In my newsletter, I asked my readers to share their experience of having a child come out as transgender and how it might be different from a child coming out as gay. I received this beautiful response from a reader and was given permission to share it.
I’m so glad you wrote this! You touched on many similarities and differences. Thank you for comparing and contrasting so well. Susan, I belong to a local support group, and after I first started going, I had to laugh. It’s for parents of LGBTQ children. But all of the parents are parents of trans kids. So what I like to say about that is, and I’m saying this tongue-in-cheek, the parents of gay kids don’t need a support group anymore. I know that’s not true, but it’s amazing how fast the world has transitioned to acceptance of gay people. Years ago, I used to say we tolerate all kinds of people in the gay-friendly town we live near in the summer. I learned that was the wrong thing, and I am mad at myself for thinking/talking that way. I learned to say (and walk the talk) that we ACCEPT all kinds of people.
There is a lot of fear of the unknown, and when I share that my child is trans, I find myself having to be patient. I like to educate folks, not criticize. I use compassion to help friends understand people that are different from them and that we are all human beings.
I do know my child was brave in coming out as trans. I admire them immensely and they are teaching me to be a better person, every day. My child went to college in the Midwest. They found some support there, but I say they were brave because the state is very religious and the only acceptable marriage model is between a man and a woman. On the other hand, it was a college town, so there was a bit more acceptance. I also think it was necessary for my child to go far away from home, to become the person they wanted to be.
When I was transitioning to being a parent of a trans child, my husband and I went to a panel at the local library, “Ask a Trans Person Anything.” I’m kind of shy in large groups. But I wrote down a question on an index card. I asked what was one thing they wished their parents could do for them, better. The two main answers were use our name (not birth name) and use our correct pronouns. So sweet of a request and seemingly so easy to do. But also a challenge for me at first…and for a lot of people. I also know the more time I spent with my child after they graduated, the easier it became to use their pronouns. My friends still struggle, but they always apologize and correct themselves and we just move on and hope for correct usage next time.
I have also grown through my relationship with my therapist. They counsel parents and teens. I could not have done this without them. They especially helped during a crisis, when my child was harassed (by a fellow trans employee) at his first job out of college. I think what we learned from that is: 1. Hurt people hurt people. And: 2. Some people are just jerks! And my child knows what to look out for, better, now. I also am always on the watch for suicidal feelings from my trans child, I live in fear of this. It’s often on my mind. That’s why loving and understanding my child is SO important. If I didn’t accept them and advocate for them, there would be a greater risk of suicide. Not sure if that’s the same for parents of gay children, but it may be something we have in common.
I have a good friend that developed a platform about the relationship between gay sons and mothers. I hope in the future, more dads can be supportive and understanding of their LGBTQ children. Still trying to figure out why there is a difference, maybe because men are such visual human beings? My husband is doing a good job. At first, he had a hard time. I know marriages break up over this issue. Also, I have spent so much time with my child, and I was aware from a very young age that they wanted to be the opposite gender of what they were born! So I think we may share this aspect of parenting, with parents of gay kids.
One last thing I’m going to share. My husband’s family kept a secret from us for 10 years. His sister has a trans child. I understand their child came out a while ago, and what a difference a decade has made for trans folks and their families. Two of their immediate family members were estranged from the child for 7 years. I don’t think I would ever be able to be estranged from my child, so that’s hard for me to understand, but I understand there were challenges that we don’t have.
If you are wondering how this could go on for so long, it was because they lived far away from us. Susan, when this secret was revealed to me, I was so surprised, yet so happy. I’m still processing it. I’m not mad at my husband, in fact I understand why it took so long to share. I feel bad for the lost years between our families because my sister-in-law could have helped us much earlier in the process. I guess we were both being very private; we didn’t know there was an ally in our family.
I am grateful to my sister-in-law for opening up. My kids are not anxious to have a relationship with her family at this time. I’m a peacekeeper, and I believe this will improve, in time. By the way, the family is doing better now. They recently met their child’s fiancé. Life is getting better for all of them and us. In a way, they paved the way so that our child could have a better life.
A few friends have come to me, anxious to talk and share when their children came out as gay. There was suddenly a crisis. And then, the children seem to have pushed their feelings down, and now they are in heterosexual relationships. I worry about those kids, but I’m learning sexuality is fluid. I have a friend that was closeted, married a woman, had two kids and then came out. Things are good for him, his partner and family now, but that was a lot for that family to go through. I’m hopeful that more people can live their truth and prevent pain in the future. This is a very long answer! Thanks for asking. I hope I can help other parents by sharing this. And I would like to hear their stories. Thanks for all you do, Susan.