What does it mean to be transgender or gender-variant?
Transgender and gender-variant youth include youths whose identities, appearances, behaviors, and/or interests challenge the norms and expectations associated with their gender or sex assigned at birth. Transgender is a term encompassing numerous identities, but it most often refers to a person whose gender identity does not match or remain limited to their gender or sex assigned at birth.
How do I know if my child is transgender or gender-variant?
Many transgender youth often insist that they are the “other” gender or sex or express that they want to be the “other” gender or sex. For example, a child deemed male at birth might insist that she is a girl. The gender identity of gender-variant children may change over periods of time. Youth who feel that are both a girl and a boy or neither a girl nor a boy or a combination of genders are described as gender fluid.
It is important to note that there are no set criteria or checklists to identify gender-variant children and youth. Typical and expected gender presentation varies greatly among cultures, families, schools, and spaces. For example, it may be considered “abnormal” for girls to want to play with boys at some schools but not at others.
Was my child born in the wrong body?
Many transgender and gender-variant youth feel very uncomfortable with their bodies and express a desire to change their bodies in order to fully feel themselves. Having a body or body parts that feel “wrong” is very stressful and devastating for a significant population of transgender and gender-variant youth and can cause severe depression and hopelessness.
For other transgender and gender-variant youth, the “born in the wrong body” explanation does not accurately describe their experiences. These youth may associate their identity more closely with behaviors, activities, and appearances, and depend less on their body to affirm their gender identity. For these youth, the idea of surgery can be unwelcome and frightening.
There are numerous options when it comes to transgender and gender-variant youth feeling comfortable with their bodies. Some children know they want to change their bodies from a very early age. Others may not change their bodies or may change them hormonally or surgically or both. It is important to review all of the youth’s options in relation to their individual feelings, experiences, and desires.
It is also important to note that transgender and gender-variant people may change their bodies not because they feel their body contradicts their gender-identity, but to avoid societal rejection, discrimination, and ignorance. Dealing with these issues on a daily basis quickly becomes exhausting and overwhelming.
Is this my fault as a parent or caregiver?
Gender variance is not a disease to which we need to assign blame or find a root cause. No parenting practices can produce gender-variance. Open and supportive parents are more likely to have children who confide their non-conforming identities and feelings to them. But rejecting a gender-variant child’s identity and forbidding them to express their identity and feelings does not “cure” a child. Parents often blame themselves when their child(ren) challenge societal norms. There is no research to suggest that gender-variance is caused by “liberal” parenting or by other stressful events in a child’s life such as divorce.
How do I find support for myself as a parent or caregiver?
The fact is that there are not enough resources to fill the needs of parents raising transgender and gender-variant kids. Often parents feel very alone, scared, confused, and guilty. Many parents face criticism from other parents, family members, schools, and health professionals regarding their support of their transgender and gender-variant children. There are options for parents in the forms of support groups, online conversations (blogs), advocacy groups, and conferences. SAGA sponsors Families Transformed of Southern Arizona, a group of parents of transgender children ages 5 to 18. You may contact them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see our list of support resources. Find support for yourself, not just your child. You are not alone.
What happens when my child grows up?
There is a myth that transgender people live sad, depressed, and isolated lives. Often these traits accompany any person who has experienced abuse and rejection. Many times, parents have the option to be part of their child’s happy and successful life by supporting and accepting them. Many parents feel that while their child is young, they can offer protection from societal ignorance and discrimination to some extent but fear for their child’s well-being in adulthood and in the “real world”. The transgender community in the U.S. and especially in Tucson has been fighting long and hard for the rights and well-being of transgender and gender-variant people, with great success. While there remains a great deal of educating and advocacy to be done, remarkable strides have been made to build supportive employment, educational, and health care environments. Tucson in particular has a great community of employers, health care professionals, mental health professionals, and policy makers dedicated to the physical, emotional, economic and social respect and support of transgender community members. There are many amazing people who identify as transgender. With your support in addition to the work of transgender communities and their allies, your child can continue to be a happy, healthy, and exceptional individual and community member.
Whom do I tell?
