Irwin Krieger, a Connecticut Psychotherapist and gender specialist has written a 75 page guide for parents of trans teens (2011, Genderwise Press, New Haven, CT. ISBN: 069201229X).
The book provides a good “lay of the land” for parents who have little information about what it means to have a transgender child. It includes a glossary of terms, a primer on gender and sexuality, and a fairly detailed roadmap for what to expect should the teen decide to transition.
It is particularly strong in articulating the tensions that can arise between an impatient teen and a cautious parent who is trying to “come up to speed”. Other helpful areas are sample letters to extended family members explaining the situation, thoughts on what to expect when a teen transitions at school and a discussion of the typical fears a parent may have.
There are few minor points with which I took issue – namely a tendency (not just here but in a good deal of transgender literature) to paint the (FTM) female to male transgender child’s experience as somehow “easier” and Krieger’s describing a teen’s coming out as gay as often being a “transitional identity” to what may later be a “straight” identity. This may overlook the strong “queer” identity that many young people lay claim to before, during and even after transition.
These points aside, “Helping Your Transgender Teen” is sure to do just that for a good many parents who will be reassured and educated by this book.
I had posted before about some ideas of how to come out to family, and I recently had the opportunity to be the guest speaker at a support group for parents of transgender children (part of New York City PFLAG). The following is a handout I used. They are mostly talking points, but I think they can still be useful, so I’m posting them here. Note that it is aimed at parents that have been newly-come-out to by mostly teenage and older children.
Thoughts on Parents coping with Transgender children
- Keep the long term goal in mind in all communications
The long term goal is maintaining a relationship with your child.
- Allow yourself time to process your feelings.
There can be pressure for immediate acceptance.
You are entitled to all your feelings about the situation.
Your child has had much more time to think about this and accept it than you have.
Listening: Don’t interrupt, don’t tune out, and don’t plan what you will say next, make eye contact, pay attention to the speakers feelings, before you give your opinion reflect back what you are heard in a non-judgmental way so that the speaker knows they have been heard or ask for clarification if you didn’t understand something.
Speaking: If you’re too angry or upset take a 20 min. break. Try to avoid blaming, ultimatums, attacking, insults, large proclamations or hurtful speech. Say what you feel clearly, don’t assume people know. (people are not mind readers). Say what you feel rather than acting it out, ex: “I’m confused and angry…”
Say where you are, example: “I don’t completely understand it but I’m listening and working on it”
Don’t triangulate; focus on you and your child not other people.
Don’t shut down communications or avoid your child
- Telling Other family/friends
This is often the largest fear.
Let it happen when you’re ready.
Let others have their own feelings and reactions about it, don’t try and dictate.
- Understanding and reframing
Educate yourself about transgenderism.
This is an opportunity for a more authentic relationship with your child.
Find out about Psychotherapy when dealing with Gender variance in yourself or someone close to you.
After the previous post on SNL’s shameful portrayal of transsexuals I thought I’d give an example of something really great.
Wandering Son (‘Hourou Musuko’ in Japanese) is a book and video series in the Japanese Manga tradition about the wishes and longings of gender variant school kids. I won’t describe it further here since you can watch for yourself. The first four episodes are up at crunchyroll.com with English subtitles.
Find out about Psychotherapy related to Gender variance in yourself or someone close to you.