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How to Find Resources That Support Trans Families

posted: 05/08/18
by: Marina Luciano-Carson

Any time a family member decides to make a major life change, everyone must adjust. When a family member comes out as transgender, this is no different. The love stays the same, but there may be a new normal. While some couples like Lawren and Jennifer or Stacey and Leslie choose to stay together, it is not uncommon for relationships to change entirely. Children of all ages are likely to have questions about their parent's decision to transition.

There are organizations who can help families throughout a transition. Family Equality Council and COLAGE identify common questions and concerns of children and families and suggest safe ways to address those questions.

Talking to Younger Children (Under 8 years old)

Babies and most toddlers do not ask questions about their families. However, they do notice what goes on around them, and those observations form the basis of their thinking about families. Here are some of the thoughts they may have:

"I call her my 'mima' but my grandmother calls her my 'mommy'."

As children learn to talk, they need to have their significant adults speaking the same language as they are. The terms used by others to discuss family members need to be consistent with those that are familiar to the child.

"Thomas has two moms, and Evan has a mom and a dad. You and Kati have two dads."

People in a child's extended family and community are important in the child's life. If possible, create a community of other gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer families similar to yours or who are supportive of your family. If you don't have that option, research local therapists who may specialize in challenges related to the LGBTQ+ community.

Children need to hear about their families from an early age and be told who is in their family. Talking about the many ways to be a family becomes important. Children learn about the world through their own personal experiences and therefore, think all families are like their own. These simple statements help children develop a concept of "family" that includes others' as well as their own. These conversations with your child help them understand and appreciate the diversity of families.

Talking to Pre-Teens and Young Adults (8 - 18 years old)

It's especially important for pre-teens and older adolescents of transgender parents to understand how to communicate this change to their peers. Here are some helpful ways to navigate questions that may arise during the transition.

"I don't want to tell everyone at school about what's happening."

For many young adults, fitting in and being part of a group may be the most important thing. At this time, they may need to be in charge of who they come out to about their family. Young adults often share intimate details ("secrets") of their lives with only a few close friends. While the young adult may choose to be less open, you as parents do not have to make the same choice. Adolescents still need models of parents as proud and respectful of ourselves and our relationships. Of course, you should be as out and open about your sexual orientation or gender identity as you feel comfortable being. Allowing young adults to communicate when they're ready and listening to their concerns will allow for an open and honest dialogue around transition and what it means to the family.

Talking to Adult Children (18 years or older)

"Someone asked me if my dad is a transgender. I'm not sure how to respond."

The conversation about transitioning can be more direct with adult children of transgender parents. Although this can be a potentially challenging time for them, it's important to give them strategies for responding to the questions from strangers, neighbors, friends, and extended family members. Some strategies that have worked for adult children include:

  • Giving direct responses such as, "Yes, she is." It's been reported that this approach takes the power away from those asking the question. By keeping it a secret, it can open up the chance for ridicule or bullying. If they are honest and matter-of-fact, the words may lose their power. Beyond that initial response, remember you only have to respond with as much information as you feel comfortable sharing.
  • Making a joke in response. Some feel more comfortable redirecting the questions or bullying using humor. This may ease the situation if you feel uncomfortable. Again, you don't owe anyone a detailed explanation about your loved one.
  • Seeking support from professionals. If you find yourself in need of professional help to process this change, research local therapists who specialize in the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Acceptance of this new normal may not happen overnight and it's okay to admit you need help to do so.
  • Ignoring comments. Walking away from potentially inflammatory situations suits the personality of some people. They choose not to engage in discussions or confrontations. However, this may cause stress or anxiety around the appropriate way to respond the next time this happens. You may need additional help with strategies or may need your parents to communicate with the school.
  • Finding a supportive group of friends and allies. Your close friends should be understanding of this change. Be open with them and share your feelings. It's always better to talk with someone instead of managing this on your own. Allies are important. Seek out new friends through local support groups.

Remember that no one has to go through a transition alone. Find additional resources at TLC.com/TransitionResources. Or, visit the Family Equality Council website to learn more.

Watch Lost in Transition on TLC on Sundays at 10/9c.