I 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?