Hello to YOU, Brave Young Gender-Questioning Person. Glad you are here!
Here’s my friendly (alright, call it motherly) advice for:
- Coming out to parents and getting their support
- Dumping shame and finding self-respect
- Sex. Need we say more? Yes, we need.
- Suicidal thoughts
Full disclosure: I’m a mother and my 20-year-old (awesome punk grrl poet scientist brainiac beautiful) daughter is not trans. So what do I know, right? Well, I am a therapist who has helped transgender people figure out if they are transsexual and need to make a transition, and how to do that safely and well. For 20 years I’ve been helping trans adults, and in the past ten years, I’ve helped transgender people ages 16 and up. (If you are younger, please contact my colleagues who serve you, on my Resources page. You are welcome to read on.)
Coming Out to Parents
As a mom and therapist, I know drama, OK? I also know the difference between a “phase” and the inklings of a true calling to be who you are. Most important, I know how parents think. I know their concerns, fears, hopes, grief, and dreams for you. I know parents can have their own problems and deep values that can make it really hard for them to believe transition is right for you.
I like meeting parents of my young clients to help them understand how to support you. In fact, one of my jobs as your therapist is to help your parents so that they can trust me to help you. So consider it. I can help them with things like:
- Believing gender dysphoria is real and getting over it that they didn’t know their own child has been suffering from it. Parents feel inadequate when their (imaginary) parent-ESP fails to know their kid is in pain. They feel guilty about it, even though they didn’t cause it. They wonder if they should try somehow to stop it, even though they can’t and shouldn’t.
- Fearing that their teen will have a terrible life and lose your self-esteem and dreams, be the victim of a hate crime and lose your life, or violate your family’s religious values and lose your soul. You must honor these real fears and ask them to talk to someone knowledgeable about trans issues, read good websites, and see books and films about transgenderism and gender dysphoria.
- Turning grief for lost dreams for their child, into hope and even joy and pride at who who are becoming. Your parents don’t know if they can keep pictures of your past life around. They don’t know if you’ll ever have a happy marriage or give them grandchildren. They might be sad that they are losing their son or daughter…and you can’t fix that by saying they are gaining a daughter or son. Only seeing you become happy can do that!
So here’s some beginning advice to use after you come out to them: when you ask them to use your preferred name and pronouns, be patient, kind and remind them gently, in private, when they forget. And they will. Repeatedly. Don’t embarrass them or accuse them of not trying. I have a friend whose mother needed 5 years to re-wire her head: after all, she’d been calling her grownup child a different name for three decades. It will take your parents months, at least, to make the change a habit.
Consider how you want to tell them, and plan on a time when they are not tired, stressed or hungry. (Same logic that applies to how parents should treat kids, applies here!). Pick a low-key day when they are not heading to work, just coming home from work, hurrying to get dinner made, dealing with a sick kid/pet/self…all obvious, right? Lots of success stories tell how coming out while in the car together works well. Right before they drop you off for your job, lesson, game, whatever, is a good time that gives them space afterwards. Plan what you want to say, and start it with “I have to tell you something, and don’t worry, it’s going to be OK.” A letter is good too: on paper, set on their bed or desk and not on email. Especially not to their work email. Tell them you know they will be upset or scared or whatever. Tell them you have thought about it for a long time (months, years) and need to see a therapist who understands this issue so you can sort it out.
Do not, ever, tell FaceBook before you tell your inner circle of family and close friends. It’s not respectful or sensitive to these people. (C’mon!) And maybe never come out on FB anyway. At least until you are in control of your work, social, school and family realities.
Shame and Self-Respect
Believe it or not, there are two kinds of shame and only one of them is good for you. There’s the natural shame you feel when you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar at age 6, or in a lie about how the car got dented at age 16. Without this kind of shame, which is like guilt, you wouldn’t grow up to be healthy. Jails are full of people without conscience.
