People are often shocked when they learn that not only do I have a transgender son, but we have a loving and strong relationship as well. It could be my bald head, big beard, and stature. Regardless of the reason, it’s still not easy for my generation of parents to know how to raise an openly transgender child. How does one come out to the family, especially if their views toward LGBTQ have roots in religion? What should your expectations be? What topics are off-limits? What kind of help does my kid need? How can I be supportive without going overboard?
First, there are no right or wrong answers. There are only opinions and experiences, and some of those are what I’d like to share here.
Second, Mason was 14 when he came out to us, but this was after years of gender identity counseling and therapy.
Third, we too had our questions. What if this was a phase? How much support is TOO much support (I will explain)? What happens if, at 25, he decides he is really still a She? There was so much to work through and, unfortunately for us, we didn’t find much in the way of a guidebook, support programs, or really ANYTHING at all. But my wife and I chose to have this kid, he didn’t choose to be born, and so we were determined to figure it out as best as we could.
So here are the top questions and answers based on our own experiences.
How do you know if it is “real” or a phase?
You don’t. That’s why we sought every kind of help we could. Therapists, gay couples, straight couples, counselors, peer groups (Out Youth in Austin is fantastic), and more. I knew it was real for me. Mason said to me at one point that he was struggling with God. I asked him why and he said, “If there were a God he wouldn’t have made me this way. I hate it.” I cried for a while and realized then that my kid would have our unwavering support forever, and I would do everything I could to get him the help he needs. We immediately changed pronouns, name, everything.
How much support is too much?
I get this question a lot. I think most people are referring to legal name changes, medical/surgical treatments, things like that. Honestly, I struggled with this one, too. We decided that since he came out at 14 that we would seek medical advice for any testosterone treatments, surgical interventions, or medication therapies. But we agreed to support his name change and legal gender change immediately. We were advised that testosterone therapy had some complications but that if he or we wanted to, it can be reversed. We sought a variety of medical support options- therapy, counseling, psychiatry, etc., and we all agreed that there would be no permanent changes before the age of 18. We felt that this was a fair and prudent compromise that showed him we were serious about supporting him.
What topics/questions are off limits?
Nothing. It all must be asked and answered. We had one rule and that was to be respectful. You can ask anything as long as it is done with love. I had to ask if he liked boys or girls, and that’s when I learned that being transgender is about who you are, not who you like. If I had not been allowed to ask, I would have carried on other biases.
How do you tell family and friends?
This is harder than you think. People look at you thinking, “How could you know?” or “Here we go again.” We also had to balance it with our child’s level of comfort. We agreed that he was allowed to tell us who we could tell, but we also agreed that he should be the one to tell them while we would be there to support him when he does. There is still a small minority of our family that doesn’t know, and likely never will. What we also said to anyone when he was done was that we fully support this, and we expect our family to do likewise. We also said if they could not support his decision, then we would choose Mason over them.
What is the hardest part?
Living in a state where the support of my child technically makes me a criminal. Feeling like laws are being created in the name of politics that are purposefully hurtful, hateful, and harmful to me and my child. Knowing that every day my child leaves, he is at a very high risk of being harmed or worse, just because of who he is. Trusting that a cop won’t treat him worse because he is transgender. Not having medical or therapeutic support for parents because it’s against their belief system. That’s the part I can’t stand. Plus, I’ve learned it’s very difficult to legally change a name, identity, Social Security number, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and more.
What are the best ways to support?
- Treat them like a human. I hate that I even have to explain my son to others. He is my son. Not my transgender son, my son.
- Don’t discount how hard this is for them. However hard you think it is for you, multiply that by 100 or more.
- Get them support. Therapy for ways to handle things is critical. Ask for someone who specializes in transgender.
- Be patient. Our child is very fluid in the way he dresses. He was afraid that if he dressed feminine at all that we would doubt him.
- Be open. If you have a question, concern, or fear, discuss it openly, honestly, and with love.
What was our experience going through this process?
Honestly, at times we all wanted to throw up our hands. From the medical challenges- getting care for your teenage transgender kid is hard- to just the challenges posed to the family seemed overwhelming at times. By sticking to our plan, sticking to our rules, and having an open dialogue with our child, I can say that our relationship is better than ever before. His knowing that we have his back in this has made it immensely easier for him. I would characterize our relationship now as that of any other teenage boy trying to navigate life. His sexuality is no longer an issue, so he is free to focus on learning, growing, and becoming the man he wants to be. The fact that he has been able to be himself throughout these formative years has helped him grow into a confident person. Now, he is just Mason; that is all he ever wanted to be.
Openly and aggressively support your child. This will be hard for both sides, so it’s better to do it together than fight or try to hide anything.