I wonder how many of us can say we just woke up one morning as a minority. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of minority groups is race (thanks to white privilege); people are born with their skin color. Disabilities can come on quite suddenly and affect someone for the rest of their lives, but again thanks to my privilege, I never considered their perspectives. That was until I experienced my own minority stress.
Yes, me, the white, cisgender, hetero-presenting, able-bodied, neurotypical, middle-class, educated woman. Discrimination was a cold bucket of water on my face. I can only imagine the reality of being BIPOC, disabled or transgender.
My discrimination wake-up call
Initially, the stress showed up in little moments. For example, letting the receptionist at the dentist’s office know to use a new name and pronoun and not knowing if I would be met with an eye roll or more questions than I had answers for at the time. These tiny drops of stress could be managed individually, but I soon realized they added up as I went about life in our small conservative city.
Then I was hit with a much bigger wave of anxiety. I was brand new to volunteering for our local Pride association and put my hand up to attend a workshop on grant applications for local non-profits. Seeing as I knew nothing about the topic, I looked forward to the evening. Armed with my notebook and a new pen, I walked into a room with a dozen tables and small groups forming at each one. My friend from Pride joined, and we sat near the front of the room. Once the class started, the leader asked us to go around and introduce ourselves and what organization we represented. As I watched the other groups speak, I noticed a trend, many older people seemingly volunteering in their retirement years. We were the youngest and the only ones with a progressive organization. This would be the first time I said out loud to a group of strangers that I was with the queer community. Despite my decades of experience with public speaking, my heart raced, and my mouth went dry.
What is Minority Stress?
Minority stress refers to the additional stress experienced by individuals who belong to a minority group, such as a racial or sexual minority. This stress can come from various sources, including discrimination, prejudice, and social inequality. Studies have shown that minority stress can negatively affect mental and physical health, increasing the risk of certain health conditions.
Can a white woman face discrimination?
Yes, an otherwise privileged person can experience minority stress when raising a transgender child. I have lived it first-hand. Even if someone is privileged in other ways, such as being white, cisgender, and economically stable, they may still face hateful comments and targeted discrimination based on their child’s gender identity or expression.
Why we need to Talk About This
Our children will also face minority stress just as we do as parents. But, of course, we try our best to shield our kids—which is why I did most of the coming out in professional settings before introducing my child. So it’s important to know what we’re dealing with and how to bounce back ourselves and how to support our children. Minority stress can have a range of negative effects, such as an increased risk of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD, substance abuse and addiction, suicide and suicide ideation, cardiovascular disease and other physical health problems, developing chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and of poor sleep quality, which can lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes.
That’s not a very rosy picture now, is it?
What parents can do
It’s essential to seek professional help if you or someone you know is experiencing trauma or mental or physical illness symptoms. A mental health professional can help you understand your symptoms and develop a plan for coping and healing. It’s also important to seek out a provider who is sensitive and knowledgeable about the specific needs of transgender individuals and families and willing to work with you to ensure that you receive appropriate and affirming care. And, though I might sound like a broken record on this, practice self-care. This is our lives now, and we need to train for a marathon of advocacy, not only a sprint. There is still a lot of work ahead, so find a way to manage your stress long-term.
What can allies do
Recognize that others might be fighting a battle you cannot see. Take the time to educate yourself about the challenges faced by Transgender people and their affirming families. Listen to their stories and experiences and offer support. This can include providing emotional support, helping them to access resources and services, and advocating for their needs. Challenge your own biases by actively working to become more aware of how your actions and words may contribute to minority stress experienced by gender-diverse people and their families. And finally, stand up for trans rights and help to create a safe and inclusive environment, including policy change at the local, state/provincial, and national levels. By definition, minority groups are too small to make sweeping electoral changes—they need allies to fight for their rights.
In the end, if you have ever felt anxiety or stress around raising a transgender child, you are not alone, and your feelings are entirely valid. Seek support and practice self-care. You want to be your best self as you support your child on this unique and rewarding journey.
Download the ebook Defining Transgender here to stay in touch through my newsletter and don’t forget to grab your copy of Beyond Pronouns: The Essential Guide for Parents of Trans Children.