The day I learned my son was transgender, I felt unprepared to respond to the information I had been given. That morning, I spent a long time staring out the windows of our downstairs. I had an endless loop of questions running through my mind, but no answers. What does this mean? Did other people know before I did? How am I supposed to reply to this? What if I say the wrong words?
I didn’t fully understand what the word transgender meant. If I can be honest, I didn’t understand it at all. I wasn’t sure what that meant for my son or our family. On that day, I didn’t know where to go to learn more or who to ask for help. I wish I knew then, many of the things I know today. Looking back, there are things I wish other people knew as well.
- I didn’t have all the answers. I was learning as I went. Likewise, I suspect many of them were also. I wish people had asked me their questions. No matter how silly they felt they were, or how embarrassed they felt. There was a good chance I was asking those same questions. If I hadn’t discovered the answers already, we could hunt them down together. And if we couldn’t, I was discovering places where I could ask.
- There were things I didn’t understand either. That was okay for me, and it was okay for them too. I tried to be upfront about that, but I wish I had admitted it out loud more. It might have permitted other people to do so as well. I wish other people knew that just because we didn’t understand something (or a lot of things), didn’t mean we were any less supportive. You can be supportive while you are learning, or sad, or angry, or confused, or any host of different emotions. Your emotions don’t lessen your ability to lift and champion someone else. It’s not an either/or situation. It’s both/and. Always both/and.
- Sometimes, taking care of myself meant canceling plans with other people. Often, I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to keep those plans until right at the last minute. It was hard for me because I felt like a giant disappointment on top of everything else. It’s hard to know when you will be overcome with emotion. Or when the idea of being around other people will be too much for you to handle. Sometimes it was thinking about having to put on a smile and be festive when I felt like my heart was breaking.
- Finally, I wish other people had known that it was okay to ask me how I was doing. Often, people would ask me how my son was doing. I loved to talk about him and would happily share updates. What was new with him at school. Where he was in his transition process. Every once in a while, someone would take a big breath, and their voice would quiet, and I’d hear, “So, how are you doing with all this?” And it was my favorite question, even though it was hard. It made me feel loved and supported.
It’s hard to know what to say or how to respond to someone when their child comes out as transgender. Especially if they are the first person you know to have a transgender child. A good rule of thumb is to think about how you would want other people to respond if it were your child. How would you want them to treat you? In what ways would you want to be supported? Start there. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.