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How to be an Ally for my Transgender Teen
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Gender identities are ever-changing, but that does not make them less accurate. Because people of all ages and backgrounds are becoming more open about their identities, children are also beginning to discover these different parts of themselves. You may think it is a phase as a parent, but do not dismiss your child’s feelings – they are coming to you in a very vulnerable place. Support your child as they trial-and-error different identities – there is a further understanding of gender in the younger generation. I have seen an adolescent transition from cisgender bisexual to cisgender lesbian to transgender male; I have also seen a transgender male transition back to the sex assigned at birth. Everyone’s path to self-discovery is different.
Think about it like Planned Parenthood has described – a buffet where you can try one thing, nothing, or everything. You may try something you do not like, and then you can move on. Parents often think a social transition is permanent, but that could not be any less true. The child may try out multiple genders, sexual orientations, names, or pronouns until they find the right one. In five years, five weeks, or five days, they may change aspects of their gender identity – remember, THIS IS OKAY! (and does not make their self-discovery experience any less authentic)
Be open to learning about the experiences of people who are trans, not only those you know in real life but also by researching stories on the internet.
Transgender males and females each have their own unique experiences. If you know one trans person, you only know one trans person. Some individuals have supportive parents; others get kicked out of their homes. One person may be seeking surgery or medical intervention to validate their gender identity, and others may prefer to change their clothes, hair, and name.
To emphasize the experiences in different spheres of trans people’s lives, below are some quotes pulled from LGBTQ+ individuals in a recent survey by the Human Right Campaign:
“I live in such a narrow-minded community – it’s really hard on me. I deal with so much ignorance on a daily basis.”
“It’s very easy to look at me and tell I’m gay and it makes me feel afraid to walk around knowing there are people here in my hometown that hate me, and people like me enough to attack me.”
“The people in my community and my family aren’t really accepting of the LGBT community and it’s hard for me to lie about who I am.”
“My relationship with my parents became more tense after I came out.”
“I want to be able to go to school without being called a faggot or a dyke b****h… I don’t want to hide in the shadows because my safety is on the line.”
If you do not see the pattern, let me help you – regardless of where gender-diverse and other LGBTQ+ youth are, they are worried about their safety and harassment. Their relationship with their parents is typically negatively impacted. Whether the parents become silent, violent, or somewhere in between, the gender-diverse person is no longer who the parents thought they were, and the relationship will change.
Accept that it is not your responsibility to shame individuals for defining who they are regardless of gender expression.
Every person you meet is a human living human experience. Cisgender, transgender, non-binary, or somewhere else on the spectrum, everyone has faced their battles. There is no need to judge someone for something you do not know. I will never understand what it is like to wake up and feel like my gender expression, and inner self do not align, but some people do. That misalignment can cause significant dissociation, dysphoria, depression, and suicidal ideation, attempts, or death.
When that discomfort can be decreased or avoided by different clothing or puberty blockers, consider whether you view your child’s improved quality of life as the primary goal – and discuss with your child what that improved life looks like to them.
It is okay to grieve who your child was – in private, but do not make them feel any guilt about who they are now. On the other hand, maybe home is a safe space, but get-togethers with extended family members, school, church, and the mall are not. Be the parent your child needs. Be their safe space.
If you are curious, ask questions – respectfully. Please do not ask questions involving personal aspects of their lives.
Although one would think it would be easy to avoid asking too personal questions to gender-diverse individuals, people are curious. You may want answers to many questions, but consider not asking.
In reality, passing is critical to numerous transgender youth and can increase dysphoria significantly when pointed out. Passing refers to being perceived as the individual’s gender identity rather than being misgendered or identified as a trans person. Not having surgery or medical intervention does not make their gender identity any less accurate than another’s, but pointing out different aspects of someone being transgender can lead to significant distress.
- Rather than, “Do I call you he, she, it, or they?” Try something like, “What’s your name?” (It is not rocket science😉)
- Rather than, “Do you have the right parts?” Do NOT say anything about top or bottom surgery. (Remember, each transgender person’s needs differ; not everyone needs or wants surgery to validate their gender identity.)
- Rather than, “Are you sure you just aren’t gay?” Remember that gender identity and sexual orientation are completely different things. Technically, they can be both!
- Rather than, “What if you change your mind”? Try something like, “Talk to me more about what that means to you and what you need from me.”
When a trans or LGBT+ person comes out to someone, they do not want a lecture – they are coming to you asking for continued support.
As a parent, this is all likely very confusing for you. However, the distress caused to your child when using the wrong name or pronouns is significant – so significant that gender-affirming households CUT THE SUICIDE RATE OF LGBTQ+ YOUTH IN HALF.
Become aware of resources available about gender identity.
You found this one, so you are off to a great start! I will include some essential resources below. I am likely not local to everyone, so I kept the resources relatable nationally.
1. The Trevor Project views gender identity as being your most authentic self. See resources like Understanding Gender Identity, the Coming Out Handbook, and the Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth here.
2. Interestingly, children as young as pre-k question their gender, just not as straightforward as adolescents or adults. Planned Parenthood offers insight into understanding your gender identity here. While your child is exploring gender identity, have them consider the following:
- Write or draw your experiences and how you feel regularly.
- Note anything that seems to trigger gender dysphoria or euphoria.
- Review social media posts, books, or articles of others’ coming-out stories.
- Talk about your identity with trusted friends and family members.
- What would changing your voice, hair, clothes, pronouns, or name feel like?
3. Stand with Trans offers text, phone calls, and emails from an Ally Parent to support transgender youth. They also speak with parents adjusting to the child’s gender exploration. Note there are resources and support groups but NO crisis counselors or therapists.
If you feel uncomfortable, that is something for you to reflect on, not the person who is trans.
I get it – we have societal expectations for males and females based on their birth-assigned sex. When we think male, we picture masculine things (sports, deep voice, short hair, cars, maybe some muscles, etc.); when we think female, we think feminine (pink, dresses, long hair, dolls, possibly petite, etc.). The line between these two things is becoming thinner and thinner.
Please briefly step away from society’s understanding of male and female, or feminine and masculine, to reflect on the following questions.
- Am I comfortable and secure in my masculinity/femininity? Do I feel trans people threaten this somehow?
- Am I comfortable in my own body? Does the idea of someone changing their body threaten my body security?
- Do trans people make me worry about my own identity? In what way?
Do I think trans men may impact the world’s view of masculinity? Do I believe trans women are affecting the world’s idea of femininity? Is that a bad thing?
Knowing that I have probably met and interacted with trans people at times without being aware of it, would my feelings change about those people if I found out that they were trans? Why?
Once you have thought about or journaled some of the questions above, consider the final questions:
- Why does this bother me so much?
- What does it have to do with me at all?
- Why am I not able to let this go?
How else can I advocate?
- Avoid using gendered phrases such as “hey guys” or “ladies and gentlemen.”
- Celebrate days like the Transgender Day of Visibility (3/31), International Pronouns Day (3rd Wednesday of October), and the Transgender Day of Remembrance (11/20).
- Advocate by attending protests, calling out others disregarding pronouns, or giving a voice to those who may not have one.
- Educate yourself on state and federal legislature involving anti-trans regulations, and support those that celebrate gender diversity.
If you are local to Florida, consider reaching out for mental health assistance for your trans youth, here or here.