see supportive parents do exist and there are adults who validate and care about their identities.
What are the Biggest Transgender Issues Talked About in Public?
Within the past few decades, transgender issues have become more prevalent and frequently discussed in political and athletic circles. Bathroom bans are laws that force transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth.7 There have been no reported cases of transgender individuals harming others in bathrooms matching their gender, and using bathrooms that don’t match their gender are very dangerous for your child. Transgender women forced to used male bathrooms have a higher risk of physical and sexual assault. Transgender males forced to use female bathrooms experience distressing confrontations.
Controversy has also arisen in sports, with some questioning if transgender athletes should compete as their identifying gender or their gender assigned at birth. Different organizations and groups have varying opinions about this issue. Transgender athletes should be allowed to compete in sports, so if an issue has arisen at school, you may need to advocate for your child. If your child is a transgender athlete, remind them that their skills and talents are just as important, valid, and needed.
TERF is the acronym used for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, many of whom believe that transgender women should not be included in women’s issues or have a voice when it comes to critical women’s decisions. There has been lots of controversy surrounding this issue and if you’ve like to learn more, information can be found online.8
Helping My Child
Supporting your transgender child isn’t complicated. Their gender identity has been revealed to you, but they’re still your child and deserving of the same amount of love and respect as before. While the name you call your child or the activities that you do together may change, they need to know that you still love them the same, regardless of their gender identity.