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.
Jennifer Carr has made an important contribution to children’s literature in her 2010 offering “Be Who You Are” (Author House, Bloomington, IN). In this 32 page, colorfully illustrated (by Ben Rumback) book, Carr shows the challenges of a gender variant child “Nick” as he transforms into “Hope”.
Hope’s parents are unwavering in their support and help her as she negotiates run-in’s with a teacher and disappointment with school. Other issues raised are connecting with a therapist, finding community with other families with gender variant children, dealing with a younger brother’s coming to terms with her, correcting pronouns and self acceptance. Certain milestones such as wearing a dress out to a park and picking a new name are lovingly celebrated.
This book, which can be read to or with a transgender child, performs an invaluable function – it legitimizes and normalizes the child’s experience. In addition it gives clues and direction to the young child on how to cope with difficult situations, such as:
“…whenever she felt sad or worried she talked with her parents”
“…when someone made a mistake and called her by the wrong name, she politely said ‘Please call me Hope. It means a lot to me’ ”.
In short it is a book written for the transgender child not just about a child who is transgender. Kudos to Carr (who runs an excellent blog here) and was inspired by her own child for writing this book.
(For more information on books for Transgender children see the bibliography complied by Nancy Silverrod of the San Francisco Public Library here )