FAQs by parents having a non-binary child
- How do I know my child is gender variant?
- Many gender variant children have significant and persistent feelings and behaviours that are often associated with the “opposite” sex. Sometimes this will be quite visible in terms of youth preferring clothing and hairstyle more often associated
with the opposite sex, such as boys wanting to wear dresses. Sometimes it will surface in less obvious ways such as identifying more with opposite sex characters, family members or friends, such as girls insisting that they are Prince
Charming or a He-Man.
Some gender variant children show these signs as young as 2-4 years old and other gender variant youth do not start displaying these traits until they are well into adolescence. In fact- some folks don’t begin
experiencing these feelings and behaviours until they enter adulthood.
It is reasonable to expect that some children may use play to experiment with their ideas about gender as they try to gain an understanding of who they are and
how they fit into the world around them. This is perfectly normal, yet childhood and adolescence are times of significant pressure to conform to societal expectations around gender. Imagine the pressure that we still face as adults to
be the “perfect woman” or the “perfect man”. It is important to reassure your child that everyone is unique and that you love them for who they are.
- I think my child may be gender variant, how should I approach this?
- If your child has already talked to you about this, it probably means that they trust you and are confident that you will be supportive. Keep the lines ofcommunication open, but try not to pry too deeply. Most adolescents find it difficult
to talk to their parents about personal issues in general. If your child has not spoken to you about this but you wonder if they might be questioning their gender identity, remember that parents are often the last to know because children
care deeply about their parents’ response. They may also not be aware of it themselves, or are just beginning to question their identity. “Asking” may force them to face something that they are not quite ready for.
If they are a youth,
a better approach may be to communicate your support indirectly by commenting positively on a gay or trans issue or mentioning gay or trans friends or colleagues in an affirming way. Another way to introduce the topic might be to ask if
your child’s high school has a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) club. More and more schools in BC, especially in Vancouver, have these clubs which act as a supportive place for students who are concerned about homophobia and transphobia regardless
of their own gender or sexual identity. Once you and your child begin this discussion remember to try to stay positive and receptive to their point of view. While society is becoming more inclusive and accepting, it may have taken your
child a long time to be comfortable with this part of themselves, and you may also need some time to adjust and understand this news. Both child and parent need to have patience and be gentle with themselves and each other.
your child is still the same person, with the same interests, skills and talents as always. Despite media portrayals of trans people as sad and confused, many gender variant and trans people lead highly productive and interesting lives,
and contribute much to society and to their own families. Your child hasn’t changed, it’s simply that you now know an important part of who they are, which is different from what you expected.
- What if members of my family or community disapprove of gender variant or transgender people?
- Family and community members may have different viewpoints, thoughts and personal connections to gender variant people. Many of the issues faced by gender variant people are a direct result of the discrimination and isolation they often experience
in society. Research continues to show that LGBT youth are at increased risk of harassment, violence, depression, substance abuse, homelessness, and even suicide. However, parental attitudes and support towards their children can make
a huge difference. Research from the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University shows that families and caregivers have a major impact on their LGBT children’s well-being: “Family acceptance predicts greater self-esteem,
social support, and general health status; it also protects against depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and behaviours.”
Isolation is especially common for gender variant youth living in rural areas where there may
be little access to resources or positive representations of trans folk in their community. Because of this, the internet and social networking sites in particular can be instrumental in creating a sense of community for gender variant
youth. Building resilience in our children begins at home, but can also include positive role-models, books and resources that our gender-variant children can access whether in the community or further afield.
If extended family members are not supportive, you may need to help educate them, and ultimately make choices that will help maintain your child’s self esteem. Also remember that gender variant people are found all over the world,
in every ethnic group and religion, and have always been a part of history. In any community there are also likely other parents just like you, including many who are very supportive of their gender variant children. In the Greater Vancouver
area there are many supportive churches and groups for gender variant and transgender youth. There are also books and films, which can help you understand that you are certainly not alone in having a gender variant child.
- How can I show support for my child?
