In many ways, it’s a watershed time for transgender people. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association eliminated from its diagnostic manual the term “Gender Identity Disorder,” and introduced the term “Gender Dysphoria,” to clarify that people who feel discomfort that their gender identity doesn’t match their physical anatomy do not, in fact, have a “disorder.”
According to The New York Times, it is estimated that there are about 1.4 million transgender people living in the United States. Being transgender is more prevalent than ever, especially in children and adolescents. Awareness of transgender issues continues to grow thanks in part to high-profile celebrities who’ve spoken out, like activist Jazz Jennings, Caitlyn Jenner and Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox.
Supporting your transgender child is crucial to helping them develop self-worth and a sense of love for who they are. Unfortunately, growing up trans can still be very difficult. It shouldn’t be this way anymore, but even in today’s world, they’ll likely face judgment and scrutiny from the outside world. However, they shouldn’t have to face it at home, too. Their home and their family should be their safe haven, one that builds them up and validates their whole self, accepting them for who they are and loving them for exactly that.
While transgender issues are gaining more attention now than ever, America has a long way to go. Transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals are nine times more likely to attempt suicide than the national average. Isolation and lack of acceptance are huge risk factors in this alarming statistic. However, proper family support can mitigate these numbers and save children’s lives. So, as a parent, if you find yourself raising a transgender child, or know someone who is, here is some invaluable advice and tips to help along the way.
1. Tell your child you love them, but be honest: Support is crucial for anyone, but especially a child’s psyche. Tell your child that you love them (repeatedly) as well as how proud you are of them for sharing this with you. Even if you’re still struggling to understand, this step is imperative. You don’t have to lie about your feelings. Having a child modify his or her appearance, mannerisms and name is an adjustment for everyone. Children will often sense if you aren’t being honest. In order to build trust, be as truthful as possible. Your child just shared their biggest secret with you, and whether or not it’s obvious, they need to hear that they are loved.
2. Trust children to know themselves: Studies have shown that gender identity starts to develop as early as the first year of life and is solidified by age four. When your child is telling you that they don’t identify with their assigned gender, you may want to consider that it’s not a phase. Children know themselves better than you realize. As your children begin to understand the world around them, they also need to be able to explore their own identity.
3. Expect community backlash: Not everyone in this world is accepting, and not everyone can love your child like you do. People may not want to take the same steps towards acceptance. Remember that this public is even harder for your transgender child. Public opinion should be an open topic of conversation and something that you face together. It’s important to have an ongoing discussion about tolerance with your child. Emphasize that there are many people who feel discriminated against for their differences outside of the LGBTQ community as well, like those who are overweight or living with a disability. By taking the focus off your child’s struggle, you’re helping to normalize the situation.
4. Seek support and education: Know that other people and families are going through the same situation that you are going through. There is a whole community out there that may benefit from your advice and contribution. Countless websites and forums are dedicated to education and support. Parents and Friends of Lesbian’s and Gay’s (PFLAG), for example, is a nationwide organization that caters to transgendered and gender non-conforming people as well as their friends and family. Support is crucial for all parties involved. Getting involved in the community will help you educate yourself, so you know best how to support your transgender child.
If you are a parent, and need to learn more about how to best help your transgender child, call Endocrine Kids at (248) 347-3344 to request an appointment with Dr. Jacalyn Bishop. Or you can request an appointment using our online request an appointment form.