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How to Learn More about Your Trans Child: A Guide for Parents

Robyn Exton

Nov 09, 2021

How to Learn More about Your Trans Child: A Guide for Parents
  • Supporting your Trans Child

    When your child comes out as trans, it can be a big surprise, even for the most accepting parents. Every parent envisions a future for their children, and when they come out as trans, it changes what that future might look like. But if you’re here, it means you’ve taken an important first step: you’re looking for the best ways to support your trans child, educate yourself, and try to be the best parent you can be. That’s commendable, and you’re in the right place.

    What to Do When Your Child Comes Out as Trans

    Whether your child has already come out to you as trans, or you think it might be on the horizon, it can be hard to know the best way to respond and support them on their coming out journey. It’s all about showing them love, showing them you accept and support them, and showing them you’re willing to put the work in to honor their authentic self.

    Your First Response

    Often, the initial response is the most difficult thing to control. If your child’s coming out came out of the blue, it might take you by surprise and your immediate reaction might be shock. If this is you, don’t panic. While the first reaction does matter, what is more important is how you act in the weeks, months, and years following their coming out. That’s what makes the real difference.

    If your child hasn’t come out to you yet, but you have a feeling they might sometime in the future, you have more control over your immediate response. When your child comes out to you, there are three key things you should include in your response.

    3 Things to Say When Your Child Comes Out

    1. Thank them for being open and vulnerable with you, and letting you into this part of your life.
    2. Make them feel heard and affirmed. Affirmation can be as simple as telling them you love and support them. When your child comes out as trans, this should also include asking them how they want to be referred to, including their name and pronouns.
    3. Talk to them about who else knows. If they’re not ready to come out publicly yet, they may want you to refer to them in one way when you’re in private, but a different way to other people. Respect this, and encourage them to let you know if the language they’re comfortable with ever changes.

    Educate Yourself

    The reason parents sometimes react with fear and concern when a child comes out as trans is often due to a lack of education. If you don’t fully understand trans identities or what they mean for your child, it can seem like a minefield. But now that trans identities are more widely talked about and understood, there are plenty of ways to educate yourself on trans identities and issues affecting the community.

    There are lots of organizations with educational materials about trans identities and issues. PFLAG – which stands for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – is one of the most famous that specifically offers support for family and friends. While its name suggests it’s focused on lesbians and gay men, it actually offers support for the loved ones of all LGBTQ+ people. It has chapters and groups all around the world, which can help you connect and talk to other parents of trans children and share advice and experiences. Other helpful organizations are Mermaids, Stonewall, and Trans Youth Family Allies.

    Find Resources

    As well as the organizations above, there are plenty of other resources out there to educate yourself and better understand your child. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s important. When your child comes out to you, they will likely feel quite vulnerable. So, they might not be comfortable with you asking too many questions about trans identities and issues. Of course, you can ask about their specific, individual identity. But for broader issues, try to educate yourself first.

    There are plenty of insightful books written by trans people themselves that can help you gain a better understanding. Non-binary comic Mae Martin’s Can Everyone Please Calm Down?, Shon Faye’s The Transgender Issue, Sarah McBride’s Tomorrow Will Be Different and Alok Vaid-Menon’s Beyond the Gender Binary are all great places to start.

    Practice Using the Right Words

    One of the things parents and allies tend to get stuck on is using the right language. When your child comes out to you, you may need to suddenly start using different pronouns, a different name, or changing other words you use to describe them, like ‘son’ or ‘daughter’. You’re bound to make mistakes at first, and that’s okay. Everyone does it at the beginning. The important thing is to show them you understand the importance of changing your language and affirming their identity.

    It might feel silly at first, but practicing using the right words can help you get your head around the change more quickly. Either on your own or with someone else (make sure it’s someone they’ve already come out to, or are comfortable with you talking to about it), just have a conversation about your child. Practice saying things you might say already, like “Jacob’s coming to visit this weekend” or “I’ll ask them if they’re free”, using whichever name and pronouns they’ve asked you to use. This gives you space to make mistakes without upsetting your child, and get comfortable and familiar with the new language.

    Talk to Them

    Maintaining open lines of communication is key. Let your child know that they can talk to you about anything and you’re always available to offer support. If they’re worried about coming out to other family members, you might be able to offer to be there for moral support or talk to the family member in private to fill them in and help educate them, so your child doesn’t have to. Of course, only do this with their explicit consent, but it may help to take some of the weight off your child. 

    Also, let them know that you’ll continue to support them if anything changes. Lots of people go through different labels and identities before they find the one that fits. This might be coming out as non-binary, then discovering they are actually a trans man or woman. They might come out as a trans woman and then discover that they’re also bisexual. They might start dating other trans people, and the trans dating scene can be exciting, albeit a bit intimidating for some.

    Identities can grow and change and it can take people a few tries to find exactly what language works for them. Let them know you’ll be there to support them on that journey, wherever it takes them.

    Be an Active Ally

    Supporting your trans child doesn’t just happen when you’re with them. It means being an active ally all the time. That means correcting people when they use the wrong name or pronouns, even when your child isn’t around. You can still be kind and gracious, but it’s important to advocate for your child and help the people in your life to understand the trans community and your child’s identity as well.

    Also, supporting your child means supporting the trans community as a whole. So if you hear someone misgendering or deadnaming a trans person, even if it’s not your child, you should still correct them and educate them. Helping people to understand and respect trans identities will help things get easier for both your child and anyone else’s child that might come out in the future. Play a part in making the world safer and kinder for trans people.

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    Robyn Exton

    Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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