by Tammy Plunkett
As the mom of a transgender 12-year-old, this is the question I get the most from parents of LGBTQ children and youth. How can they trust that their child is right about their gender or sexual orientation? How can they tell if it’s just a phase? How can they trust that it’s not just the latest cool thing to do?
My second daughter does not like kale. I have presented it to her a thousand different ways and asked her to taste it again every time, but she has known from a very young age that she will not eat kale. I trusted that at 7 years old she knew that she didn’t like it no matter how much I love it myself. At what point do I go along with her preference and offer spinach or broccoli instead? I want to be a good mom and take care of her nutritional needs, so when do I accept that my child knows she won’t eat kale?
My children have all shown preferences for colors and flavors and types of music and styles of clothes and sports and activities at different stages of their lives. Yet, we question whether we can trust that our child knows they are attracted to a particular type of person. This is because the social implications of our child coming out as LGBTQ are far bigger than if my son chooses to play the guitar instead of the cello.
What happens if you trust them?
1. Being a former nurse, my first fear was the medical implications. Changing genders meant hormone therapy and surgery which sounded barbaric to me when I felt that I had a healthy child. And the first thing that comes to mind with a gay child is HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted infections. The good news is that we should all be having well informed sexual education talks with all our children no matter where they fall on the LGBTQ spectrum. The other good news for parents of gender creative children is that nothing has to be permanent in the beginning.
Your child can dress as their preferred gender. It’s just clothes, and a wardrobe can be switched back at any time and any age. If your child is older and flirting with puberty, or just entered puberty and it is causing them distress, you can talk to your doctor about puberty blockers. They are reversible, and delaying puberty gives you more time to explore their gender identity. If this is a phase or something cool to do, you can ride it out.
2. And then we have the social implications. Let’s face it, not everyone in our society is super accepting and enthusiastic about people who are “different”. Trusting that my son was indeed a boy and allowing him to dress like a boy and to change his name and pronouns was difficult for him at school and difficult for me with my friends and family. Even if this wasn’t permanent, even if we were riding out a phase, doing so in public is a big commitment to bravery, courage, and authenticity. Sometimes scary experiences are worth it, and in the end, my son’s mental health far outweighed what other people thought of me.
What happens if you don’t trust them?
3. The mental health implications are undeniable. After my child settled down from a relatively short episode of suicidal thoughts, I asked the therapist in the emergency room how I could tell if my son was truly suicidal or just trying to get out of school and away from the relentless bullying he was facing there. Her advice to me was to always believe there is a suicide risk because if we don’t, and he was truly suicidal, we can’t take back our decision to ignore his plea for help.
If you don’t trust that your child knows in their heart that they are a different gender than what they were assigned at birth, or that they know who they love, you risk damaging their self-esteem. How would you like to live the rest of your life being told something that is fundamentally true about yourself, that you know to your core, has to be hidden and denied? Would you feel depressed, anxious, and live in fear of having that secret show up unexpectedly as you went about your everyday life? Is that the future you want for your child “in case it’s a phase”?
Trust me, trust them.
Of course, I am completely biased. I see the difference in my child since we embraced transition. His school grades are back to excellent, he thrives in his music lessons, he has true friendships, and there is a spark in his eyes that had been dimmed for years. Even though everything we have done for his transition to this point is still reversible, I know in my soul that he was right and that I have a son. His happiness and contentment have been worth the social implications and I would do it all again.
If you are a parent raising a child who identifies as LGBTQ2+ Join us for a Parenting with Pride event in Airdrie at Community Links. Click here for information about our next one.