Transgender For Parents
Parents can feel an enormous burden when their child tells them that they are or might be trans. A revelation like this might unsettle the life that parents had envisioned for their child, leading to feelings of distress, fear and grief. The enormous role that gender plays in shaping our view of the world and the fact that parenting is almost exclusively discussed in terms of having a daughter or son, means that feelings of confusion or destabilisation frequently arise when a child comes out as trans. This is not helped by the negative bias in the media; a rhetoric which often positions trans people as ‘less-than’ or ‘abnormal’.
Acknowledging this, it is important to note that as a parent, your feelings of distress or confusion are common and valid. Seeking support services in order to counter these feelings and do what is best for your child can be incredibly important. Family counselling with a trans-affirmative therapist, utilising appropriate resources and accessing the many events run at AGA, can help navigate the way forward. The best way for parents to support their trans child is to stay informed and positive, and to ensure the best possible support, outcomes and options are available.
Transitioning is not just about hormones and surgery. Often trans young people are misrepresented by anti-transgender movements and organisations, as having a focus on medical transition. The media can also misrepresent information, stating that trans young people will receive gender affirming medical interventions (such as hormones and surgery) without the consent of a parent/carer/guardian. It is important to know that a doctor will not provide gender affirming medical care to a young person without the consent of a parent/carer/guardian.
Transition does not just exist within a medical sphere. Your child may choose to go by a different name, use different pronouns, or wish to express their gender differently by changing what they wear or how they appear. It is also important for parents to talk with their child’s school to ensure a safe transition environment can be created.
When puberty strikes, a lot of trans young people feel the need to alter their physical appearance in some form. Some of the ways that a young person may choose to change how they look can have significant health consequences if done incorrectly (such as chest binding). It is important, therefore, that a young person is able to receive correct information about how to safely alter their appearance, whether this is through talking to family members or professionals.
Children under 16 cannot legally begin medical transition, though they may be able to take hormone-blockers to delay an unwanted puberty until they are old enough to make informed, decisions for themselves. Puberty is a time in a young person’s life when secondary sex characteristics develop. These developments are sometimes irreversible (such as voice changes and skeletal growth), and can present whole new challenges when it comes to a young trans person’s feelings about their body, and can make medical transition much harder later in life. If a child feels that the irreversible effects of puberty will adversely affect their sense of self, puberty blockers (safe medications that interrupt the hormonal receptors that trigger puberty) can provide a life-enhancing option. It is important to know, however, like with any medication, there can be side effects, including some dangerous ones, such as reducing bone density. Note, however, that puberty blockers are taken under medical supervision, and the effects related to hormones are ultimately reversible.
It is important to understand that puberty blockers do not represent a medical transition. It is better to think of them as a ‘stop-gap’ option: blockers simply delay the irreversible effects of puberty, until a young person is an adult and can then decide for themselves if they do want to medically transition.
For navigating all of these issues and more, social support can be life-saving. AGA runs many social activities for trans young people, and also provides an environment for parents to learn and share experiences.
- Using the child’s/young person’s chosen name and pronoun, and respecting their choices around clothing, gendered social roles and activities is vital. Advocate for other people in their life to do the same.
- Having parents talk with schools and doctor surgeries for example can ensure children’s needs are being met. If the institutions are not trans-affirmative, or are misinformed, AGA can provide appropriate training and resources.
- A lot of alarming misinformation exists when it comes to trans young people. Parents can do their own research from trans-affirmative and evidence based resources, to support better understandings of trans issues and to be able to support their children make informed decisions.
- There are many ways someone might transition before more permanent, legal and medical options are considered.
- The best outcome for trans children and young people, is for parents to work with their children to ensure their safety and happiness until they are able to make the bigger decisions for themselves.