When thinking about disclosure, it is very important to respect the child’s wishes. If your child is not ready to “come out,” do not force them to. Before identifying your child as transgender or gender-variant, ask your child if it is okay. If your child decides they are ready to “come out,” prepare yourself and your child for a range of possible outcomes. Discuss your child’s fears and discuss coping possibilities in the event of a negative outcome. Parents should discuss their fears and concerns but with a supportive family member, friend, advocate, or counselor.
How do I tell my family?
If you and your child have decided to tell your family about your child’s decision to live another gender, there are a few things you can do to facilitate a positive outcome. First, express your child’s identity in a positive manner. Do not apologize or discuss gender-variance in a negative fashion. Explain that you are proud of your child. Tell your family that you expect nothing but encouragement and support, and at the very least respect. Ask them to keep any negative thoughts to themselves. Ask them to educate themselves about gender-variance and gender diversity. Give them concrete examples of things they can do to respect and support your child, such as using a certain pronoun or a new name, giving birthday or holiday gifts that correspond with your child’s affirmed gender, or making positive comments about your child’s appearances or behaviors.
What should I expect from siblings? How do I react?
Siblings of transgender and gender-variant youth may experience stress at having to protect or respond to questions about their gender-variant siblings and may endure teasing and harassment from other children about their sibling’s gender-identity. Increased stress may cause resentment towards their gender-variant sibling. Children may also use their sibling’s gender-variant identity as a way to dominate or intimidate their sibling. If their sibling is living as the “other” gender, children may threaten to expose them as transgender or tell them they are not a “real boy” or a “real girl” to make them feel bad.
Remind your children that teasing and name-calling are not acceptable and not deserved. Discuss ways in which children can respond to comments and questions about their gender-variant sibling. Openly discuss their fears and struggles. Remind children that there are many ways of being boys, girls, and kids and that they are all equally valuable. Practice problem-solving techniques with your children to avoid hurtful name-calling and threats.
It is important to note that siblings can be gender-variant youth’s strongest support. Often gender-variant youth “come out” to siblings first. Siblings often provide acceptance and comfort even when other family members and peers do not. Siblings also provide a “bumper zone” against rejection and hostility and willingly mediate at school and in the home.
What should I say to my child’s school?
Most schools want to support diversity and be a safe and positive space for kids to learn and express themselves. The most important thing to remember when discussing your child’s gender expression with school staff and administration is not to apologize. Your child has the same rights as other children to express themselves and be comfortable with who they are. Your child is an important part of the diversity of a school and has a great deal to offer their fellow classmates and instructors. Even if your child does not want to “come out” to his/her school community, it is important for schools to be prepared to pro-actively respect gender-diverse expressions and identities. Many schools have sponsored staff trainings and parent education nights specifically on the subject of gender awareness, expression, diversity, and advocacy. Trainings and workshops are often integral to schools’ “zero tolerance” policies against any type of discrimination, harassment, and bullying. It may also be helpful to construct a letter with your child’s school (to be sent to school community) discussing the importance of diversity and the expectation for respect around issues of gender expression and identity.
How do I approach my child’s doctor?
It is very important that your child’s health care providers be knowledgeable about gender-variance and transgender issues surrounding childhood, adolescence, and puberty. If your pediatrician seems supportive but does not have a great deal of experience working with transgender and gender-variant youth, you can provide them with resources (see our list) and ask them to educate themselves. If your health care provider is not interested in educating themselves or is intent on “fixing” your child, strongly consider finding a new provider. (See our database.)
What do I do if my religion does not accept my gender-variant child?
This is often a very difficult matter for parents whose faith community is an important part of their support network and identity. If you are worried about your child’s gender-variant behavior conflicting with your religious beliefs, talk with your faith leader or faith community members about your concerns. Ask them to educate themselves on the topic of gender-variant children. If you do not feel comfortable talking with someone within your faith community, contact SAGA so we can refer you to a person who shares your beliefs and can talk openly about religion and transgender identity. If you are considering joining a new faith congregation and are concerned about their views on gender diversity, talk with elders within the community about your concerns. Also ask to review the congregation’s policy regarding their acceptance of gender-diversity and ask if they have support groups for families.