When your child isn’t ready to come out to others, it can create tension in your family. As a parent, it’s important to remember that your child’s coming out isn’t a one-time event. It’s a journey that can happen multiple times, as a child comes out first to themselves, then to loved ones, and then socially.
My oldest child, Ember, is non-binary and identifies as transgender. Ember changed their name, and when they did so, they didn’t share that news publicly at first. They didn’t share they were changing their name with anyone but their closest friends and me and my husband for months.
During that time, we discussed why they were changing their name and the options they were considering. Unlike when my son Leo changed his name, Ember didn’t just choose a name and say, “This is the name I would like you to call me.” Because of that, we had some difficult conversations. Ember didn’t keep our last name, and I couldn’t understand why they would want to change it. In the end, I learned it didn’t matter what I thought about it.
Once they decided on a new name, we began to use it. However, no one else except for Ember’s closest friends knew they were changing their name. So when we spoke about Ember to other people, we had to use the name we had given them at birth.
Using two different names made it difficult to associate the new name with our child.
Going back and forth meant there were times when we got Ember’s name wrong. It meant we had to be extra vigilant about not using Ember’s name when talking about them to others. It also meant that sometimes we got Ember’s name wrong when speaking directly to them. That was hard for both us and Ember.
During the months after Ember changed their name, I often asked when they planned to share their name change. I thought maybe they would share it with our extended family first. Then, when they were ready, they could announce it to everyone else.
“I want to come out to people I feel safe with first,” they replied.
Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that sharing a new name was part of the coming out process. That you had to be ready to come out before you could share it. To trust that people were going to accept your news and your name. That there was a measure of vulnerability and risk that came with such an announcement.
Until Ember told me they needed to feel safe enough to come out with others, I didn’t realize how inappropriate my questioning them about it was. I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture. I was thinking about how difficult it must be for them to be called by two names. How once they were able to switch to their new name, they would feel better about all the reasons they wanted to change it. And, if I’m honest, I was selfish. Once they came out to other people, I could use just one name, which was easier for me.
No step of a child’s transition is ever about the parent.
It didn’t matter how long it took for Ember to be ready to come out. Or how difficult it was for their dad and me to use two different names. Some parents keep that secret from others for years while their children are young. Their child presents one way at home and a different way once they leave the safety of that space. Ember could have decided they would not share their new name until their court hearing was complete, and that would have been their choice. It was my job as Ember’s parent to love and support them until they were ready to share their new name.