No one tells you when your child comes out as transgender that you will be lonely. Suddenly, people will ask how your child is doing, but they'll stop asking how you are doing. Or that you won't have anyone to ask your hard questions to. Or that you won't know anyone who understands what you are feeling. As parents of transgender children, how do we support each other if we don't know where to find one another?
One year after my son Leo came out, my therapist asked, "How do you feel? Really" I thought about it for a long minute or three. I expected to feel sad, and I did. But that's not what I told her. "I think this has been the loneliest year of my life." My voice cracked as I said it, and tears rolled down my face. I didn't realize how lonely I was until we discussed why I felt that way. Or that I had been feeling lonely for such a long time. That under the pain and sadness I felt, a good part of it was from lack of support. Not from her but from other people in my life.
Sometimes loneliness and isolation mask themselves as sadness.
We think we are sad when what we need is someone to let us know we are seen. That they have been where we are and understand what we are going through. As parents of transgender children, finding that kind of support can be hard. Those closest to us want to help but don't know how. They don't know the right words to say. They haven't walked in our shoes and don't know what it's like.
It's a lonely place to be.
But we don't have to stay there. When our kids first come out, it can be hard to ask others for support - especially if we don't know what kind of support we need. Those first days, weeks, and months can feel overwhelming. We are learning new terminology and adjusting to a new family configuration. We are adjusting to new names and pronouns. And grieving the loss of hopes and dreams we had for our children. For the lives we planned for ourselves that turned out differently than we imagined.
It can feel like a burden to share your needs with others, which leads to shutting people out.
What we need more than anything when our kids come out is to let others in. What could that look like?
- Letting trusted people know what's going on.
- Sharing with those people when you are struggling.
- Reaching out to a professional if it gets too hard.
- Searching out a community of other LGBTQ+/transgender parents.
- Joining a support group, online or in-person (such as PFLAG).
Some of us may need just one of these. Some of us may need all of them. And some of us may not need any of them. But there's a quote that I've thought about a lot since my son first came out:
"We don't heal in isolation, but in community. ~S. Kelly Harrel
If we can't share our experiences with someone who's been through them, how do we know how to navigate forward? How can we know if the feelings we are experiencing are normal? Where do we go to find answers to our questions? Who can we ask about things that feel too personal for a Google search? That's what community is for.
So, where do you find community?
It can feel vulnerable to leave a comment on a public website post. Anyone could read it. You don't have to leave your name, or you could use an anonymous one. You can email me at [email protected] I am the only one who will read it and promise to reply.
You could create an anonymous user who reads and replies to accounts on Instagram or other social media. Search under the hashtags #parentsoftransgenderchildren or #parentsoftranskids. My username there is @justplainbeth. We have a very supportive community, and I regularly share posts about what it's like to be a parent of two transgender young adults. You can also private message folks and have conversations only you and the person you are talking to can read.
Facebook is a little trickier, as it's dependent on your actual name. You can private message people and talk that way. Facebook has private groups for parents of transgender kids. Some are worth joining. Others are not. To join the trans-specific group I like most, you must join the "big group" at the top of this page. Both are worth it.
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