When my son Leo came out as transgender, I spent hours trying to learn everything about what that meant. I wanted to know all the terms and acronyms, so I didn’t mess up when I spoke to him about it. I tried to learn all the different types of transitions to understand what his next steps might be. I Googled until my eyes were dry and my head hurt. I wish I could tell 2016 me that I didn’t have to have it all figured out right away.
In the age of technology, we’ve become accustomed to having answers at the tip of our fingers. Before the doctor calls with our test results, we’ve already searched the levels and terms in our reports. We have a worst-case scenario for what turns out to be “normal.”
The morning I learned Leo was transgender, I had a worst-case scenario before I ever conversed with him about what it meant. I imagined how difficult his life would be. I read statistics about suicide rates and homelessness ,and bullying. I cried, thinking that he might not live to see thirty. There was no evidence to support this, but it didn’t matter. All the websites pointed at how hard it was to be transgender, so that’s all I could see.
My therapist calls this catastrophic thinking. It’s when you ruminate about irrational, worst-case scenarios.
It’s the worst thing you can do in those first days and weeks when your child comes out as transgender. It is it not helpful for you, and it’s not helpful for your child. Your child needs your support. In order to best support them, you have to be calm and rational.
Working yourself into a frenzy of “what if,” “what about,” and “why not” is not productive. In fact, it can be harmful. It raises your anxiety and leads to sleeplessness. You could ask your child questions they are not ready to answer.
The best thing to do in those early days is to be at ease with not knowing.
It’s enough to know your child is transgender. There will be plenty of time for next steps and answers to questions. You’ll pick which books to read and discover the best websites to follow. Your child will share what being transgender means for them, which in turn will help you know what information to learn. You don’t have to know all the things because they won’t all apply to your child. You don’t have to have it all figured out just yet. In fact, you won’t have to have it all figured out ever. Just take it one day at a time.
Here’s what I wish someone had told me in 2016:
- Sit with it a while.
- Don’t think anything about it yet.
- Don’t worry about what anyone else has to say about it.
You don’t have to tell anyone yet. Your child is transgender. That ideal alone feels big and scary. Right now, it’s just a piece of information. Nothing about your child is different than it was yesterday except for their gender. And maybe their name and pronouns. You are okay. Your child is okay. It might not feel like it right now, but everything will be okay.
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