During the first year after my son Leo came out as transgender, I told my therapist I had never been more lonely in my life. During crises and tragedies, people often close ranks around one another. They offer support and comfort. When a child comes out as transgender, however, it’s different. No one knows what to say or how to act. Being the parent of a transgender child is lonely because you don’t understand what it’s like unless you’ve been there.
In the first few months, well-meaning friends and family members would often ask how Leo was doing. And I was happy to talk about him. With his permission, I would share what he was up to in school and how his transition was progressing. And while it gave us something to talk about, I wanted them to ask how I was doing.
No one thinks to ask how the parent is doing after a child comes out.
I wanted to share how I felt and what I was thinking. I needed to talk about what was hard. I wished people asked what I missed about having a daughter, even if it made me cry. Part of me felt like everyone forgot about her but me.
And I know it wasn’t intentional. Our family and friends love us. But sometimes, it’s easier to stay quiet than to say something that might hurt someone, even by mistake. So what can we do? How do we feel less lonely?
Start with people who make an effort.
Three people in my life consistently asked how I was doing regarding Leo’s coming out during the first year. Those same three people still ask, almost seven years later. Two close friends and one family member. One I talked to very regularly, one a little less often, and the last one once in a while. But they provided me just enough support that I didn’t feel completely alone. I knew that if I were struggling, I had someone I could reach out to and share my feelings with.
After that, I used writing as an outlet to process my feelings. Writing doesn’t work for everyone, but give it a try, especially if you have no one else to connect with. Keep your writing somewhere safe, and let it all out: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Remember, this is for your eyes only.
Finally, don’t be afraid to cut ties with unsupportive people. It’s not easy, but sometimes it’s necessary.
What if it’s not your child? Maybe you are an ally, or someone sent you this article to read. What’s your next right thing?
Start with love and empathy.
If you are a loved one or friend of someone whose child is transgender, think about what you would want someone to say to you. You can acknowledge the child but ask about the parent. Try: “That’s exciting for them. How do you feel about it?” Or, “Wow, that’s big news. How have you been doing?”
Most importantly, please don’t make it a one-time event. Check-in on your person regularly. There are some people who offered support when Leo first came out, and I haven’t heard from them since. Silence like that sends a message, even if that’s not your intention.
As parents, we don’t have the energy or mental capacity to reach out first. We are learning what it means for our child to be transgender. There are new terms to learn and pronouns to remember. We have to associate our child with a new name and then remember to use it.
We want to talk about how we are feeling; we just don’t know how.
It’s as uncomfortable for us as it is for you. Maybe even more so, because how do you work that you’re feeling sad about your son’s coming out into conversation? Or how do you tell your best friend that you cried in the middle of Target while buying your daughter new dresses? It’s less awkward if the lines of communication are already open.
We all want to feel connected and supported. If our friends are hurting, we want to reach out and let them know we care. Push past the discomfort and take the next step.