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So You Think Your Child Might Be Trans…

Micky MinnieI received an unexpected email the other day, though to be honest, I now get lots of emails with these types of questions. Usually, however, they are directly about the people asking them. “When you have some time, I could use some advice. My child… has some gender issues.” I won’t lie to you. This kind of threw me for a loop. I’ve gotten used to people with questions about their own gender issues, but this was a whole new ball of wax for me and seemed almost rife with hidden landmines. If anyone is going to step on something and blow the whole kit and caboodle to kingdom come, you know it’s probably going to be me. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

I’m not going to go into details of this instance in the interest of protecting the truly innocent and a wonderfully supportive parent, but for a number of reasons, what this person had to tell me really hit home. It’s a strange thing when speaking to someone parenting a child, who but for a few odd decades, could have been me. How would I give advice to my own parent if I were able to reach back to the mid 1970’s? In an alternate timeline anyway where the 70’s were groovier with sexual orientation and transgender knowledge instead of disco and horrible shit brown outfits. In the timeline that really was, this would have been pointless.

The first thing I decided was a bad idea was to declare the child trans. I mean sure, second person email diagnosis by individuals with no formal training is usually spot on accurate, but I figured pretending it wasn’t might be a slightly better course of action. It wasn’t easy; the natural inclination is to immediately start jumping up and down screeching, “That was so, so me!” It’s just human nature, and I think there are very few of us who don’t eye Phil in Accounting with his Krispy Kreme built B cups and think, “hmm… I wonder…”  Thinking everyone might be trans is the inevitable outcome of decades of thinking no one is trans. In truth, the child is just as likely to be gay, or even a cisgender heterosexual. It doesn’t do anyone justice to start making assumptions about someone of such a young age.

The part that really broke my heart was the enormous amount of crap both parent and child are getting and going to get from “concerned” relatives, friends, neighbors, and total strangers. Most of these folks are still living under the iron rule of truisms from their grandmother’s day, or at best saw a bit of snarky commentary on Fox News and believe these things make them qualified experts. We trans folk are well familiar with this. People put 20 or 30 seconds of thought into the issue and feel they probably have the answers we crave. “Is there any chance this is just a reaction to not getting that promotion?” Good thinking, because most people’s immediate ‘go-to’ for mildly disappointing events is to embark on a protracted, painful and expensive gender change, but no, that’s not it this time. I’m pretty sure it was that armored skirt my He-Man action figure was wearing. For a parent it’s much harder, because (speaking from experience) we all operate under the assumption that we are doing the wrong thing constantly and will ruin our children for life. The commentary from the peanut gallery just adds to it.

All that in mind, the only possible advice I could give was to keep being supportive. It seems lame when someone comes looking for answers to tell them to keep on keeping on, but I didn’t have anything better. Whether the child is trans, cis, gay, or straight, this is what they are dealing with in their little mind right now and there is no way of really predicting where the ball is going to drop. If, however, they have unconditional love and support no matter where that is, the outlook is far rosier than it could be. If the child is trans and strongly desires transition, they will have every advantage. No years of repression and denial eating away at them. No addiction seeking to keep the “bad” thoughts at bay. Huge reduction in suicide risk. Dodging a really shitty puberty. Finally, avoiding the guilt that comes with causing huge ripples of destruction caused by the truth, when it finally comes out, that changes a multitude of lives irrevocably.  Yes, taking a bit of crap from people whose opinions don’t really count anyway to enable a child to live the happiest possible life seems like a no brainer. Right?

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

7 responses »

  1. The most helpful resource for me when i first learned that my son is transgender is Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA) There are parents and caregivers of gender nonconforming kids of all ages on the email support list, and lots of resources on the website. If you maintain contact with the parent, you might consider suggesting this resource.

  2. This is really interesting for a myriad number of personal reasons. (Beside the sharp tongue-in-cheek style of one of our favorite bloggers!) I wonder where my life would have led had mom and sis reacted differently when they caught me getting into mom’s lingerie well before kindergarden. I’m assuming there must be a plethora of social scientists who would pass this off as normal childhood curiosity and not indicative of any underlying gender association. Why, then, was I not trying on my dad’s things too?

    I absolutely believe that I had always leaned toward womanhood from development on. One of my very favorite people as a child was an aunt who I felt was one of the most beautiful women in the world. (I actually had a crush on her for many years.) I recall she had this lovely little fur jacket that I adored, and she let me try it on, and then she GAVE it to me. I got to take it home and wear it during my “dress-up” play times. I was one of those children who loved making costumes and disguises, so this was not so unusual that my mother didn’t allow it, as long as what I was presenting as wasn’t blatantly feminine. There was a summer where I wanted to make a Green Lantern outfit, and I was allowed to borrow my sister’s black leotard and my mom’s white opera-length gloves; I didn’t understand why I felt so, well, if I had to pick a phrase out of thin air, I’d say “turned on,” but it felt really good and right. I think I mentioned in another comment that my mother was a reader of National Inquirer and would leave them in the bathroom. The stories at the time about Christing Jorgensen’s sex change fascinated me. I would read the articles and gaze at the photos and later fantasize about that being me, although I really had no idea why it was such a titillating concept.

    So, given all that, had my mother had the smarts to sense all my little “signs” and had asked a question of someone with personal experience regarding gender association, what might have happened? In those days (the late 50’s/early 60’s), probably nothing. It was way too early in the game for that. I would likely have gotten one of those lectures that I was feeling normal curiosity about things but I was born one gender and that’s the way it is so get used to it. But here we are in the 21st century, and progressing nicely, in my opinion, toward universal acceptance of a lot of diversity. What if I had had the opportunity to be dressed as a girl instead of a boy, and not have gotten flack for it from anyone? How amazing would THAT be? To move through puberty and young adulthood in the gender with which I felt strongly associated, to experience the joys and tribulations (most of them, anyway) of being a woman. How wonderful.

    Yes, being supportive of the child is of primary importance. But I also think the parent should seek out a professional’s involvement. I suppose there are a couple ways this could go, depending on the person being seen. One can imagine the child being interviewed and observed, and the parent being advised that “this too shall pass.” And I guess there’s the possibility that it IS simple experimentation, and that gently leading the child in a direction they needn’t be going might actually produce more problems than had existed. I’m certainly no expert. I personally can’t imagine myself “growing out of” my feelings about who I wanted to really be, genderwise. All I think we all can be happy about is that the world seems to be moving in the right direction as far as acceptance and self-realization goes.

  3. First of all, Love the pic! I just might steal it for myself! 🙂

    On to the important point… I think telling someone the best they can do is be supportive no matter what decision is ultimately made, is the best possible answer. Other than that, maybe seeking out a professional trained to deal with children wouldn’t be a bad idea… after all, we can all use a little help now and then.

  4. haha

    “I mean sure, second person email diagnosis by individuals with no formal training is usually spot on accurate” this made me snort-laugh, and this “Good thinking, because most people’s immediate ‘go-to’ for mildly disappointing events is to embark on a protracted, painful and expensive gender change” made me laugh so loud I scared the dog

    god i love this blog!

  5. I know there are lots of resources out there for this particular issue, and maybe this isn’t the most directly related, but your reader might find some helpful things on this blog:

    • Ah and I just realized that the most recent, four or five, posts are about her book and the promotions they’ve been involved with (a bit annoying) but if you read into the blog there is a lot of really touching material.


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