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Family, Friends & Support

MTF/FTM Unsupportive Parents

Louise D.

Life for transgender youth can be difficult, specifically because of discrimination. This can be exacerbated by unsupportive people (friends or family), and this can be especially devastating if the family members who are being unsupportive happen to be your parents.

Within an ideal world, we would always like to believe that our parents will love us no matter what. But unfortunately, this is not always the case for everyone. Disapproving parents are not exclusive to trans people; it is something that a great many people will face during the course of their lives. It is specifically difficult for trans people, though, because they will likely struggle to find support outside of their homes as well.

When you reach an age of majority and can leave your parents’ house, it might end up being a significant relief, but often until that time, you have to face life with a mother or father (or both) that do not support your choices or your personality at all.

Understanding Their Concerns

When parents are unsupportive of their transgender children, it might be helpful to establish where the disapproval comes from. Some might initially disapprove because of a shock reaction; some might not understand how transitioning can help the mental health of a trans person. Others might have religious objections or moral objections. People can be worried about discrimination against their family, conflict with the community, etc. There is an unending list of possible reasons for disapproval, and it might be beneficial to understand where the disproval is coming from.

We have to remember that our parents grew up in a different time, and their opinions have likely been formed by those times and their experiences growing up. If they grew up in a conservative environment or an environment where discrimination and violence towards minorities was the norm, it will likely be more difficult for them to adjust to tolerant views. You might need to approach the conversation and the situation differently in order to meet them halfway.

We have to be patient with our parents as much as possible when we bring up a difficult situation like this. It is often a lot for them to adjust to, and it is essential that we realize that.

Unsupportive Parents

Influence of Other Family Members

It is very likely that your parents can be influenced by extended family members and their opinions as well. This can create a tricky situation and can test loyalties within a family, which is quite the recipe for disaster. This might be the kind of situation that we need to be sensitive to, as it might change over time.

A parent might find themselves in the kind of situation where they stand between their own child and their parent, or their sibling, etc. This is a challenging situation, and they will likely want to keep the peace as far as possible.

Finding a Supportive Family Member

If you have come out, and you find that your parents are unsupportive, you might be lucky enough to find another member of the family who is supportive. It is important to know who this person might be and to establish regular contact with them; they could end up being your ally within the family.

It is essential to surround yourself with supportive people, and this can be even more valuable if that person is a member of the family. You need someone that you can share your story with and can be happy with you and hope with you. They can help you focus on the positive.

They can end up helping you with your parents, but it is important to try not to turn them against your parents. It is possible to maintain relatively good relationships with people you do not agree with. Especially if they are living in the same house as your parents and you are all sharing space.

Turning to a Support Group

When you are dealing with unsupportive people, especially your parents, you can benefit from engagement with a support group. You can also encourage your parents to speak to such a group for their own benefit. They can find support and understanding from people who have faced similar struggles with their children or who are experiencing the same challenges that they are.

Such a group can also help to educate them. For example, with things like the binary “boy and girl” terminology, that could be harmful. They can go to the group for advice and feel heard and respected by other groups members.

Fears Regarding Medical Transition

Many parents experience a lot of fear related to the medical procedures associated with transition. Even if they approve of their children’s wish to transition, they are likely to experience fear related to the surgeries and other medical interventions. This is simply a normal response for a loving parent who does not want their child to experience physical pain or danger (as is normal with surgery).

In this case, your parents might benefit from talking to a doctor who has made a career out of gender identity. Or, you can try and establish how your family doctor feels about trans people and see if they can have a conversation with your parents or help to address their worries. Most families have been with the same doctor for well over a decade and are likely to have a good relationship with that doctor.

Having to Set Boundaries

The goal of open communication with parents who do not support you as a trans person is not to change their minds, but to hear each other out and acknowledge each other’s stance. For this reason, you might need to set boundaries with family members and even your own parents.

This will mainly relate to hurtful things being said. If you are purposefully making a point of calling you a girl when you are a transgender boy, then tell them how much this hurts you, ask them nicely to try not to do this when you are around to hear it.

Dealing with Feelings

A very difficult part of coming out and being out is having to deal with people’s feelings about you as a trans man or trans woman. In dealing with other people’s feelings, we need to remember that our priority must be our own happiness, which may seem selfish, but it is essential. You will spend your whole life seeking support and never finding enough if you place your happiness in people. Your happiness must come from within. You should be able to accept yourself and love yourself for who you are before you can expect others to do this.

