The pandemic restrictions have lifted for the most part, and many of us are just itching for a change of scenery after three long years. As a result, some families are looking at traveling with a transgender child for the first time. I remember very well the first time our family travelled within Canada with our trans son six years ago and the stress of not knowing how he would be received going through airport security. We are just now planning our first trip out of the country and going through a list of details to consider. Here are some things to take into account before you head out on vacation.
Know Where You Won’t Be Safe
It is unfortunate, but there are still many countries and cities where being a transgender youth can be unsafe. These places may have laws or societal attitudes that are hostile towards the LGBTQIA+ community, or more specifically, transgender children under the age of majority. Some examples of hostile countries would be Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia (read more of this list here), and even some states in the US that are working hard at passing bills that limit transgender rights. Even though those bills are valiantly being fought and opposed, you might face transphobic societal views if you choose to visit a place actively looking to limit where your child can use the bathroom or use gender-affirming medications. Here is a list of states that have created anti-trans legislation that you will want to keep in mind when choosing to vacation in America.
Going Through Airport Security
Going through airport security as a transgender person can be a daunting experience, particularly if the gender marker on your child’s ID or passport does not match their gender identity or expression. In such cases, it is important to know your rights and to be prepared to assert them if necessary. Airport security has guidelines in place to protect the privacy and dignity of transgender travelers in queer-friendly countries, which include offering the option of a pat-down instead of a full-body 3D scanner. Keep in mind it’s important to remain calm and assertive if you encounter any difficulties or discrimination during the security screening process and seek assistance from a supervisor or airport authority if needed. Of course, this means you will want to plan ahead to offer yourself enough time to go through any extra hoops. Here is a great article by the National Center for Transgender Equality on managing airport security.
Traveling With Meds
For transgender teens who are on cross-hormone therapy or other forms of medication, vacationing with these items can present unique challenges. It is important to check the laws and regulations of your destination state or country around taking gender-affirming hormones and the airline regarding the transportation of medications and needles. In general, it is recommended to carry medications and needles in their original packaging and to have a letter from your healthcare provider explaining the need for these items. We did this when we travelled with my son’s testosterone during our second cross-country flight. We’d had his legal name changed by then, which matched his appearance, and there were no questions asked. Better to have the letter and not need it than the other way around! Oh, and if your trans child wears prosthetics or other gender-affirming gear, you should also be aware of the regulations surrounding these items. It is advisable to pack any prosthetics or other gear in a carry-on bag to avoid damage or loss and to be prepared to explain the purpose of these items if necessary.
Resist the Urge to Ask Your Kid to Conform
I get it, it would be so much easier if your child could just be their assigned gender on the day you travel. Easier on you as a parent, that is—not on your child. Asking your kid to suck up their gender dysphoria for a day is not only unfair, but it can also be harmful to their mental and emotional well-being. For transgender people, being able to express their gender identity is crucial to their sense of self and overall happiness. Being forced to conform to societal norms or to hide their true selves can lead to feelings of shame, depression, and anxiety.
This does make life more complicated for us as parents of trans children in a world that isn’t always understanding. However, the burden of conforming to gender expectations should not fall on transgender youth but rather on society as a whole to create a more inclusive and accepting environment. While it may seem easier at the moment to ask a transgender child to suppress their identity, the long-term effects on their mental health and self-esteem can be significant.
Dealing With the Anxiety
Dealing with your transgender child’s anxiety in the airport can be a tough situation for both the child and the parent. Approach this situation with empathy, understanding, and a caring attitude, because your kiddo’s anxiety may also cause you stress. To help manage the anxiety, it’s helpful to take the time to listen to your child’s feelings and concerns and to provide a calm and supportive environment. By researching the airport’s policies and procedures ahead of time, you can help your child feel more prepared and reduce anxiety. Talk through how the day will unfold ahead of time and create some plans for hiccups along the way. With a loving and understanding approach, you can help your transgender child navigate the airport with confidence and ease.
To recap, choose a safe destination, plan ahead, give yourself extra time and support and affirm your transgender child’s gender identity, especially when traveling, in order to ensure that they feel safe and comfortable being themselves. Then, enjoy a relaxing holiday and make wonderful memories!
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.