Monday, March 13, 2017

When Your Teen Comes Out As Trans

Our family is over 3 years in to our oldest child's coming out as agender, a name for a transgender person who identifies as a subset of non-binary, who doesn't identify as either a boy or a girl. If you ask our oldest kiddo if they are male or female, they would say, "neither." (And, note, they use "they/them" pronouns.) And in the last year, we took in and are in the process of adopting another trans teenager. For a couple cisgender people, my husband and I have had a personal, vested interest in supporting the rights, safety, and happiness of our kids.

In the last several years, we've met lots of other families with trans kiddos of all ages and lots of trans adults. In the last several years, we've also seen trans identities and issues become more visible and more political, in everything from bathroom access, healthcare services, and overall civil rights. We helped found and continue to serve on the board of a local nonprofit focused on serving the needs of transyouth, their families, and the transgender adults in our community. I do training for local educational and community organizations. For a cisgender person, I have learned a lot about the issues that transgender folks of all ages face, and I invest my time (and often my money) in helping advocate for them in every way I can. I try to be the best ally I can be.

Very likely, you don't have a trans kid. Statistically, you don't. So let me try to paint the picture of what being the parent of a trans kid is like.

Imagine you have a teenager who comes to you and says, "the gender you assumed I was is not the gender I am." Suddenly, these things are expected of you, in an instant:

  • Learn what the term transgender means (most cis folks don't learn about this until circumstances prompt our education, unfortunately)
  • Learn what the transgender experience is like
  • Advocate with school staff, healthcare professionals, extracurricular event instructors
  • Be supportive of the challenges your kiddo is facing
  • Use new pronouns
  • Use a new name for your child that you likely didn't choose
  • Navigate the opinions of everyone you meet
  • Navigate the opinions of your family and friends
  • Navigate the emotional response of your partner, if you have one
  • Navigate your own sense of loss, grief for the dreams you had formed for your child, for who you had believed that they were or who they were becoming
  • Navigate and develop new dreams and expectations of who your child really is
  • Face the realities of how your trans kiddo may be treated in the world
  • Try to navigate your deepest fears of violence against your child
  • Try to navigate your deepest fears of violence your child might commit against themselves
  • Come to terms with statistics
  • Learn about blockers, hormones and trans healthcare. Understand and weigh the pros and cons. 
  • Realize how big of a deal bathrooms are for trans folks. Understand why.
In all likelihood, you aren't prepared for any of these things. You probably don't have a community of trans folks who you are already integrated into that you have learned from, seen their struggles, and who you can turn to for advice, or to be role models to your kiddo. 

You will make a million mistakes. You will make a big deal about messing up pronouns and make it all about you and say that it's hard. You will get frustrated that your kid just can't use whatever bathroom they want so you just don't have to think about bathrooms anymore. You will hesitate to talk about your kid with strangers, at work, with friends, sometimes even with family. You will freak out about healthcare and big decisions about things like hormones and surgery that will impact your kids' future choices in having children or that can cause side effects. You will think and maybe even say things like, "It would be so much easier if you were just gay," because, honestly, you are pretty sure it would. You will see Facebook memories and ugly cry at inconvenient times. You will worry about your kid's safety in a way that you never, ever did before. You will look at seemingly benign situations as a threat, or a potential trigger, for your kid. You will worry about their body dysphoria. You will worry about their ability to emotionally deal with all of the things you are having a hard time dealing with, and you're not even trans. 

You will be attacked by your trans kid. Your kid telling you you're not doing it right, not doing it enough, that you can't possibly understand. You will be lumped in with all of the other cis people who just don't get it. Your mistakes as you learn will be held against you. Your feelings and emotions will be dismissed, be seen as hostile and not accepting. You'll be told you're not a good ally. You will be despised as the enemy. All of their anger at the world will be taken out on you. 