This will come from making decisions that protect your happiness. Often this type of decision is not unique to transgender people. People who end up leaving their steady job to start a new business or someone who changes their major in their senior year of college can face the same kind of situation with their parents. It is essential to know that difficulties with a parent/child relationship are normal.

Listen

As mentioned before, the real goal is to listen and respect each other, not to change opinions. Try to understand where they are coming from. They probably have a number of concerns that you can address.

Some Useful Guidelines

We understand that a lot of this will be difficult to do, but it is essential to stick to this as far as possible. It will help to keep things from escalating, and these efforts are more likely to be fruitful than an all-out war might be.

First and foremost, remember that your parents love you. When you are at odds with them, it is easy to forget this, and that does not help anyone. So try to remind yourself occasionally that they do love you.

Do not start conversations with an accusation. When you begin to accuse each other of things, the conversation will quickly spin out of control and end in a fight.

There might be a need to educate them. Most people from their generation just do not understand, and in cases like these, education can be valuable. Discuss things calmly and answer their questions. Please do not take offence when they ask things that are usually not okay to ask. They are trying to understand, and if you explain it to them calmly, you are more likely to facilitate a successful exchange of helpful information.

If you are underage, you must be aware that this advice is only appropriate if you are sure that you will be safe. If you doubt that you are safe in your home, it is best to contact child services and discuss your concern with them. However, if you are sure you are safe and this is just a disagreement, you will need to assert yourself. While your parents will need room to work through their emotions, there should not be a reason for them to be purposefully hurtful towards you.

If they are saying things that hurt you, make this known to them. Be respectful and ask them nicely not to say hurtful things around you.

It is important that you understand that at the end of the day, you do not need approval from your parents. You will need to live with your own choices, and you need to live your own life. You need to choose your own career, make your own dreams come true, earn your own money, make your own success in life. The same is true for your gender identity. You need to live true to yourself, and if your parents never come round and never get on board and continue to damage you with words, it might be necessary to start focusing on other things. In doing so, you might need to create distance between yourself and your parents. If the battle is lost and you see no other way out, then you can leave; you are allowed to cut hurtful people out of your life, even if they are your parents.

Alternatively, you could choose to ignore what they have to say about your transgender status and try to steer the relationship in another direction. This is also an option if you do not want to entirely cut ties with your parents.

Unsupportive Parents

Early on in these discussions, it is essential for you to accept where they are at. They might not be ready to accept you at that moment and might just need time to adjust. This is okay, and we cannot always expect everyone to jump on board right from the start.

Address their concerns. Try to speak to them about the things that worry them the most. Acknowledge that their concerns are valid, do not shoot them down. Talk about these things and share how you feel about them. Try to find a good example for a transition and share it with your parents. Try to imagine how they are feeling; the uncertainty and fear that a mom and dad feel for their kids’ future can be immense. And their efforts to protect their children can ultimately damage their relationship.

If your parents are excessively worried, it is important that you show them that you can thrive through transition. They are probably used to you being uncertain or struggling with your identity, so it is important for them to see your success associated with living your truth. They will likely realize at some point that you are really doing better, and this might help them to be less afraid so that they can accept you as a transgender man, or it could help them be more motivated to start using your female pronouns, for example.

If you are really struggling with your parents, you might need to find more support elsewhere for the sake of your own sanity and wellness. You could potentially find support at school or in groups, or even from your friends. Where you find support does not matter, but it is essential that you have someone to turn to. You can also explore online support options. Especially when you are a minor and might not be able to go to face-to-face counselling. There are online support options available. Alternatively, your school should also have support services for enrolled students.

It is essential that you are realistic with your parents. Do not lie to them or exaggerate your situation. Especially when you first start talking, be honest with them. You should always try to remain realistic about your options and your situation with yourself and with the rest of the world. Creating unrealistic expectations can end really badly.

If you find that you cannot tell your mom and dad everything, then don’t. Realistically there are some things that we cannot talk to our parents about, and there really isn’t a rule that says that they need to know everything about our lives.

Once you have made a commitment to transition, it is vital that you take action. Do not be dissuaded by the words of a parent who is afraid and trying to talk you out of transitioning. As mentioned before, you will need to live with yourself for the rest of your life, and in the end, you are the one who has to deal with your dysphoria and feeling wrong in your own body. If the only way to alleviate these distressing symptoms for you is to make a transition, then you should be free to do this.

It might be helpful for you to bring in a third party. For example, someone else in the family, or a friend, who can offer further advice, bring a fresh perspective, help to make sure that efforts at talking do not get out of hand, etc.

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