How To Tell Your Parents You Want To Be A Boy/Girl
A Guide For Teens, Younger Children, And Their Parents To Navigate A Transgender Identity
We have already covered coming out in several articles on this page, but this one will be aimed specifically at children and teens who need to come out to their parents. This process is different from what has been discussed before, and although it might have been glanced over in another article, this one will be more specific.
What is most important when coming out to your parents is to make sure that it is safe to do so. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, and in some families, it might not be safe for you to come out while you are still living with your parents.
However, if you are confident that you will be safe, then there are certain steps that you can take in preparation for coming out. We cannot guarantee that it will make things easier, but it always helps to be prepared.
Gender Identity in Youth
When do most people start to experience questions?
It is a well-understood fact that most transgender people will start to struggle with gender identity in late childhood or early teens. This is not an exact statement as there are other people who only encounter gender dysphoria later in life, but the majority will deal with some form of it during their youth.
The most anxiety during late childhood and early teens is associated with puberty and the development of secondary sex characteristics during this time. It is already a difficult time for cisgender children to deal with, so you can only imagine how uncomfortable it can be for a transgender child to go through puberty.
If a child is not aware of the concept of gender issues, it is unlikely that they will discover the concept on their own. Although it is not uncommon for these children to reject gender stereotypes such as "girls play with dolls" or "boys like blue", for example. They also might openly state that they are not a boy or not a girl, as their external genitalia might suggest.
If your child is presenting some gender identity issues and you feel that they are pretty anxious or having difficulties in some aspect of their lives because of this, it is a good idea to ensure that the child sees a therapist who can assess the situation more thoroughly and help the child get to the bottom of their discomfort.
Therapists are trained to lead people on to choices or ideas but can help them uncover their own personal feelings about things. Should your child be transgender, a therapist can also offer support both to your child and to you.
Your child also cannot be led to believe they are transgender by television or the internet. Being trans is not something that people choose, and the age of the person does not matter. Transition and navigating gender identity is a lifelong process. If you feel that you must be sure about your child's status, it is helpful to consult a professional. Both you and your child can benefit from this.
Mental Health Concerns Associated with Gender Identity Issues
Unfortunately, gender identity issues are often associated with higher risks of comorbid disorders such as depression or anxiety. Should gender-related issues not be addressed and symptoms like anxiety not be managed, it can lead to more serious things like eating disorders due to a need for control, or mood disorders, due to prolonged, persistent anxiety or depression.
Parents need to understand that ignoring this sort of thing will not make it go away; it will only complicate the situation further as the child ages. Transgender children who can express their gender are often happier and better adjusted.
Something that often serves as a significant stressor for parents is how their child will be perceived if they are allowed to express their gender identity. This is a valid and real concern and should not be downplayed. The world can be a dangerous place for trans people. However, we also need to acknowledge that not expressing gender identity and not living as your authentic self can be just as harmful.
It is a delicate balance that we need to keep working on. Parents can become allies for their children and, through this allegiance, can shape a better, more inclusive, and accepting future.
Support Groups for Parents with Transgender Children
A source of support and information
If your child does come out as transgender, you will likely feel lost and shocked. These feelings are normal, and so are your fears. Other children and even adults can be cruel; the fact that transgender issues are not well understood only complicates things. Many parents might not even have a clear understanding of what it means to be transgender.
Therefore, your first step should be to educate yourself, and the best place to start with this venture is to find a support group or other support system. Mental health professionals can refer you to support groups, or if there are none in your area, you can turn to the internet to find such groups or to get in touch with trans people who can guide you through important elements of your child's gender identity and possibly also your child's transition.
The Human Rights Campaign has several resources on their website, and you can look for local information centers as well. Having support systems in place can really improve your experience of this journey and equip you to help your child navigate this difficult terrain.
Tips for Trans Youth
First and foremost, you need to be prepared for an initial shock reaction that will not necessarily indicate how your parents really feel about you being transgender. It is a lot for them to process, and they will likely not react favorably in the very beginning. Give them time to work through the news you have just shared with them.
Before sharing the news, do your research. Be prepared for questions they might have, and make sure that you are equipped with the correct information and terminology to share your point clearly and effectively. If you are knowledgeable about the topic, it will likely show them that you have given this a fair bit of thought, understand what it means, and are not just pulling it out of the air.
Assure your parents that you are still the same child. A big source of anxiety for them can be the thought of losing the child that you are. Remember that they love you, and being afraid to lose you is a natural response. Any such major change holds an element of loss.
Explain to them that gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation. Think about how you will explain the difference so that they can understand. Especially if you are pretty young, it is essential to have them understand that you are not talking about sex and sexual attraction.
You might also need to explain what other gender you identify with. Most parents will not necessarily know all of the genders on the spectrum, so you might need to be ready to explain that as well.
Although this is a conversation that should ideally take place face-to-face, if you really feel that you cannot manage that, writing a letter is a good alternative. Be ready to have a conversation about the matter at some point, but do not hesitate to come out in a letter if you feel that you can express yourself better that way and that your parents might be more comfortable working through their initial feelings in private.
