Q: My child recently came out to me as transgender, and I am trying to figure out the best way to support my child around sharing this information with our extended family (grandparents, cousins, etc.) Not everyone in our family has the most inclusive mindset. I want to make sure that I am not unintentionally causing my child any harm by putting them in uncomfortable or unsafe situations. Do you have any suggestions on approaching this topic with unsupportive family members? Should I be the one to tell them, or should I let my child?
A: This is a great question. Thank you for bringing it up. This question has multiple aspects to it. So, let’s break it down to understand all of the pieces.
First, let’s talk about supporting your child in the beginning stages of their transition. If your child just came out to you, it probably feels new and may feel scary. Finding information to educate yourself on what it means to be transgender can help you to support your child, but remember, your child should not be the one to educate you.
Next, make sure you take a breath. Your child feeling comfortable coming out to you means they trust you with this critical information, so you are doing something right. Nothing you did as a parent influenced the gender identity of your child, and they did not choose to be transgender. It is who they are.
“It has nothing to do with you. They did not make this decision because of your input.”
(Youth, Age 19)
Let’s move to the primary concern in this question, how to talk with extended family who might not be supportive. Sometimes children are not ready for their extended family to learn about their gender identity, and that’s okay. You can deal with this by having open conversations with your child about who they want to know. Ask your child if there are people that they specifically do not want to know. Who are those people?
If your child does wish to share their gender identity with family members, you can support them by making a plan with your child. Ask what information they feel comfortable sharing or when they would like to share this information. If a family member is unsupportive in a group setting, pull your child aside and check in. Your child might want you to assist in getting people’s attention or pulling family members aside because it can be intimidating for them to announce that they would like to talk to someone in private.
If your child wants to leave, back them up in that decision and go. This is a great way to validate your child’s feelings in this vulnerable moment and give them a sense of safety and security. Your child should never be in a situation where they have to defend themselves. This process is not about defense. It is about feeling comfortable to have conversations regarding their identity. Have a plan if something goes south. Make a plan before engaging in this conversation. Come up with an escape plan such as a codeword or specific phrase for your child to communicate if they need to leave. It may be helpful if a supportive sibling, friend, or family member is in earshot or around when these conversations are happening for additional support. Remember, let your child lead the discussion, and they will let you know if they need your help. Overall, avoiding harmful situations can be done by setting clear boundaries and actively listening to your child’s thoughts and needs.
Some phrases that could unintentionally cause harm include:
“This is not what I would have chosen for you, but if it makes you happy…”
“If you choose to do this, your life will be hard.”
“Why would you choose to be like this?”
“I feel like I am mourning the loss of who you were.”
Phrases that could be more helpful:
“What can I do to support you at this moment?”
“I will always support you.”
“I am honored that you trust me enough to tell me about your identity.”
Some resources that may be helpful for you to learn more about various gender identities and other aspects of the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals.
- History is Gay
- Getting Curious – Jonathan Van Ness
- Queery – Cameron Esposito
- Mercury Stardust (Tiktok)
- Love Simon (Movie)
- Pure by Natalie Jasmine Harris (Short film – HBO Max)
I hope all of this information helps you support your child with their gender identity and share it with family members.