One of the questions parents new to having a transgender child often ask is, “Are you sure?” Parents sometimes question whether their child is trans or just confused, and often it comes from a well-intentioned place but is a hurtful question nonetheless.
It’s understandable why you might want to ask that question. Parents are often concerned that their child is making a major, life-altering decision and are afraid their kids will do it for the wrong reasons. In addition, it often seems like the announcement that your child is transgender comes out of nowhere, so to you it may feel like your child just decided this today.
In most cases, though, your child is not confused at all.
They’ve been struggling with their gender identity for months or years, often on their own, and finally come to the conclusion that this is who they are. So when you ask them if they’re sure or suggest they got this idea from somewhere else (TV, a friend, etc.), it feels invalidating. It feels like you are rejecting this important truth they are telling you about who they are.
Of course, you’re coming from a place of love and concern with this question, but it doesn’t feel like that. So how can you deal with your fears, yet still support your child?
First, consider some facts.
- The vast majority of transgender kids are sure of who they are. A 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality showed that out of 28,000 people, only 8% “detransitioned” (took steps to reverse a medical transition process), and the vast majority of those people only did so temporarily, often because their parents or other family members were pressuring them to.
- Many, though not all, steps that transgender people take to transition are reversible. Calling your child by a different name or pronoun, allowing them to dress differently, or changing a hairstyle are all 100% reversible. If your child has not yet gone through puberty, they can be prescribed puberty blockers, which do not cause permanent changes either. The only things that are permanent are surgery and cross-sex hormones, and people younger than 16 cannot legally take cross-sex hormones. So for the most part, your child can experiment with their gender expression without causing permanent changes if they decide it’s not for them.
- Most transgender people struggle with painful feelings that make transition worth it. For the most part, people don’t decide to go through the emotional toll that coming out to their families, possibly being ostracized or discriminated against, and/or seeking medical transition may cause without a very good reason. It’s unlikely that your child is imitating others, though other transgender people might have given them the courage to be themselves.
- Not seeing the signs doesn’t mean anything. Many transgender people have become adept at hiding their true selves from the world. Even the most loving and attentive parent might not have noticed anything until their child came out to them.
If you’re worried about whether your child is trans or confused after considering these facts, here’s some tips to help you support them.
Process your concerns privately.
When your child comes to you to tell you they are transgender, it can trigger a ton of emotions. It’s best to process these emotions privately before you talk with your child, especially if you have anything controversial to say.
Pour out your heart in your journal or talk to people in your life you can trust. It may also be helpful to talk to a professional who is familiar with transgender issues and may be able to put your fears to rest.
Actively listen to your child BEFORE sharing any concerns
Your child has lived in silence for YEARS. Now, as hard as it may seem, the best thing you can do for them is to listen closely to what they’re telling you. Put aside your own feelings, including your concerns, and listen to where your child is coming from. Actively listening means:
- Focusing fully on what your child is saying when they are speaking.
- Paraphrasing what you just heard when it’s your turn to speak.
- Asking questions to clarify
Asking questions can be a helpful tool if you’re worried that your child is confused. Try to avoid asking directly if they are sure they are the gender they say they are. Instead, you might ask questions like:
- How long have you felt this way?
- What does it mean to you when you say you are transgender?
- What are some of the things you want to do to transition?
Then actively listen to your child’s answers.
If you MUST share concerns, use I statements.
Sharing concerns always comes after listening to your child’s point of view. If, after hearing them out, you’re worried that they’re confused or making a mistake, you can use I statements to help dampen the impact of your opinion.
I statements are what they sound like: statements that start with the word “I” and focus on what you feel.
I statement example: I am afraid that you’re imitating your friends and won’t be happy if you transition.
Your child may still get upset if you phrase things this way, but they are less likely to be defensive because you are stating how you feel and not accusing them of anything.
Consider getting additional support.
It can be hard to absorb your child’s news about their gender identity. At first, it’s natural to wonder whether they are trans or confused.
The good news is that it gets easier with time… and with support.
That’s why I created the Support Network for Parents of Transgender Kids on Facebook. This is a new group where parents can meet other parents taking the same journey they are, support one another, and get answers to their questions.
Join today and begin getting the support you need to walk alongside your child as they explore their gender identity.
Jack A Ori uses his experiences as a transgender person who came out to his family late in life to help the next generation of transgender kids express their authentic selves more quickly and easily than he did. Jack is the founder of the Full Family Transition coaching program as well as a young adult author. His debut novel, Reinventing Hannah, was a semi-finalist in the 2020 Kindle Book Review awards.