Updated: Dec 31, 2019
Every year when June rolls around images of rainbow colored flags flood our timelines for pride month. Pride month offers a platform and space for people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate how far they have come, and how proud they are to be unapologetically themselves. The parties and rainbows may seem like nonstop fun however this community, and nearly every single member of it, have experienced varying levels of self doubt, bullying, and oppression. A pivotal moment in every member of the LGBTQ+'s community is when they "come out", and express their true selves to the loved ones around them. This can be an incredibly intimidating time in someone's life and PA Parent and Family Alliance wanted to sit down with a member of the community, Lexi, to share with us her insights on how to preserve you and your child's mental health during the process of coming out. Odds are your child is already 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 now makes 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 however 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 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, most important piece of advice for a parent who has a child coming out:
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 began googling and learning rather than shutting it down and just asking Lexi about it. "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 and like you are validating the person they are. As a young parent you did your research on how to ensure your child's safety, how to childproof your house, and how to make sure they were on track with their reading levels, 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.
Learning about the terms that your child is telling you can help you understand them; click here to go to the Human's Right's Campaign's website for a glossary on terms that might come up in your conversation.
This ties in well with Lexi's second piece of advice;
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 your child 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 trying to show 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, dying for you to be proud of them and hang it on the fridge. They are your child and it can seriously impact their mental health if you are not showing 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 (happening this year from July 25th- July 27th). 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.
Lexi did feel very 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 mess with the child's head because, what Lexi described as an incredible relief and amazing feeling to start to show the world you true self, can be ruined by the people around you making you feel like it isn't right.
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;
"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 caused her to have such a full plate that she had to pick 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". By having no help she had to grow up a faster than many of her peers, who had parents who still made every single doctors 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 up of the way. Never forget that even if this is not how you pictured your child, they are and will always be your child. "If you are open, educated, and available your child will feel like you are someone they can go to, and that is what every parent 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 anything they're not. You literally cannot stop your child from being who they are, and loving who they love, so why try".
When asking 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 you child's self worth and happiness in those very first moments of them coming out, and every moment for the rest of their lives.
Below are a few resources to get the essential research started. As Lexi puts it; "honestly everybody should research the LGBTQ+ community, expanding your world view and making those around you feel accepted is never a bad thing".
If you are someone you know needs help visit :https://www.thetrevorproject.org/