Use specific, clear terminology. Do not be vague when explaining things. Be patient with your parents and expect that they will make some initial mistakes with terminology, especially related to your pronouns and your name.
If you feel it is appropriate or they would benefit from it, encourage them to get in touch with other trans folks. It can also be helpful to direct your parents or family members to resources like the Human Rights Campaign, where they can have access to a wide range of information that might give them an idea of what to expect going forward.
If Parents Are Not Supportive and Not Accepting
There is a real risk that your parents might not accept you as transgender at all. This is a scary thought, and it is important that you have access to support systems should this be the case. It can either be in the form of other adults, such as other family members or counselors at school.
You might also have a situation where one parent is supportive, and another is not. When your parents are divorced, this will be obvious, but if they are still married, they might present a united front. This does not necessarily mean that both feel the same. They are inherently different people.
It will be difficult for one parent to be actively supporting their child while the other parent is not, but in the end, that will be something that they need to sort out between themselves. It is important that you hear and respect their fear and hurt and other feelings that they might have. As much as this is scary for you, it can also be so for your parents.
It is very important that you not pin your parents against each other or compare them to other parents. Your parents are individuals, and they are entitled to feel the way that they do. What they are not entitled to do is to abuse or disrespect you. Abuse, in any form, is always wrong. If it does happen that your parents or other family members become abusive or neglectful of your needs because you have come out to them, there are official channels that you can follow to address this. The law will always be on the side of the child. It is important that you speak out against abuse.
Of course, the hope is always that it will not go that far and that your parents will eventually come around and learn to accept you for who you are as a person. You will find that the struggle to accept a child's individuality is not exclusive to the transgender community. Many parents struggle to accept their child as an individual person when they present with characteristics that the parent is unfamiliar with or does not like or understand.
Additional Things To Discuss
Once your parents have gotten past their initial shock, there are some other things that you will need to discuss with them.
There will be a process of coming out to other family members and even extended family over time. They also might want to tell their close friends. It will be your personal decision who you want to come out to but bear in mind that it might benefit your parents to be able to talk to their friends about things that they worry about, etc.
If you are still in school, you will need to discuss whether you want to come out at school. If you do, then it is advisable that your parents talk to the staff before you come out and start expressing your gender there.
Some schools accept gender identity fairly easily and have processes in place to make gender expression easier, but others might not accept transgender children at all. This might lead to your parents having to move you to a new school, or another extreme measure.
Discussing Your Child's Transition with Family and Friends
It is usually best to do this as a collaboration between the child and parent. It is important that both parties have someone they can talk to when they are struggling, but it is also good for parent and child to present a united front when it comes to the child's identity.
Family members need to realize that a child is also an individual person who might not present the way they want them to. What is most important is that the child feels supported and grows up to be a good person who is comfortable with themselves.
If your family or friends do not understand this, then it is fine. They do not have to understand it to respect it. If your family or friends do not respect it and create tension of conflict that adds to stress levels, it might be best to distance yourself and your immediate family from them.
They might come around after some time, but if they don't, then they might need to move on separate from you. It might be hard, but supporting your child is the most important thing. If your child has a sense of acceptance from you and they feel like there is nothing wrong with how they feel, then you are already leading them in the right direction.
Coping With A Name Change
What if the term "dead name" is too painful for parents?
Trans people often change their names. This is very likely if their birth name is obviously gendered. For example, "Janet" is an obvious "girl" name, and if you have a transgender son, it will not be an appropriate name for him.
This aspect of transition is often tough for parents to cope with. You take a lot of care in choosing your children's names, and their names can often be very meaningful to you. It can therefore be painful to hear them refer to the name as a "dead name".
While dead name is the official and accepted term, it might be necessary to rethink it if it is causing your parents a lot of pain. You can consider switching over to referring to your birth name instead.
There are some things that can help ease this discomfort on both sides. For example, if you have a family name, you can ask your parents to help you choose another family name that is appropriate to your gender identity. Or you can choose a gender-neutral or alternative form of your birth name instead of choosing something completely different. If this is something that you would be comfortable with.
Although transition is a very personal process, it can be highly beneficial to involve your direct family in your transition, such as your parents and siblings. It can help you feel more secure in your family unit and help your family to feel more in touch with you. It can be a life-long bonding experience for some families and can bring them closer to together.
The Importance of Friends
Friends are important for the whole family during a transition process. Your children might have made friends that will stay with them for life, and these are the best kinds of friends for them to talk to during their transition.
You can also find a lot of support among your friends during this time. Although there are some things that you need to bear in mind. For example, do not automatically assume that you, a gay friend, should be your first port of call or that they will be more accepting just because they belong to the LGBTQ+ community. This community is diverse, and each person still has their individual feelings about things.
Be very careful who you choose to tell and when you decide to tell them. Do not accidentally "out" your child before they are ready. Talk to them about who you can tell and when.