When my son first came out as being transgender, there was a lot I didn’t know and understand. I mistakenly thought gender and sexuality were the same things, and so the whole idea of being transgender was confusing to me. It took me a long time to come to the understanding that much like how a butterfly is still a caterpillar, a transgender person is still the same person they’ve always been, just with a new name, different pronouns, and possibly a different way of dressing.
When he first started to transition socially, I couldn’t understand why, if he were a male, he would still want to wear makeup sometimes or dress in what I considered more feminine clothing. I couldn’t understand how all of a sudden he was wearing earrings again, after a period of leaving them out.
I know now that gender is fluid and exists on a spectrum. I’ve learned that who you are is different than how you present yourself. As a straight, cis-gender female, I could, if I choose, decide to present myself in a masculine way. I could wear masculine-style clothing and keep my hair short (well, I guess I do that anyhow, but in a more masculine style), and wear masculine accessories. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m a female. I don’t identify as a male. But perhaps, I don’t enjoy the feminine style of fashion, and I wouldn’t want to present as one; two different things.
This can be very confusing for the parent of a child who has just come out as transgender. We are trying to figure out what end is up, in a world that suddenly feels upside down, and our kids are trying to sort out who they are and how they want to present themselves to the world. There is, I have discovered, a time of experimentation – especially in teens and young adults. Those kids are already at an age where they are establishing and solidifying their identities, and now it’s like they have a whole new person to try on.
It might feel frustrating for your child, as you ask questions about how they are dressing, or why this week they are using one set of pronouns when last week they were going by a different set. I can feel frustrating for you as the parent when, just when you think you have your child all figured out, they are moving on to a different gender presentation or sexual preference.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you love your child.
At the end of the day, we want our kids to be happy. Here are some easy ways to help them in that:
- Support them in whatever they need at any given moment, no matter how they are presenting.
- Do your best to ask questions that are helpful, not harmful.
- Let them know they are loved, often.
If you are still struggling, there is no shame in seeking out professional help. Let me know in the comments what your biggest challenge has been. Let’s see how we can support each other and offer some suggestions about how to manage those challenges.