Discovering that your child has gender dysphoria and will be transitioning from one sex to another can be a challenging and emotional experience. As a parent, you may be grappling with questions about what this means for your child, how it will affect them, and how it will impact your family. It’s common for parents to have difficulty processing their child’s disclosure, and it often comes as a significant shock.
It’s essential to understand that gender dysphoric individuals use various labels to define their gender experience, expression, and identity. These terms may include transgender, trans, trans-identified, trans-spectrum, cross-gender, gender nonconforming, or gender variant. Additionally, the term “gender dysphoria” describes a range of discomfort related to one’s gender and physical anatomy. In this blog post, “gender dysphoria” (GD) will refer specifically to individuals strongly desiring or already in the process of transitioning from one sex to another.
Parents experience a wide range of emotions when their child discloses GD. Families may struggle to cope with their loved one’s transition, leading to feelings of disbelief, loss, embarrassment, or even shame. This process can strain existing family relationships and raise concerns about community and religious acceptance. In summary, family members are more likely to experience psychological distress.
The number of families with a GD member is growing each year. Learning to understand and accept your GD child can be challenging. Elevate Psychologists is very experienced in helping children and parents with GD.
What is Gender Dysphoria?
From a young age, GD individuals often experience intense psychological and physical distress because their gender identity does not align with their birth-assigned sex. Gender identity encompasses a complex set of beliefs and values about oneself in relation to being masculine or feminine. It is influenced by societal and cultural expectations of what it means to be a man or woman. Gender identity is the innate sense of being masculine, feminine, male, female, or a combination thereof. Importantly, a person’s biological sex does not necessarily determine their gender identity.
GD occurs when a person’s gender identity does not conform to society’s expectations of their assigned sex. GD is often considered a way of being different from what is traditionally expected. In today’s society, “transgenderism” is an umbrella term used to describe individuals whose gender identities or expressions deviate from societal norms. GD individuals are often included in this category because their gender identities differ from their birth-assigned sexes. However, many GD individuals are uncomfortable with being grouped under this umbrella term. They believe that their gender identity is not the issue; the problem lies in their physical bodies due to a developmental discrepancy in utero.
Sexual orientation, which refers to the direction of one’s sexual or romantic attraction, should not be confused with gender identity or GD. A person’s GD does not determine their sexual orientation, as GD individuals can identify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
To align their gender identity with their physical bodies, GD individuals seek assistance from various health professionals, often undergoing hormone therapy and surgery. Many GD individuals experience improved well-being during this process, feeling that their internal selves finally match their external appearance.
Post-transition, many GD individuals no longer identify themselves with GD. They wish to be accepted into society simply as men or women. Unfortunately, some people may still refer to GD individuals by their birth-assigned sex, regardless of their legal gender status or gender identity, resulting in many GD individuals living secret lives due to a lack of acceptance and understanding.
What to Expect for Parents
As parents, you have always been there for your child, making important decisions throughout their life. However, when your child discloses their intention to transition to the opposite sex, you may feel a sense of helplessness. Initially, most parents have limited knowledge of GD and the transition process, making it a mysterious and challenging time. This uncertainty stems from a desire to ensure your child’s well-being, which is natural.
Anticipating your child’s potential pain and suffering during their transition can be emotionally taxing. You may question whether transitioning is absolutely necessary, but for GD individuals, the desire to transition is akin to a fundamental need. It is a constant thought in their lives.
It’s important to seek reliable information and avoid relying on media portrayals, which are often inaccurate. Engaging in your own research demonstrates your commitment to understanding your child’s experiences, strengthening their self-confidence, and preventing your own overwhelm during the transition process.
Communication is vital. Don’t hesitate to ask your child questions about GD, posed respectfully and curiously. Most GD individuals are willing to share their experiences to dispel misconceptions.
As your loved one begins their gender or sex transition, you will likely witness positive improvements in their well-being. They will finally have the opportunity to live as their true selves, openly and honestly.
Grieving the Loss of Your Child
Discovering that your child will transition to the opposite sex can feel like a loss of the child you once knew. Parents often fear that their child, physically unchanged but with a different gender identity, will become an entirely different person. This realization can lead to mourning the hopes and dreams you had for your child.
Families with a GD member often go through stages similar to Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief, which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages can last varying amounts of time, and individuals may move back and forth between them. It’s essential to recognize that everyone copes with loss differently.
However, it’s worth noting that the transition of a loved one is distinct from losing someone entirely. This type of loss is called a non-finite loss, where individuals mourn the unfulfilled hopes, wishes, ideals, and expectations they had for their loved ones. This type of loss can be more challenging to navigate because it involves changes in personality and identity rather than physical absence.
Some parents may question whether they have the right to grieve, as it’s not the same as losing a child. Nevertheless, the emotional impact of a loved one’s transition should not be underestimated.
How to Cope and Practice Self-Care
Parents often find themselves in the midst of emotional turmoil when their child discloses GD. To regain balance and manage stress, self-care is crucial. Increased stress and emotional upheaval can lead to health issues and burnout. It’s important to recognize your limits and seek support when needed.
Taking time to grieve the loss of your child’s perceived identity and the dreams you had for them is also essential. Acknowledge the emotions you and your child are experiencing and seek help through counseling if necessary.