- Being supportive will look different for everyone, depending on your child’s age, needs and areas they may struggle in. A fantastic way to show support is to be just as encouraging of your child’s gender variant behaviours, goals and accomplishments
as you would of their gender normative ones. For instance - your child uses the same amount of creativity and initiative to learn how to tie one of dad’s ties on their own as they do to make a fancy new dress out of mom’s scarves.
should be aware that there is a difference between being actively supportive, generally non-supportive, and rejecting. Rejecting looks a lot like teasing or putting your child down for their gender variant behaviour,insisting that they
act/dress/think in a more gender normative way, taking away toys/clothing/friendships that are seen to “encourage” their gender variance etc. Being non-supportive can be much less obvious and looks like withholding compliments/approval/encouragement
of their gender variance, avoiding or refusing to ask questions about their feelings on gender or some of the struggles they may be going through with friends or at school. Being non-supportive may seem less hurtful but actually just withholds
affection, encouragement and nurturing - things that are essential for developing a healthy self-esteem, and can be almost as harmful to a gender variant child as rejection.
Active support looks like encouragement, making time to listen, being comfortable with asking questions, complimenting your child on things they are proud of and standing up for your child’s rights in their home, school and social
lives. It may also look like doing the work to connect them with other gender variant youth, doing research of your own to understand gender variance better and showing them films or reading them books that portray gender variant people
in a positive light. As always, the key to supporting others is to, as any flight attendant will tell you- “put on your own oxygen mask first.” Ensure that you have someone to talk to about your feelings, a professional or friend or other
parent of gender variant youth. This creates the support that you may need as a care-giver, so that you can be strong, confident and present when your child needs you.
- Should I take my child to seek professional help (doctor, therapist etc.)?
- This will depend on your child’s comfort level with their gender variance. Some youth will simply want support from their loved ones in continuing to express their gender in unconventional ways. Others may feel that taking hormones to create
physical changes in their bodies, or hormone blockers to delay the onset of puberty is something necessary for them to be comfortable, particularly if they are experiencing a significant amount of gender dysphoria. While hormone blockers
may seem drastic, they can help pause a body which is changing in an unwanted way. Many youth may not know what direction they want to take, but would still benefit from having someone to talk to about the feelings they’re experiencing.
It varies from person to person.
As much as we love our children and are working hard to support them, not everyone is at the same place in their understanding, even doctors and mental health professionals. It is advisable to research
or ask some preliminary questions from the professional you are seeking help from, to ensure that they will be supportive of your child’s feelings. Encourage honest feedback from your child and engage in ongoing discussions with them about
how they feel about the doctor, counselor or youth worker they are seeing.
- Is this just a phase?
- Childhood and adolescence is a period of tremendous growth and change both physically and emotionally. This involves self-reflection and discovery about who they are and how they see themselves in the world. As a parent, the important part
is to be supportive of your child as they are. Listen to their level of certainty regarding their gender identity. While there is nothing wrong with being certain, there is also nothing wrong with uncertainty. There is a possibility that
your child’s gender variation may be short-lived. In fact, while some gender variant children do grow up to be transgender, many do not. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open and respectful, so your child will
be more likely to continue sharing new discoveries with you along the road to adulthood. If they do choose to transition in the future, you’ll both feel reassured by looking back on the support you provided early on.
- How common is it to be Trans?
- Due to the complexity, invisibility and very personal nature of a person’s gender identity, this question is extremely difficult to answer in a statistically valid way. Do we measure this by how many people seek hormones and surgery, how many
people we observe showing visible signs of gender variance, or how many people feel comfortable enough to identify themselves as gender variant on a survey? Really, what we’re trying to measure is how many of us deviate from gender “norms”.
Because these ideas of what is right for males and females changes over time and vary by culture and community, it is a very difficult thing to define and track.
- How can I learn more and connect with other parents of gender variant children?
