One of the reasons that parents and other supportive adults find it difficult to accept transgender people is because of fear of discrimination. Many people worry that their children will be the victim of harassment, discrimination or violence. They hope and pray that their child’s gender identity is “just a phase,” so that their children will have easier lives.
If you’ve felt like this, don’t feel ashamed–it’s perfectly normal to wish that your children had an easier time in life. However, in most cases your child is who they are–you can’t wish their identities away, no matter how noble your reasons for doing so, and if you try to, your child will just feel unaccepted and may become depressed or angry.
Unfortunately, discrimination against trans people is still widespread and in many places is perfectly legal. Transgender kids are also often the targets of bullying. However, there are some things you can do to help support your child and keep them safe at the same time.
- Keep the lines of communication open between you and your child. Talk to your child about their experiences just as you would with any other child. Don’t pry, but do offer your child the opportunity to talk about things that are going on at school, whether that includes problems with friends, bullying problems, or other problems. Listen to your child and do your best not to react with anger or overprotectiveness if your child tells you about an incident.
- Go with your child to talk to school administrators if there is a problem. Administrators and teachers often are unsure of the best way to handle transgender children and related issues, and some still think it’s okay to bully a child for “choosing” to be transgender. If your child tells you about a problem, you may need to talk to school administrators, depending on the nature of the problem and the age of your child. Show your child you support them by going to see the principal in person and standing up for your child’s rights. Be as calm as possible during the meeting, but make it clear that the school needs to do something to protect your child. Only pull your child out of school as a last resort; don’t use the threat of doing so to try to manipulate the principal into doing what you want.
- Talk to your child about appropriate behavior if they are the one causing a problem. Don’t confuse standing up for your child’s rights with allowing them to act however they please. Sometimes your child will be the one who is bullying–and you need to address this behavior just as you would with any other child. Not only does it help your child learn the right way to handle conflicts, but it also shows school administrators that you are trying to be fair rather than just insisting on your child’s way. That will help them take you more seriously when the time comes to stand up for your child.
- Express confidence in your child and support for their identity whenever you can. It’s easy to become overprotective of your child because they are at special risk for bullying and related problems. However, children will pick up quickly on fearful behavior and either rebel altogether or become terrified of going out in public themselves. So do your best to treat your child the same way you would any child of his or her age. Don’t be overly permissive and allow them to go into dangerous situations, but don’t stop them from playing with friends or doing other things appropriate for their age out of fear.
If you follow these tips, your children will grow up to be confident about themselves as transgender individuals. In many cases, this can reduce the chances of negative reactions towards them because they project this confidence outwards. (I have found that 9 times out of 10, I receive a positive reaction if I tell someone I am transgender, even if I have to show ID with my birth name.)
Inevitably, however, your child will run into a situation–either now or later–where someone doesn’t accept them for who they are. That’s when your support will be most crucial. I’ve found that because I have managed to manifest so much acceptance for myself, that it really throws me off when I don’t get what I need from somebody. I tend to expect that my confidence will radiate outwards. Anyway, at such times, it’s crucial to be as supportive as possible and to help guide your child to his or her own solution.
Being transgender is not a tragedy, but something to be celebrated; even so, it’s hard sometimes to accept that when life gets difficult because of it. It’s equally hard for parents to be accepting of their children in a world that is often cruel to them. However, you don’t want to focus on the negatives too much because that will just scare you and your child and make their situation feel worse than it truly is. If you can be confident in your love for your child as they are, you can help manifest self-confidence, which in turn allows your child to command respect and acceptance from most people.
I am available to do one-on-one or group coaching sessions with you, your children, and/or trans support groups. I also am available as a motivational speaker for people in the trans community. Please visit http://www.sja-advocacy.com for more details.