If My Child Came Out As Trans

I wonder how I’d react if my child came out as Transgender.

I don’t have experience with this, either in my own family or with close friends, and I won’t pretend to be an expert. But the world has lost too many — trans children, adolescents and adults — who felt too unsupported, too misunderstood, too tormented to go forward. Yes, I feel judgmental toward their families and communities, for their lack of support. But it’s relatively easy to feel judgmental, and much harder to figure out how to help. I want to try to help. So I’m imagining one possible scenario, step by step. To avoid a confusing array of pronouns, I’ve chosen to write about a young person with an assigned male gender at birth, whose gender identity is female. However, I think the issues will hold true for a transgender boy or girl, any gender, and for his, her or their family.

I’m imagining the conversation:

“Mom, can we talk?”

“Sure.” (Uh oh. Torpedoed a test? Drugs or alcohol? Speeding ticket?)

“I don’t know how to say this.”

“Okay, whatever it is, I’ll help you through.”

“I know everyone thinks I’m a boy, but I feel like a girl.”

Thud of silence.

In that instant, we’d be launched on a new trajectory, a hairpin turn, a lightning-bolt surprise journey. I imagine my first reaction would be shock that my most basic assumption about my child was wrong, and always had been.

My boy is a girl?

In an instant, my confidence in my parenting would be shaken to the core.

What else have I missed?

The guilt would hit, with anger on its heels. I’d feel guilty that my child had carried this alone for so long, and at the same time angry that she had kept something so huge from me for so long. I’d feel guilty for missing something so fundamental, and furious at her for slamming me with this magnum-force news bulletin.

Breathe. Just breathe.

I’d try to steady myself, because even though something huge would have changed, much would not have changed at all. She would still be my child – the same values of decency, the same wicked sense of humor, the same love for chocolate, the same conviction that okra and garden snails and Vaseline are biologically related and equally unfit for human consumption. She’d complete physics assignments with the same ease, continue her struggle reading music, and remain strikingly unable to complete a sentence without saying “like” or “y’know”. My child would still be my child.

Then the doubts would hit again.

This can’t be happening.

I’d remember my son, actually my daughter, as a newborn. Our first relationship to our children is through their bodies. We hold them, feed them, change them. We feel their foreheads for fever, and rock them to sleep in our arms. We develop a powerful bond with the body of our child, a physical and emotional connection, bone-deep. The foundation of our entire relationship stems from our child’s body.

That foundation misled me, betrayed me.

Then I hope I’d put on the brakes. My daughter did not mislead or betray me, and neither did her body. My own assumptions about her body did. I’d remind myself not to take it out on my child, and in turn, I’d ask her not to blame me for giving her a body that doesn’t match her identity.

We can get through this.

I’d feel a moment of calm, a quiet confidence. Then my emotions would surge, and run rampant. I’d be mortified to find myself up to my eyeballs in “wrong” feelings — politically incorrect, insensitive, hurtful, bigoted.

Did I do something wrong, make a terrible mistake that caused this?

Feelings don’t always make sense, or follow the rules of rationality. I’d try to be patient with my own “wrong” reactions. Does that mean I’d accept these wrong feelings, welcome them? No. But I’d allow myself the time I needed to process this new situation, to blaze an emotional trail. And as I struggled, I’d be surprised to realize that in some ways, my world had become a lot easier.

So much makes sense that I didn’t understand before.

I imagine that part of my reaction would be relief. I’d remember things my son did and said, which puzzled me at the time. I’d now realize that was not my son, but actually my daughter acting and speaking, and her behavior and words would make sense. I’d feel guilty that I didn’t follow up at the time, and possibly save my daughter years of pain and confusion. I’d wonder if I could ever forgive myself.

I never thought I’d be dealing with this.

At that point, I hope I’d pause, and begin to regain perspective, because that sentiment is felt by every parent, many times, in raising children. Kids are full of surprises, and the one sure-bet for parents is the unexpected. I hope my sense of humor would kick back in, to steady me, and I’d be able to smile at my emotional clumsiness. I’d feel the beginnings of a stronger bond with my child, a bond of truth and authenticity.

I love her so much, but I need support, and so does she.

I’d reach out. I’d talk to friends. I’d also find a new community of people who shared my experience. I’d encourage my daughter to do the same. No secrets, no shame. I would certainly encounter ignorance and bigotry. Worse, my child would be hurt at times by misguided people who’d feel a push to lash out. I’d be unable to protect her from being hurt, but I’d make sure our home remained a safe haven.