- Luckily, connecting with other caregivers, families and friends of gender variant youth is much easier than it used to be thanks to the internet and growing interest by the media. The U.S. based group Gender Spectrum offers excellent resources
and connections for parents, as well as an annual family conference. www.genderspectrum.org There are also now numerous books, films, online support networks and websites offering information and support for gender variant youth and their
allies. PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbian, Gay and Trans people) is a non-profit Questions and Answers for Parents and Family of Gayand Lesbian Youth 13 group that has chapters across BC, and is an excellent way for parents
to connect with others who are in a similar situation or simply want to learn more.
- Will my child or my family experience discrimination?
- Sometimes families will discourage gender variance in their children out of fear that their child’s life will be unhappy, lonely, or difficult. Ironically, it is this lack of acceptance from a key support, the family, which is a significant
source of loneliness. Like most children, your child will likely face some sort of discrimination, harassment, teasing or alienation. But, parents, families, and schools have the power to build understanding and resilience. It starts with
supporting our gender variant children to feel loved, healthy and secure in themselves and goes on to include advocating for them in the school system and beyond.
Transphobia exists in many forms and can range from remarks and jokes
that reinforce gender stereotypes, to denying rights enjoyed by the general population, to more serious physical harassment. Many parents show their support to their gender variant children by speaking up when and where it happens. This
is also why it is so important for trans people to feel supported by family, friends, work and school colleagues. This helps them to develop healthy self-esteem, which is an essential part of weathering the hurt that comes when one experiences
transphobia. As LGBT youth suicide, bullying and discrimination become increasingly visible in the media, more and more school districts, community organizations and institutions are developing anti-discrimination policies and programming
to keep LGBT youth safe.
- What do you do when you first find out that your child is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?
- It will take some time to absorb and process all of this new information. Just remember that you are not alone. According to some widely accepted statistics, roughly one in four families has an immediate family member who is gay, lesbian,
bisexual or transgender. Remember that you love your child, and to preserve—perhaps even strengthen—your relationship with him/her, you must try to move towards understanding and, eventually, acceptance.
- Why did my child wait so long to tell me?
- It can be difficult to realize that you don’t know your child as well as you may have thought. It takes many gay people a long time to figure out what they’re feeling. Many report growing up feeling “different,” but not really understanding
why. In addition, our predominant culture teaches gay people that who they are is not “okay,” causing many to internalize self-hate or insecurity. The fact that s/he told you means that s/he is inviting you to share in a more open and
- Isn’t being gay considered deviant behavior?
- Being gay is not a behavior. It is an inherent trait, just as being heterosexual is. It is not something a person chooses about him/herself. Though some societies may still consider gay people “deviants,” that definition is not supported by
prominent organizations like the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and other mental health professionals, who all agree that homosexuality is not an illness, a mental
disorder, or an emotional problem, but simply a fact of life for some people.
- Why is my child gay? Should I take him/her to therapy?
- Although it is not known specifically what causes people to be gay, most scientists agree that it is likely the result of a complex interaction between biological and environmental factors. The American Psychological Association states “…Homosexuality
is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable.” Many gay people or their family members do seek help to work through their feelings about coming out.
- I have gay friends, so why am I so uncomfortable now that it’s my child?
- Homophobia is too prominent in our society to put out of our minds completely. Realize that it will take time to adjust to this new information and don’t chastise yourself for not feeling the way you “should” about it.
- I can accept that my child is gay, but why does s/he have to flaunt it?
- Gay people are often accused of “flaunting” their homosexuality (or bisexuality, or transgender identity) when they come out. In our world, we tend to make assumptions that everyone we see is heterosexual. As a result, we tend to not be surprised
or uncomfortable when people express their attraction to the opposite sex or talk matterof- factly about their straight partners, lovers, families, and friends. Yet gay people are made to feel they must hide these aspects of themselves.
For them, coming out is a positive way to challenge our assumptions and to help affirm their self-esteem.
- Will my child be discriminated against? Is s/he in danger?
- Unfortunately, both of these things are possible. On the brighter side, attitudes about differences in sexual orientation have begun to change as society becomes better informed. There are many places where your child will be accepted for
who s/he is and will be able to live in relative safety. However, until homophobia no longer exists in our society, your child may encounter some significant obstacles. It is even more unfortunate when this discrimination exists within
a child’s own family.