There’s something I haven’t shared very much about in this blog. I’ve debated for a year about whether or not to write about my children. I have mixed feelings, even though my blog is anonymous, I want to protect their privacy. I’ve decided not to write many specifics about them, but I do talk about parenting issues in general, including parenting through mental illness. I do this because I want to break the isolation I have felt as a parent with a mental illness. I know other parents out there have felt the way I have, judgment, fears of being judged, fears of not being enough, fears of relapse and more…
But I’m living with a different type of parenting challenge.
I’m raising a transgender daughter.
I wanted to write a post with a few tips on what to say and what NOT to say to the parent of a transgender child. As I write this post, I want to clearly state that I don’t speak for all parents of transgender children, nor do I speak for trans folks themselves. I’m speaking for myself, a queer, white, femme but not quite binary person, living with mental illness and raising a trans female daughter.
Things that I don’t need to hear:
- You are so brave! I don’t know if I could do it! I don’t want to be put on a pedestal. I’m not doing anything superhuman. I’m parenting my child. Supporting my child in her social transitioning wasn’t even something I debated. I knew very early on that I could have a dead “son” or a happy, healthy daughter. This was a no-brainer. I’d like to think you would make the same choice, if it came to saving the life of your own child. I’m not brave or special. I’m just a regular mom, taking care of a slightly extraordinary girl.
- How do you know it’s not just a phase? What if she grows out of it? Maybe she’ll just be gay. Please stop. Don’t say any of these things. First, it’s not your business. Second, my child knows herself best and I guarantee I know her better than you do. Even if it is a phase, which I highly doubt, she will have a chance to explore it and she will know I support her unconditionally. These comments also irk me because they are laced with veiled transphobia. They imply that being trans is something undesirable, that being cis-gender is normal and being trans is something deviant. I reject this. Gender exists on a spectrum. We all have gender identity and gender expression. Trans folks are no different. Being cis gender is not inherently better. I don’t wish my child would “just be gay.” My child is herself, and I celebrate that.
- It’s so difficult for me/us to accommodate this. This is something I heard from my child’s school. It made me feel physically ill. Grown adults saying that creating a universal, gender neutral washroom was SO difficult and using my child’s chosen name was so stressful for the staff. I’m sorry, but this isn’t about you. Using a person’s pronouns and chosen name is basic respect. Mis-gendering a trans person is violent and aggressive. It’s much more difficult for my child to go into school every day, worry about using the bathroom safely, worry about people respecting her, than it is for adults to adjust to using a name, or change a sign on a bathroom. This is also another form of veiled transphobia.
- I understand. Please use this phrase with caution. Unless you have parented a trans child, or you are a trans identified person, please don’t say this to me. If you don’t have lived experience you don’t really understand what my family is living. An alternative to this could be to say “I hear you” or “I believe you.”
What I would like to hear as I parent my trans child:
- How are things going? Would you like to go for coffee? Do you want some company? Parenting is isolating. Any parent knows this. Being a single parent is very isolating. Being a single parent, with a mental illness, parenting a child who has some unique and special needs is extremely isolating. Please continue to invite me to do things. Ask me out for coffee. Come over to my house and chat. Let me vent about my fears, worries and struggles. Be there to hear about our successes. Because I need these things in the same way that any parent does. I need a sense of community and so does my child.
- You are a good mother. You are doing the right thing by supporting your child. Sometimes I need reassurance, especially when I doubt myself or am overwhelmed with fears for the future. Don’t jump in and give advice (unless asked for), don’t tell me my worries are irrational, don’t shut me down. Just let me talk. Believe me, validate me and hold space for the unique challenges my family faces.
- Pretty much ANYTHING coming from other parents of trans children or other trans folks. Its helps me and my child immensely to know that we are not alone. Hearing about the lived experiences of others and being part of an amazing community of LGBTTQ+ folks in our city has been nothing short of life saving. If you are parenting a trans child, my one piece of advice would be to seek out a source of community. Community is different than medical care/counseling, though your child may benefit from that as well. Community includes online support groups, facebook groups, playgroups, youth groups, parenting groups, pride celebrations, camps etc…reach out and find one in your area. If you live in Canada, you can contact me and I’ll help you get started. I guarantee you won’t be sorry and you’ll meet some of the most amazing people imaginable.
Best of all, if this is new to you, there are so many resources available. Educate yourself. Read. Learn. Because trans kids and youth are out there and they need our love and support. And so do their parents!