What should I do if I think my child is trans?
You might think that your child, a friend or a family member is trans, but until they tell you how they feel, you can’t know. Steer clear of prying though, you want them to know they can come to you in their own time. If you try to pressure them, it might just make them close up more. What you can do is listen to and respect their decisions about how they want to express themselves and their gender – if they prefer a nickname, for example, and not pressurising them to wear certain clothes.
You can also create an environment where your child, friend or family member feels able to talk to you about their gender, knowing you’ll be supportive. If your child is trans they will probably be very alert to the attitudes towards LGBT people in your house. This might include challenging gender stereotypes, saying positive things about LGBT people, and particularly trans people, when they’re in the media or on TV, and not letting people say negative things about LGBT people under your roof.
Might this just be a phase?
Many parents are concerned when their child tells them that they are trans that it is just a phase, that their child is too young to be sure, and are concerned about the long-term impact of their decision. Dismissing it as a phase, however, will make it seem like you’re not taking them seriously, and undermine their confidence. It may well have taken a lot of guts to come to you about this in the first place!
It is important that you give your child the time and space to explore how they are feeling. Don’t pressure them to make any decisions too quickly, but be led by what they want and need.
It is also important to remember that the decisions you and your child make to support their transition under the age of 16 are not irreversible. Young people can take hormone blockers to allow them the time to consider their feelings without having to go through puberty. If they then decide they do not want to transition they will simply be able to stop taking the blockers and puberty will start as usual. Speak to your GP for further information.
Similarly, if they decide to change their name (with the support of their parents), it is possible, and relatively straight forward, to change your name again.
Bear in mind, however, that it is relatively unusual for trans young people to change their mind. To undermine how they are feeling is likely to do more harm. In particular, trans young people who do not have support from their families and school are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, and it may also affect their ability to concentrate at school and educational attainment.
What if I’m finding this hard?
Many parents find it difficult or upsetting when they find out their child is trans. Remember your child is the same person on the inside, and that by being honest about how they feel they have shared a big part of who they are with you. You may find it difficult to get your head around, but if you want to have a good relationship with your child you are going to have to live with it and accept it. Simple gestures like buying cards or presents which reflect their gender identity, and using the name or pronoun they prefer, can mean a lot and shows that you respect and care about their feelings.
If you, or other family members, are finding it hard to accept, remember that regardless of your child’s gender identity, you love them and want them to be happy. If you reject it, all you’ll do is damage your relationship with you child, hurting both of you. As for relatives, some family members might need some help getting their head around the issue. If they don’t react well initially, put some ground rules in place about what can and can’t be said in front of your children. It might be hard at first, but often it isn’t.
What about their school?
Schools have changed a lot over the years and are now better at supporting LGBT pupils than they have ever been. But of course, it’s not perfect. If your child wants to transition at school, speak to a trusted teacher about what they can do to support that process. This might involve changing the name on school records, supporting them to tell classmates and thinking about what toilets and changing rooms they feel most comfortable using. Make sure your child is involved in these decisions, and take it at their pace – they might not want to do everything at once!
If you are concerned that your child is experiencing bullying or teasing because of their gender identity, you should speak to a trusted teacher or the school leadership. The school has a duty to protect your child from bullying behaviour, and that includes on the grounds of gender identity. Stonewall Cymru also offers teacher training and resources on supporting LGBT pupils, email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Youth Cymru’s Trans*Form project is a project to empower young trans people in Wales and provide opportunities for them to meet other young trans people.
Mermaids offers support to trans young people and their families.
Gendered Intelligence has a range of resources and information for trans people on issues including health, education and employment.