You will be attacked by your friends, family, coworkers, and society. You will be told this is your fault. You will be told that you are encouraging this. You will be told that you should just not let your kid be trans. You will be told that your kid is too young to know what their gender is, and that you're a bad parent for encouraging their deviant behavior. You will be insulted by strangers. You may be cut off from your religious community. You will be cut off from people who you love. You will have to cut off people who you love. You will feel alone. You will sometimes be alone. 

And yet, you will fight for your kid. You will find strength that you didn't know you had. You will push yourself to learn faster, for the sake of your kid. You will fight through the tears and your own broken heart. You will know that everything you are doing, you are doing out of love for the perfect person that your kiddo is and who they are becoming. You will work through the grief. You will buy them new clothes. You will compliment them on new hairstyles. You will proactively look for places with gender neutral bathrooms. You will find community resources. You will have awkward conversations with healthcare professionals. You will fight with insurance companies for benefits. You will find therapists who can work with your kid. You will advocate for your kid at school. You will get used to the new pronouns and learn to apologize and move on when you screw up. You will find other parents who have trans kids. You will connect with them in ways you can't explain. You will meet trans adults and will watch them as role models for your kiddo. You will learn about trans rights. You will learn about name changes and gender markers. You'll learn about hormones and what medical interventions are possible for your kiddo, and when. You'll rejoice when you see trans folks successes and grieve when you hear of violence and oppression. 

You will learn to move past the insults. You will embrace you inner mama or papa bear. You will do whatever it takes, anything that it takes, to fight for your kiddo. 

Even after you learn, even after you gain confidence, even after you know in your heart that you and your child are on the right path, you will be attacked. It doesn't end when you evolve. Your kid will still accuse you, other trans folks will still dismiss you, complete strangers will still insult and attack you. Your skin will be thicker, but it will still hurt. 

You will never know what it is to be transgender. But you know what it means to love someone more than you love yourself, fear for someone more than you fear for yourself, fight for someone more than you would fight for yourself. Because you are a parent. And when your kid comes out as trans, you learn in a new way what that means. 

Note: I couldn't have written this three years ago, two years ago, or even last year. If you are in the throes of coming out as a parent of a trans youth, be patient with yourself, brave mamas and brave dads. It is a journey for us, as much as it is a journey for our children. You are not alone. 


  1. This is beautiful and rings very true for our family. Thankfully, we have had almost complete love and support from friends, family, and community. I can't imagine how much harder it is for those who don't. Thank you for writing this.

    1. We are very lucky as well, Gwen...we have an exceptionally accepting community and extended family. Still, it's funny how much we struggle along the way, even when everyone tells us how great we are, or how great we are doing. Some days it's easier to hear that than others. Thanks and sending strength and love to you and your family.

    2. Exactly! Thank you both (all) for expressing what it's like. yes, a thousand times yes.

  2. Thank you. My heart goes out to every parent who is doing their best for their child/children. I'm a trans adult, and my parents weren't much help at all. In fact, my dad was generally harder on me than anyone else. The kids may attack you...but at least they will always know that they have a safe place and that you have their back.

    1. I try to remind myself that we get a lot of the rage from our kiddo because they know that we can take it (doesn't make it any easier, though!). We sometimes joke that there's never been a better time to be trans, but similarly, it's likely never been a better time to be a parent of a trans kid...we have the grace of more and more experts, visible trans adults in our communities, and ways of connecting with other parents. I can't imagine what this experience would have been like without having access to amazing resources. Thank you for your note; it means more than you know.

  3. This is great - I'm glad you are doing so much for others too! I have an 18yr old trans son and here is my blog if you're interested. I'll add yours to my blog roll.

    1. Thanks so much! I'll definitely check out your blog!

  4. Such a fantastic post Koreen! I know it speaks for me and so many other parents of trans kids. Your bullet point list is wonderful and so true. It's almost like we go into auto pilot, claws come out and it's all about protecting and making our children feel safe and whole. I have already shared it on my social media and hope to do a blog post directing others to read it soon as well. Well Done! Warmest regards, Cheryl B. Evans (Author of I Promised Not to Tell: Raising a transgender child)