Conversation with Sue
Sue’s son came out to her as transgender and started transitioning to male when he was 16. Sue has learned a lot from her son’s experience and has now started a transgender support group on Manitoulin for parents of transgender children providing advice and support to other parents of trans children. She also has a second group that meets at the same time for transgender youth.
She’s talked to parents of adults and younger transgender children, and described how the process and the emotions involved are similar whatever the age of the transgender person, for both the parent and the child.
How did you find out your son was transgender and what was your initial reaction to the news?
Actually my husband told me, my son told my husband first because I was away. My initial reaction, my heart dropped. I didn’t know anything about transgender, or even the term itself. But, as a mother, I had the intuitive feeling that it would be a difficult road ahead for my child. My afab child at the time had came out to me as “gay” but I had no problem with it. But, when he told me he was transgender, I was concerned for him.
What did you struggle with most and what’s your advice for parents?
Looking back, the hardest thing would be when he changed his name without consulting with his Dad and I. As supportive as I was for him, I went through a grieving process. I think as a cis gender parent, we think in binary terms, my child is either male or female and how the gender matches the biological sex. At that time, I felt that my daughter was gone, even though I understand he is still the same person.
My advice to other parents is to support your child unconditionally. Help them with name changes on their legal documents. Help in any way they want to transition. If extended family members or friends are not supportive, be prepared to re-evaluate your relationship priorities with them.
How would you advise a parent who is struggling to accept that their child wants to change gender?
Just remember that for a trans person, their struggle is much more difficult than you can imagine. I would advise those parent to learn as much as they can on the topic of transgender and gender dysphoria. Take some time to listen them, full listen to what they are feeling and going though. Often you are the only person they feel comfortable with to share their innermost feelings.
Try to avoids these comments:
“How do you know you are (2SLGBTQ+) ? Are you sure?”
“You are too young to make a decision like that.”
“How can you know if you have never had sex with someone of the opposite sex?
It’s just a phase you’re going through”
“A lot of people experiment or fantasize; It doesn’t mean you are (2SLGBTQ+)”
“It’s FINE that you told me, but you shouldn’t tell other” Maybe you just haven’t met the right person yet.
Helpful responses for discussion around Gender Identity
“It is okay if you are (2SLGBTQ+) identified”
“I can appreciate how difficult it must be for you to tell me this”
“If you are (2SLGBTQ+) what are the kinds of things that worry you most?”
“What kind of support do you think you need from me”
“I might not have all the information, but I can find more for you”
**(2SLGBTQ+)- Two spirted, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transexual, Queer/Questiong and etc...
What should I do first if my child says they want to change gender, or don’t feel comfortable as their current gender?
Just listen. Then, act once you understand what exactly they are looking to do.
What’s the next step if I think my child has gender dysphoria?
Try to find someone in your community that is specialized in transgender counselling. However, on Manitoulin island there is no such counselling available.
Any other tips?
Join FB groups for Parents of transgender children. There are Canadian groups, as well as, groups specific to our province. They are a great resource. Also, try to find local support groups such as ours.