But toxic shame is only that: poisonous to your mental and spiritual health. Dump it! Toxic shame is learned and you can unlearn it. How do you know when you are toxically shaming yourself? If you feel ashamed for being gender dysphoric, transgender, transsexual, and wanting to transition, that’s toxic shame. Would you agree that people should feel ashamed for being different and needing different things from everybody else? Insulin if they have diabetes? Tutoring if they have trouble with math? My advice: When you think of yourself using words like “bad” and “wrong” for being yourself, imagine a huge red STOP sign in front of you, and obey it: STOP and give yourself an antidote to the poison: BANISH the word “bad” from your vocabulary. USE words like “I feel afraid / mad / sad”.
Sexual Vocabulary and Using Words Wisely
Even if you are not sexually active, you are thinking about sex, or about feeling “ace” (a-sexual, meaning, you have no sexual feelings at all) or “pansexual.” You can use these words with your peers and therapist, but trust me, your parents will be very “allergic” to these words so don’t provoke them needlessly by tossing them around. Say “I’m unsure who I am attracted to yet,” or “I may be bisexual” and leave out the fancy concepts about the non-binary (another freak-out term for parents) until your parents have adjusted to the bomb you already dropped. Respect your parents by taking things slow with them. If they ask if you are gay or Lesbian, keep it simple for now. (When you were a little kid and asked your parents where babies came from, did you really want them to tell you all the details?)
Safe Sex is More Than Using Condoms
Even when you’ve been on T a while, you can get pregnant, even if you didn’t have full-on intercourse. Yep. Even if you’ve been on E a while, you can impregnant your girlfriend, even if she’s on T. Nature really, really wants us to procreate. And you can’t fool Mother Nature. Enough said.
And STDs? Preventable. But only if you make it so. See the Resources page.
Safe sex should also mean no one gets hurt. It makes sense to be careful and take charge of your safety by:
- Meeting in public places when you are getting to know someone you are interested in.
- NEVER getting into their car / going to their home / going to a party with them without telling them that your best friend knows who you are with. Know their last name and where they live or work and their cell number. Give all this info to your friend. Is this overkill? Maybe. But it’s better than being killed. If you are an MTF, learn the rules women have to follow. If you are FTM, realize you have a special vulnerability whether you are pre-op, post-op, or a total hardbody.
- Walking away from anybody who gives you a hard time for not trusting them. Oldest method used by jerks everywhere.
- Never tell someone your gender status unless you are in a safe, public or “supervised” place. Give them a chance to leave with their dignity intact if they can’t handle it. No shaming them, even if you think they deserve it for not being open-minded. Of course, “trans panic,” like gay panic, is no excuse for a hate crime. But don’t waste your speech about political correctness on an angry, dangerous person. Get away fast!
And a word about self-respect: it is OK to refuse sex with someone, even if you were sexual with that person before. It is OK to keep your virginity. It is yours to give and share she you feel right about it, not an obligation. You may not feel right about it for a long time while you are sorting out gender and getting used to hormones and how your head changes. Accept this as a natural and wise message from your future self to who you are now. You are in charge of you.
While we’re talking about who’s in charge of you, please let me share my experience that suicide is awful, terrible, forever painful and unforgettable to those left behind. I know: my little sister killed herself when she was just 21. Thirty years later, I am still hurting. I can’t forgive myself even though it wasn’t my fault. My parents wear the pain in their whole bodies. It aged my brother too soon. My daughter never will know her beautiful, funny aunt because her aunt was depressed and struggling and gave up instead of trusting and reaching out to wise people who could love and support her through her pain. And how is my sister doing now? That depends on what comes after death.
Don’t become a statistic. Call a hotline, your therapist, log onto a support group, tell your best friend or your parents:
Call The Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-U-TREVOR See the extremely great list of other hotlines and resources at one of the best websites I know of: Transgendersoul.com, on the Trans Teens page. Seriously, stay alive so you can live the dream in time.