Oh the holidays! They are upon us, and as it is a time for family gathering, it may also be the time that people decide to let their family know about their transgender identity. So, in the spirit of giving, I though I would give some words of advice for a parent whose child has just told them that they are transgender. Here we go!
Congratulations! What is more beautiful that your child deciding that they want to share their true self with you. It shows a great measure of trust and faith in your relationship that they feel safe to open up to you. Despite the fear of abandonment that resides in every action of "coming out," they chose to come to you with this conversation. This kind of revelation is a gift -- a present of true presence. By sharing this information with you, they have shared not only information about themselves, but information about your relationship. They want you to get to know the true person they are. How many parents gripe about their children not sharing their lives with them? Your kid just risked everything so they could be their authentic self every time you are together. That is magical.
So what do you do now? Here are some really great ways to be supportive of your kid.
1. They may have shared with you but you need not share everything with them. If this information was difficult for you, search for others to receive your grievances. As for your child, tell them that you love them and they won't lose you. Tell them that understandably this is big news that may have been hard to hear but you will work through this on your own so that you only show up as a place of love and support for them. Now go and take all those hard feelings to your therapist, best friend, minister, or cat and talk it out with them. There are support groups you can join and online forums to express your concerns.
2. Did your kid change their name and/or pronouns they use? Ask them. 'What name would you like me to call you?' 'What pronouns would you like me to use for you?' Now practice, practice, practice. If you call them by their previous name or pronoun, simply apologize, correct yourself and move on. Harping on about how this is hard for you will only serve to humiliate your kid and make them feel guilty for something they can't help. When someone I know changes their name, my first step is to change their info in my phone. It's a really helpful tool to remind me.
3. Don't believe the lie that you are losing your child. In reality, you have just been gifted the opportunity to be closer to them.
4. Ask your kid how you could best support them. Not only will it reinforce that you are on their side and not going to desert them, you'll get direction too.
5. Got a question? If you don't feel comfortable asking your kid, then ask the internet. They don't call it the information superhighway for nothing. Just as you would with any internet search, be savvy about informational sources. Also, it is important to remember that gender identity is highly personal and that the information you discover may not be applicable to your kid. Imagine googling "woman" or "man" and trying to find information that is truly relevant to your relationship to your gender.
6. This may be hard to hear, but this isn't about you. You don't know your child better then they know themself. You may find yourself questioning your impact on informing their gender but whatever you discover it doesn't have any impact on the present day situation. Maybe you saw this coming, maybe you didn't. Either way, it doesn't change the present state of things. Looking for answers in irrelevant information will only lead you on an unnecessary search for validity when the truth is standing right in front of you. Stay grounded in actuality.
7. Dig into you capacity for empathy. You may not know what it's like to be inside their body or brain but we can all relate to feeling at odds with our body and struggling with insecurities, with wondering wether we will be liked, abandoned or invalidated. I struggled deeply in high school. One day, after a fight with my mom I yelled through tears "You don't know what it's like to be different!" My mom, who was born with a dark birthmark covering half of her face put her arms around me and said "They called me 'red face' in school." It was a moment where I stopped distrusting her capacity for understanding and I let her into the places of my deepest pain and fears. Finding the places of likeness in your experiences will help both you and your kid grow and heal as a team.
You have resources. You are not alone. You have the capacity to show great love and understanding. You are a parent of an incredibly unique and self-aware child who came to you with a deep desire for you to see them as they truly are. These are the reasons I started, and will now end this post, with congratulations.