During the early stages of your loved one’s transition, your reactions may influence your relationship with them. It’s crucial to communicate and show support while respecting their needs and identity.
Self-care activities such as journaling, spending time with friends and family, and even short getaways can help alleviate stress. Being in restorative environments can significantly benefit your well-being.
Transitioning Together as a Family
Families exist to safeguard the well-being of their members, nurture children’s development, and provide love and acceptance. The impact of the transition process on your family depends on your pre-existing relationships with your loved one and your ability to navigate differences in beliefs, needs, and expectations.
There are four stages that families typically go through when a member decides to transition to the opposite sex: Discovery and Disclosure, Turmoil, Negotiation, Finding Balance, Helpful Communication and Parenting Strategies, Using Your Child’s New Name, How to Tell Family and Friends, and How to Support Your Child.
During the Discovery and Disclosure stage, parents become aware of their child’s GD and, ideally, their disclosure. This stage may include feelings of shock, denial, anger, and confusion. It’s crucial for parents to approach this stage with open hearts and minds, as their initial reactions can significantly influence their child’s well-being.
The Turmoil Stage
The Turmoil stage can be characterized by intense emotions, arguments, and even a sense of crisis within the family. It’s essential to seek support during this phase, whether from friends, family, or professional therapists who specialize in GD issues.
Negotiation is the third stage, where families begin to adjust to their loved one’s transition. This involves learning about GD, medical treatments, and legal processes. Family members may also need to negotiate changes in roles and expectations. Patience, empathy, and open communication are key during this stage.
Finding Balance is the fourth stage, where families work together to create an environment of understanding and acceptance. This stage may involve advocacy, as families support their loved one in navigating societal challenges. It’s important to remain flexible and willing to learn throughout this process.
Helpful Communication and Parenting Strategies
Effective communication is vital when a child discloses their GD. Parents should create a safe and supportive space for open dialogue. Here are some strategies for communicating with your child during their transition:
- Active Listening: Give your child your full attention when they want to discuss their feelings or experiences. Avoid interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.
- Respect Their Identity: Address your child by their chosen name and use the correct pronouns they prefer. This demonstrates respect for their gender identity.
- Educate Yourself: Take the initiative to learn more about GD and the transition process. This not only shows your commitment but also helps you better understand your child’s experience.
- Seek Professional Guidance: Consider involving a therapist or counselor who specializes in gender issues. Family counseling can also be beneficial for addressing any conflicts or misunderstandings.
- Avoid Pressure: While it’s essential to express your love and support, avoid pressuring your child into making hasty decisions about their transition. Let them proceed at their own pace.
- Connect with Supportive Communities: Join local or online support groups for parents of GD children. These communities can provide valuable guidance and emotional support.
Using Your Child’s New Name
When your child chooses a new name that aligns with their gender identity, it’s essential to respect and use it consistently. Here’s how to navigate this change:
- Practice and Repeat: Start using your child’s new name in your everyday conversations. Repetition helps you and others become accustomed to it.
- Correct Mistakes Gently: If you or other family members slip up and use their old name, apologize and quickly correct it. Don’t dwell on mistakes.
- Educate Others: Inform extended family members, friends, and school staff about your child’s new name and pronouns. Encourage them to use the correct terminology as well.
- Update Legal Documents: Depending on your location and your child’s age, you may need to change their name legally. Consult with a legal professional to understand the process.
How to Tell Family and Friends
Announcing your child’s gender transition to family and friends can be challenging, but it’s an essential step in ensuring a supportive network. Here’s how to approach this conversation:
- Prepare and Plan: Before talking to others, have a conversation with your child about who they’re comfortable sharing this information with and how they’d like it to be done.
- Educate and Share Resources: Provide your loved ones with resources or articles on GD to help them better understand what your child is going through.
- Choose the Right Time and Place: Find an appropriate time and setting to have these conversations, ensuring privacy and minimal distractions.
- Be Honest and Clear: Explain your child’s gender identity and the steps they are taking to transition. Encourage questions and address concerns calmly.
- Emphasize Your Child’s Well-being: Highlight that your child’s happiness and well-being are paramount, and that you hope for their support and understanding.
How to Support Your Child
Supporting your child through their gender transition is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Here are some ways to offer support:
- Show Unconditional Love: Reassure your child that your love and acceptance are unwavering, regardless of their gender identity.
- Respect Autonomy: Let your child take the lead in their transition journey. Respect their choices and decisions, even if they evolve over time.
- Advocate for Their Rights: Be an advocate for your child at school, with healthcare providers, and in any other necessary contexts to ensure they receive the support they need.
- Connect with Supportive Organizations: Seek out LGBTQ+ organizations and resources that can offer guidance and support for your child and your family.
- Be Patient: Understand that your child’s transition may be a long and evolving process. Be patient, and continue to offer your love and support.
Discovering that your child has gender dysphoria and will be transitioning to the opposite sex can be a challenging and emotional experience for parents. It’s crucial to educate yourself about gender dysphoria, communicate openly with your child, and seek support and self-care to navigate this journey successfully as a family.
By understanding the experiences of GD individuals, recognizing the stages of family adjustment, and practicing empathy and acceptance, you can create a supportive and loving environment for your child as they embark on their transition journey. Remember that your child’s well-being and happiness are paramount, and your support can make a significant difference in their life.