6 Tips for Understanding and Raising a Transgender Child
Learn About Gender Identity and Diversity
A transgender person is someone whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. As GenderSpectrum.org explains, a transgender child will assert their gender firmly over time (for example, stating "I'm a girl" from age 4 on, for many years, despite having male genitalia), and "will insist that they are in the wrong body or that God made a mistake [in assigning their body parts]."
Trans is an accepted shorthand term for transgender. A transgender girl, or transgirl, is a person who was born with male genitalia but identifies as female. A transgender boy, or transboy, is someone who was born with female genitalia but identifies as male. Genderqueer refers to someone who identifies as neither entirely male nor entirely female. Transsexual is an older term for transgender that is being replaced because it is thought to sound overly clinical.
Meanwhile, a gender-nonconforming person is someone whose behaviors and interests — in things such as clothing and toys — don't match societal expectations for their biological sex. Gender-nonconforming children are less adamant about stating their gender than transgender children, but "will stubbornly assert what toys they do and don't like, clothes they will and won't wear, or activities they do or don't prefer irrespective of their assigned gender," GenderSpectrum.org says. For more information on determining whether your child is transgender or gender-nonconforming, the possible road ahead, and what specific support your child needs, read The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals.
While transgender people are considered part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community, gender identity is different from sexual orientation; transgender children may grow up to be straight, gay, or bisexual, just like anyone else. Read more about transgender terminology and frequently asked questions at TransEquality.org.
Give Your Child Freedom to Explore Gender
Most children have a sense of their gender identity between ages 2 and 4, and most will declare early on "I'm a boy" or "I'm a girl." If your young child frequently and consistently expresses the opposite gender from what's expected (for example, your son wants to wear hair accessories every day, or your daughter always asks to wear boys' underwear), it may be tempting to brush off your child's behavior or statements as "confusion" or "just a phase." But children who are persistent in their behavior and statements are usually expressing their true gender and want to be taken seriously. Avoid trying to influence or "treat" your child's gender identity. Research shows that gender is "hardwired" in the brain and is not a mental or physical illness — or a result of something a parent did or did not do (for example, getting a divorce or using a certain parenting style).
Only time will tell if your transgender child wants to "transition" (outwardly live in accordance with their gender identity — adopting their preferred clothing style, hairstyle, name, and pronoun).
Build a Team for Your Child
In addition to finding doctors and counselors who can help your child, carefully find allies within your family, school, and community. Encourage people in your child's life to read The Transgender Child and other resources. Meanwhile, be sure to ask everyone in contact with your child who knows they are transgender or transitioning to keep the information completely private for as long as you and your child wish, explaining that it's a matter of protecting your child against bullying and physical or emotional harm.
Show Unconditional Love and Support
Some transgender children turn to self-harm and even attempt suicide due to depression related to their gender-identity struggle. Lambda Legal, an organization focused on protecting the civil rights of LGBTQ people, says that transgender youth also have a high rate of homelessness because of lack of parental support (financial, emotional, or both). Knowing the stakes are high, unconditional love is the obvious choice for more and more parents of transgender children. Once you commit to supporting your child's gender identity, you may feel a weight has been lifted in your life.
Protect Your Child's Rights and Safety
Read up on your state's laws against bullying in school, cyberbullying, and gender-related harassment. Know that no matter where you live in the U.S., your child is entitled to equal protection under the law, according to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Transgender youth also have the right to insist their school and community refer to them by their chosen name and pronoun. Learn more in Lambda Legal's Transgender Rights Toolkit.
Some parents choose to change schools — usually to more diverse and accepting communities — once their child has transitioned gender-wise to help protect their child from scrutiny. "It is important that transgender/gender-nonconforming youth be placed in schools that will affirm their identities," Lambda Legal says. "Be prepared to advocate on behalf of transgender youth to ensure that their gender identity is respected. Work with school staff to address use of names and pronouns, clothing and grooming options, bathroom and locker room use and other accommodations." Schools should accommodate children using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, and provide access to private, single-user bathrooms and changing areas if a child feels unsafe using group bathrooms and locker rooms. If you feel your child has experienced discrimination, visit LambdaLegal.org/help.
Find Transgender Support Groups and Resources
- Gender Diversity, a Seattle-based organization that offers some family support groups available by teleconference
- Gender Oddysey, a YouTube channel for families of transgender children
- Trans Advocacy Network, an alliance of transgender organizations that work at the state and local level
- TransActive Gender Center, an organization that provides counseling, support groups, and other services to empower transgender and gender-nonconforming youth and their families
- TransEquality, an advocacy organization focused on advancing the equality of transgender people
- TransYouth Family Allies, an organization working to empower trans youth and families by partnering with educators, service providers, and communities
- Gender Spectrum, an organization that provides education, training, and support to create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children
- Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights organization working toward equality for LGBT Americans
- GLAAD, an LGBT equality organization that monitors and shapes media coverage to create positive change for gay and transgender people
- PFLAG, an organization of parents, families, friends, and allies of LGBT people committed to advancing equality and support
- Advice for families whose child is transitioning
- Advice on finding a transgender-friendly therapist
- Books for trans teens