For the second year in a row, the most-read post on this website is “You Can Grieve and Support Your Child.” This year, it has almost 4,000 views. When I wrote it in the fall of 2019, it was in response to a New York Times article that said parents who grieve after their child comes out as transgender are transphobic. That article still makes me mad.
The day I found out my son Leo was transgender, in early 2016, was very emotional. Not only did I not understand what that meant right away, but I also didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t know how to support him. And I didn’t know how to support myself. I shifted the focus of my writing here as a way to help other parents who found themselves in the same place. Staring at the computer wondering, “So my child is transgender, now what?”
I get emails every week from parents who thank me for recognizing their feelings of grief and loss. And who have been in communities on social media that told them those feelings weren’t okay. If that is you, I am sorry for your pain. I am sorry that the people you turned to for support made you feel worse. It shouldn’t be that way.
For parents to support their children, we first have to find support for ourselves.
I feel like a broken record saying this, but I can’t say it enough. And if our support systems are broken, where does that leave our children? Research shows that transgender youth with supportive families experience a 52% decrease in recent suicidal thoughts and a 46% decrease in suicide attempts (LGBTQ Map). Once you begin to take away the support for parents, you increase the risk for the child.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
As cis-gender people, we cannot know the lived experiences of our children. We need them to tell us what it’s like for them to be their authentic selves in this world. From there, we learn how best to support them. What we can do authentically is love them. From those conversations, we can better understand what it’s like to be transgender. But we can never fully understand it for ourselves.
Likewise, transgender people can never fully understand what it’s like to be the parent of one. They can’t know the emotions a parent goes through when their child comes out. They aren’t able to understand how a family transitions along with them. They, like us, can better understand it from what we share and disclose to them, but that’s as far as it gets.
And here’s where it gets tricky. Parents shouldn’t be processing their emotions in front of or with their transgender childen. All that work should be taking place with a trusted friend or a trained professional. So really, transgender people can never fully understand what it’s like for a parent when their child comes out. And that’s okay.
But there needs to be an understanding that our experiences aren’t wrong or bad.
Everyone is entitled to feel whatever they feel when their child comes out. And there is a wide range of emotions you could experience. Joy, excitement, pride, grief, sorrow, confusion, fear, and many more. What you are responding to is not your child being different, but the change that is occurring. You may also be responding to the loss of hopes and dreams you had or an idea of a certain gendered child you thought you had. And there may be lots of reasons for those things that you need to work through, and when you do, your emotions will work themself out as well. But all of that takes time, and it doesn’t happen right away. This is where support for ourselves comes in.
You can love and support your child and still feel some way about them coming out as transgender. And if you have found yourself in a place that didn’t support you in those feelings, know that this is not one of them. You are fully supported here; however you feel.
We have a community on Instagram that you can find here.
I send out a weekly newsletter to support parents that you can sign up for by entering your email address in the box at the bottom of this post.
And my inbox is always open. If you go to the about tab at the top of the page, you can find out how to contact me.
And if you are looking for a supportive group for parents, click this link and go to the groups tab at the top. Moms at the top, friends and family at the bottom. You have join the first group listed to join the MTK (mom to trans kids) group. It’s worth it.