As the mom of a transgender child, this is the question I get the most from parents of LGBTQ children and youth. How can they trust that their child is right about their gender? How can they tell if it’s just a phase? How can they trust that it’s not just the latest cool thing to do?
My children have all shown preferences for colors and flavors and types of music and styles of clothes and sports and activities at different stages of their lives. Yet, we question whether we can trust that our child knows they are attracted to a particular type of person. Further, I have known my whole life that I am a woman, I knew I was a girl when I was 5 and again when I was 12 and every year since then. But at what age can we determine is the right age to know someone’s gender? Let’s face it, we question our children knowing who they are because the social implications of our child coming out as transgender or bisexual are far bigger than if my son chooses to play the guitar instead of the cello.
What happens if you trust them?
1. Being a former nurse, my first fear was the medical implications. Changing genders meant hormone therapy and surgery, which sounded barbaric when I felt I had a healthy child. And the first thing that comes to mind with a gay child is HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted infections. The good news is that we should all be having well-informed sexual education talks with all our children, no matter where they fall on the LGBTQ spectrum. The other good news for parents of gender-creative children is that nothing has to be permanent in the beginning.
Your child can dress as the gender they identify with because it’s only clothes, and a wardrobe can be switched back at any time and any age. If your child is older and flirting with puberty or just entered puberty and it is causing them distress, you can talk to your doctor about puberty blockers. They are reversible, and delaying puberty gives you more time to explore their gender identity. You can ride it out if this is a phase or something cool to do. By the way, the science is very clear that this is rarely a phase, 97.5% of the time, gender-diverse children stay with their social transition.
2. And then we have the social implications. Let’s face it, not everyone in our society is super accepting and enthusiastic about people who are “different.” Trusting that my son was indeed a boy and allowing him to dress like a boy and change his name and pronouns was difficult for him at school and difficult for me with my friends and family. Even if this wasn’t permanent, even if we were riding out a phase, doing so in public is a big commitment to bravery, courage, and authenticity. Sometimes scary experiences are worth it. Ultimately, my son’s mental health far outweighed what other people thought of me.
What happens if you don’t trust them?
3. The mental health implications are undeniable. After my child settled down from a relatively short episode of suicidal thoughts, I asked the therapist in the emergency room how I could tell if my son was truly suicidal or just trying to get out of school and away from the relentless bullying he was facing there. Her advice to me was to always believe there is a suicide risk because if we don’t, and he was truly suicidal, we can’t take back our decision to ignore his plea for help.
If you don’t trust that your child knows in their heart that they are a different gender than what they were assigned at birth or that they know who they love, you risk damaging their self-esteem. How would you like to live the rest of your life being told something that is fundamentally true about yourself, that you know to your core has to be hidden and denied? Would you feel depressed, anxious, and live in fear of having that secret show up unexpectedly as you go about your everyday life? Is that the future you want for your child “in case it’s a phase”?
Trust me, trust them.
Of course, I am completely biased. I see the difference in my child since we embraced transition. His school grades are back to excellent, he thrives in his music lessons, he has true friendships, and there is a spark in his eyes that had been dimmed for years. Even though everything we did for his transition for the first two-and-a-half years was reversible, I know in my soul that he was right and that I have a son. His happiness and contentment have been worth the social implications, and I would do it all again. In fact, I am doing it all again.
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