It can feel like a punch in the gut the moment after your child comes out to you as transgender or gender-nonconforming. You may have felt shocked, sad, hurt, or even a sense of disbelief. These are all typical feelings after receiving unexpected information, particularly about someone you care for as deeply as you do your child. Even the most loving, progressively minded parents need time to process their feelings and regroup before moving ahead in support of their beautiful child.
The next feeling that many parents experience is a sense of being alone in this journey. After all, this situation is pretty unusual. It’s not the same as many other parenting questions you have where you can turn to your best friend while having coffee and ask how she dealt with a more common developmental milestone. So yes, it can feel lonely, but you’re definitely not alone.
Conferences like this week's Gender Odyssey Family in Seattle are a turning point for many parents. Beginning the gender exploration process with your child can be one of the most frightening things that you do as a parent. Some wonderful parents put off “officially” claiming this exploration until their child is so uncomfortable or depressed that out of sheer desperation they begin to reach out and find kindred spirits. Sadly, for some kids, that level of depression doesn’t allow them the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the conference as much as they might otherwise, but it’s still awesome to see them surrounded by other children with a similar gender history.
Other parents find the conference sooner in their journey and soak up the information and guidance of both the professional experts in attendance, as well as the parents and children who are farther along in the process. Gender Odyssey Family Conference allows families to breathe a sigh of relief and even feel a sense of joy that neither they nor their child are alone in this.
There will be some intense moments as your family explores gender. I also encourage you to look for the opportunities to explicitly support your child and allow them to take their own psychological deep-breath. Here are five simple things I suggest implementing along the way:
1. Tell your child that you love them (repeatedly) as well as how proud you are of them for sharing this with you. Even if you’re still struggling to understand, this step is imperative. Most kids tell me that even though they know that their parents love them, they suspect they will become “less lovable” after coming out. Your child just shared their biggest, scariest secret with you, and whether or not it’s obvious, they need to hear that they are loved.
2. Find other parents of transgender or gender-nonconforming kids. For some folks, it can be challenging to find these people to meet face-to-face with, but there are also opportunities for virtual support. The conference is a fantastic way to meet others and stay connected via email or phone. Some families get so connected that they end up vacationing together or at least staying in contact with their newfound friends in between the annual conferences.
3. Celebrate your child’s “day of authenticity.” This can take the form of an annual “birthday-like” celebration,or something simpler like an announcement to the extended family/community. It emotionally solidifies to your child and the community that supports them that this day is important!
4. Affirm them at every opportunity. It may feel contrived at first (because it is!), but go out of your way to use your child’s chosen name and pronoun as often as possible. Hearing this can mean the world to a child who recently came out. I’ve had kids tear up in my office when I repeatedly use their new name.
5. Give gifts that affirm their gender identity. If your child has received the more stereotypically masculine gifts throughout her life and now identifies as female, make the shift. This doesn’t mean that you need to perpetuate “female” and “male” gift-giving, but if there is something she’s interested in that she doesn’t have (hair bands, lip gloss, a necklace) consider putting it on the gift list. Trans boys often tell me how thrilled they were when their parents took them to buy boxer shorts. This act doesn’t have to be expensive — it really is the thought that counts!