Tips for Parents

What is the main point you hope parents take away from this book?

While trans youth may encounter rejection, ridicule, or discrimination in the outside world, family acceptance goes a long way toward buffering those risks. In fact, knowing your family loves and accepts you for who you are is the critical mediating variable in a trans child's risk for things like depression, anxiety, substance use, school drop out, self-harm, risky behavior, and suicide. If you are struggling with your child's trans identity, reach out for help from other parents or a knowledgeable professional.

In the introduction, you discuss your personal experience as a trans man. Can you expand a bit on how your personal history motivated and informed your decision to write this book?

When I was a teenager, no one talked about gender identity and there were no visible transgender people. The faith community within which I grew up believed being gay or lesbian or transgender was a sin, and the message I internalized was that who I am was not "ok." There were also no resources for families with trans children, and this absence contributed to an estrangement between my family and me. On a spiritual level, my work with trans youth and their families, and this book, reflects the ways our places of deepest pain can often be transformed into places of profound passion and commitment. Knowing how my trans identity affected my life motivates me to make a difference in the lives of trans youth and their families today.

What would your advice be to a parent whose child has come out as trans and who is feeling like they are "losing" their child?

First, your feelings are real. While your child will be the same person inside after they transition, you are likely losing the son or daughter you have always known. In this sense, your relationship with them will change as they transition and given that our relationships with our children are highly gendered (we have sons and daughters), feelings of grief and loss are real for some parents. Further, even positive changes in our lives often involve some loss.

Second, your child is not the best outlet for expressing these feelings; they may experience your sadness as rejection. Find safe adults who can understand your grief and give yourself permission to feel and express your loss. If your therapist doesn't understand this, find a new therapist.

What would you say to parents who are worried their child will be bullied or discriminated against?

Talk with your child about the importance of disclosing possible bullying or discrimination with you. Never blame your child for being bullied or harassed, e.g. "If you didn't dress like that, people wouldn't tease you." Take any report seriously; be an advocate for your child's safety. Seek outside help if your child seems anxious or depressed, or begins to withdraw from you and/or peers. Make sure your child knows you love and support them fully; express this to them often.

Tips for Clinicians

What's the main takeaway you'd like clinicians working with trans children and their families to glean from this book?

Family acceptance is the critical mediating variable in a trans child's risk for things like depression, anxiety, substance use, school drop out, self-harm, risky sexual behavior, and suicide. Given this, two things are crucial:

1. You must build an alliance with both the trans young person AND their parents. 

2. Parental rejection is rarely the whole story; if you reach underneath the rejection, you will almost always find fear or pain.

What should clinicians be aware of as a "high risk" period for a child coming out as trans?

While trans youth are always at risk, one critical time period occurs between coming out to family and being able to socially and/or medically transition. Once the news is out, it often becomes harder for a young person to wait on others before being seen and acknowledged (e.g. new name, pronouns, clothing, hair style) in their affirmed gender.

What signs should clinicians look out for in a trans child who may be struggling with coming out?

Include screening questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in all intake procedures with young people - more information about how to word these questions can be found in chapter 3. 

Pay attention to any mood or behavior changes, such as anxiety, depression, anger, withdrawal and social isolation, a drop in academic performance or school attendance, or acting out. These changes do not always mean a trans youth is struggling to come out, but they do indicate something is "wrong" and needs your attention.

What signs should clinicians look for in families of trans youth who are struggling with their child's transition?

It's essential to listen closely for the messages parents may be conveying at home to their trans child. Are they saying "this is just a phase?" Or that "you'll always be my daughter/son" (based on birth-assigned sex)? Are they saying "you can't transition until you're 18 years old" (or some other day a ways into the future)? How often is a parent crying about their child's coming out in front of the child? Or expressing anger about their transition?

Any of these messages, conveyed overtly or subtly, can contribute to a sense of hopelessness for the trans youth.

Tips for Teachers

Can you offer any tips for teachers who are working with a family to facilitate a child's social transition in the classroom?

Your willingness to respect and acknowledge their affirmed identity can make a significant difference. Be their advocate: address any instance of ridicule or harassment.

Can you offer any tips for teachers who are working with a family to facilitate a child’s social transition in the classroom?

Work with parents to choose a date, make the announcement/process as straightforward as possible, and think through how to prepare their classmates (this will vary based on age - see chapter 9). Be the family's advocate with your school administration and other parents.

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Download a free "Talking Trans" printable vocab sheet!

Click the icon to the left to get a free printable PDF featuring 8 basic terms and vocabulary for understanding trans and gender-nonconforming youth. 

Do you have questions about Transgender Children and Youth?

Contact us at nmh@wwnorton.com