I hope that if my child ever came out as Transgender, we’d stand side by side. If I needed to cry, that would be okay, as long as I left room for her tears. I would try to accept my full reaction, and support my daughter through her full reaction, not allowing my emotions to eclipse hers.

I’d mess up, sometimes badly. If needed, I’d apologize. I’d ask questions. I’d learn. I’d encourage my daughter to do the same. I’d fall so many times I’d leave skid marks. But whether on our feet or on our asses, even shaken to the core, we’d love each other. We’d go forward as a family, a newly configured family – with a daughter instead of a son. Sometimes we’d walk tall; sometimes we’d stumble. We’d hold out our hands, helping each other regain balance. We’d talk. We’d eat our favorite foods, and enjoy our favorite activities. We’d have fun. Like always. Because we’d still be the same people, only we’d understand each other with a new clarity.

We’d figure it out.




Filed under family, Leelah Alcorn, LGBT, parenting, Transgender

9 responses to “If My Child Came Out As Trans

  1. What a wonderful idea, to bring understanding and relief to a difficult topic through storytelling. It’s an ancient method of communication, which you just validated as still relevant. Instead of telling me, you brought me into it. So great. One of the most interesting parts for me while reading it was realizing I would be so okay with my son’s decision to identify with a female gender that I could deal with it on an uncomplicated level. Like your character, I’d be sad that he had to live with this so long without bringing me in. But even that is fine too – it’s a huge decision and I’m sure he would have approached it as a mature, thoughtful person and waited until the time was right for him. Of course, I can’t know exactly how I’d feel until it happened, but your story got me as close as I’ve ever been. Maybe it’s because I feel I have a comfortable relationship with my own female side. I’ve become someone who doesn’t think male and female are very different anyway – we differ more on generalizations than absolutes, and some of those female generalizations are important to my life, my success, my parenting, my work approach. Or maybe it’s because I love my son so much that his gender identity means almost nothing in the big scheme of things. Likes horror movies, writes awesome music, identifies with a female identity, and hates under-cooked chicken. So what, right? Even surgery – I’d say go for it.

    If he told me he wanted to go to Syria and join the IS, then I’d have a fit and freak out and would seriously consider kidnapping him and tying him to a chair. But telling me there’s a girl in there? I have one in me too, but she’s just a friend, not an identity. I welcome his identity any way he wants to live it. Thanks to you, I can say that with more authority.


  2. Pingback: LGBTQIA Posts | Amy Kaufman Burk's Blog

  3. Barbara Orman

    Amy- Thank you for this! It is spot on- our child came out to us a year ago as a transwoman and I went through all of this- it’s like you were in my head! I hope your blog helps others to understand transgender youth. RIP Leelah.

    • Barbara- I’m so glad the post felt on target. That’s exactly my hope — to help people understand transgender youth, and to help families stay supportive and bonded. Thank you for your comment, and for sharing a piece of your experience.

  4. I am confused. Does “feeling” like the opposite gender simply mean you are attracted sexually to a person who physically of the same sex. If a person mentally identifies them self as being of the opposite sex to what they obviously are physically is this just a preference for things that are preferred by that opposite sex. Does a transgender person feel the misplaced gender from birth? Does it lay dormant until at some point it emerges like at puberty? Our brains are different than other mammals brains? Can a human be born with a brain that was influenced during gestation to be of a sex that is opposite to the physical self. Is this a third sex?

    • Thank you for your comment. These are excellent questions. For some people, the answers feel quite straightforward. For others, the answers feel like they lead to more questions. People are complex, and the range of “normal” is a much wider spectrum than many realized. If anybody wants to talk about their questions, The Trevor Project has people who are glad to talk, and ready to help you sort it out. http://www.thetrevorproject.org

  5. Thank you Amy. I’m a transgender guy and when I came out to my parents their reaction was to tell me they were worried that I was “imitating my trans friends” and that they were worried about me making such huge mistakes. After a huge argument and time, they understand now that that’s not the case.

    I’ve come to see that parents have their own process when we come out to them, that by the time a child is ready to say, “I’m transgender,” they’ve thought about it for a long time, but for parents the journey is just beginning.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful piece. Hopefully it will help some parents who are struggling with this. Also, thank you for your support of The Trevor Project. It is truly a wonderful, life-saving resource.

    • Thank you for your comment, and for sharing your experience. It’s important for families to know that even if they go off course initially, if they keep trying and don’t give up, they can get back on track.

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