Friday March 31st is Trans Day of Visibility. This very important day celebrates the Trans community while also bringing awareness to the discrimination many of them face worldwide. To do our part in raising awareness this year we sat down with a young trans woman named Lexi to talk to her about how parents can be the best ally's for their transgender children.
Coming out can be an incredibly intimidating time in someone's life and PA Parent and Family Alliance wanted to sit down with Lexi, to get her insights on how she feels you, as the parent, can best preserve your child's mental health as they coming out. Your child may already be very nervous to express themselves to you and what you say and do in those very first moments can impact their mental health, and your relationship, for the rest of your lives.
Lexi is a 23-year-old transgender woman who is a recent college grad. When thinking back to her childhood she said she can see signs and some of her confusion that now make sense but it wasn't until college that she really began experimenting. This was due largely to the fact that her parents were not very supportive of her transition. She expressed that she had tried to come out to her parents multiple times throughout her childhood but it never went well. She was unsure of the terminology and what she was exactly trying to say to her parents. This allowed them to blow off the subject and justify it by saying "you don't even know what you're saying, you're just confused." This harsh reaction to her "coming out" forced Lexi to want to get away from her family before she began her medical transition.
College offered Lexi an opportunity to find herself in a community that made her feel accepted. "I am not asking for people to understand me and how I am thinking, what I am asking for is for them to respect me and if you don't know something, ask or look it up." This is where Lexi offered her first, and in her opinion, the most important piece of advice for a parent whose child has come out to them:
1. Research, research, research!
Lexi wanted to emphasize the importance of doing your research to understand what your child is going through, and trying to tell you. She told us how much she would have felt loved and listened to if she told her parents that she was trans and they had begun googling and learning rather than shutting down. "Don't treat your child like an encyclopedia, learn about whatever they're telling you and show them that you are trying." Using the correct terminology can make your child feel understood like you are validating the person they are. As a new parent, you did your research on how to ensure your child's safety, learned how to childproof your house, learned how to make sure their reading levels were on track, and this research never ends as a parent. Lexi wants to remind you that mental health and making your child feel validated is just another part of being a parent.
2. Show them you are putting in the effort!
This obviously includes doing your research but this also means show them that you are actively accepting and loving them for who they are. Lexi has expressed that her relationship with her parents is getting better every day and this is due to the fact that they are showing Lexi they support her. Calling your child by their preferred pronouns, advocating for them, educating your friends and family about your child and how they identify goes a long way. Show them you care, just like they have wanted since they were children. They are no different than the child who scribbled on a piece of paper, looking for you to show you were proud of them. They are your child and it can seriously impact their mental health if you do not show them that it is okay to be themselves, and they have nothing to be ashamed of. Lexi told us that one of her favorite, and most rewarding moments with her parents was when they went with her to a Trans Wellness Conference in Philadelphia. Being with other trans people, and having her parents be there to spend time learning about the transgender community with her made her feel loved.
Initially, Lexi did feel ashamed after her parent's reaction to her telling them she is trans. She expressed the fact that if a parent reacts this way it can make the child feel like what they are doing is wrong. This can affect the child's sense of self. What Lexi described as an incredible relief and amazing feeling to start to show the world your true self, can be ruined by the people around you making you feel like it is somehow wrong. Because of the weariness of her parents, Lexi has been forced to take on the financial and medical responsibilities of her transition. This ties into Lexi's final piece of advice for parents;
3. "Don't abandon your child to figure it out on their own."
After leaving for college Lexi was forced to navigate the expensive and confusing world of Trans healthcare all by herself. Being an involved student leader both inside and outside of the classroom kept her plate full but she picked up night shifts at a local burger shop to save up money to freeze her sperm for her future children. This is a very pricey process and she had to do it all by herself. She told us; "by 17 I was finding my own therapist, by 20 I was finding my own doctors, and by 21 I was medically advocating for myself and making huge decisions without help from anybody." Going it alone caused her to grow up faster than many of her peers, who had parents who still made every single doctor's appointment for them. She felt like she was in it alone and that was an incredibly isolating and depressing thought.
Lexis's advice for parents can be summed up in one word; try. Try to understand them, try to do your research, try to be there for them every step of the way. Never forget that even if this is not how you pictured your child, they are now and will always be your child. "If you are open, educated, and available your child will know you are someone they count on and that is what every parent and child wants." Be proud of them for trusting you to express their true selves, and show them you are and will always be there for them. "Don't push them away, don't try and make them something they're not. You literally cannot stop your child from being who they are, and loving who they love, so why try".
When we asked Lexi what she is proud of this Pride month (and every month for that matter) she took a deep breath in; " I am a young trans woman who has a job in my field of choice; I have a projected future and that is something to be proud of." There is so much for your child to be proud of, and so much of you to be proud of them for. Take this June to reflect on how far the LGBTQ+ community has come, and how you as a parent can help ensure your child's self-worth and happiness as they are brave in coming out, and every moment for the rest of their lives.