Supporting your 2SLGBTQ+ Child
If your child has recently come out to you, try to think about why it might be a big deal and how important your reaction might be to them. We live in a world where everyone is assumed to be heterosexual or straight unless they come out, so when someone shares this it can feel quite important. Take a moment to imagine how it would feel if the situation was reversed and you were the one coming out. How would you feel? What kind of a reaction would you hope for? It takes courage to come out so try your best to honour the process and offer your support. Try to listen more than you talk and never share their sexual orientation or gender identify to others without their permission.
When people talk about living “in the closet” it means that they live as a 2SLGBTQ+ person privately but don’t publicly admit it, letting people assume they are straight. While this may be necessary in some situations for safety, it is also incredibly stressful and energy-consuming for a person to do on a regular basis. We hope that one day sexual and gender identity will no longer be an issue but for now, coming out is a life-long process of telling your story over and over again.
Some things you can say when your child shares with you that they are 2SLGBTQ+:
“I’m glad you told me.”
“Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me.”
“I love you.”
“I support you no matter what.”
“I appreciate that you told me.”
“What kind of support do you need from me?”
“I can appreciate how difficult it must have been for you to tell me this.”
If you are surprised during this conversation it is okay to thank your child for sharing this and ask for a little time to process it before you talk again. This is especially important for people like parents who may need time to digest this information before sharing their own reactions. Sometimes, people are caught off guard and react with shock and disbelief instead of acceptance and support. If this happens to you, apologize and take responsibility for your feelings and reactions. We live in a homophobic world and your reaction signals that you may have some reflection and learning to do in order to offer deeper support.
Things you can do for your Gender Creative Kid
You don’t have to do this alone. Who do you have in your family or friend group to support you? There are also several parent support groups in Calgary you can access on a drop-in basis. If you have questions or need additional support, Centre for Sexuality offers free counselling for individuals and families.
Don’t rush to figure it all out
Many children do not have a word or label for how they feel, but can still share their feelings and experiences with you. Don’t rush to label your child as gay or transgender if they haven’t. Some parents say that they feel pressure to figure it out so that they can get their child on to medical waitlists as wait times can be quite long. Try not to plan the entire future, your child’s wants and needs may shift as they move forward on their gender journey.
Share accurate information
With so many myths out there about gender, it helps to hear from families who have real and lived experiences. Emails us for the most current and up to date research on gender creative kids.
Talk to your child’s school and your local school board trustee
Let them know you support trans-affirming policies. The Government of Alberta’s Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Learning Environments that Respect Diverse Sexual Orientation, Gender Identities and Gender Expressions is a great place to start.
Listen to your child
They know themselves well. Research shows that kids can understand their own gender as young as age 3. Follow your child’s lead and support them wherever they are at.
Discuss a bathroom strategy with your child before you’re in a public place
Talk to your child about bathroom options and let them know how you will support them and keep them safe when accessing public washrooms. It may help to know where gender neutral or family washrooms are located before you go out.
Forget the gender thing for a minute
Don’t forget to take a step back once and awhile and enjoy life with your child without focusing on their gender. Your kid is still the same amazing kid they’ve always been!
Try not to gender objects or activities
Remind kids that there is no such thing as a “boy thing” or a “girl thing” and that people are allowed to enjoy their interests regardless of their gender.
Use the name and pronouns they identify with
Young people often share hearing their name and pronouns is one of the ways that they feel loved by their family. Parents have also expressed how this can be hard, as it means unlearning old words and letting go of a name that may hold sentimental value. It is okay to be sad, but if you can, seek support for this away from your child. Parent support groups can be a helpful place to meet others who can empathize.
The Family Acceptance Project found that having a supportive family was one of the greatest defences against poor physical and mental health later in life. Having an accepting family is one of the strongest protective factors for young people who are 2SLGBTQ+.
- Use the person’s current name and pronouns, whichever ones they shared with you to use.
- When telling stories from the past, use the person’s current name and pronouns. Do not use their old name and old pronouns just because the story takes place during a time they “used to be —“.
- Do your own homework and research. There are many reliable books, documentaries, blogs, and articles to get information from. You can even come see us! It can be emotionally draining for trans people to educate others over and over again. Try to remember you probably aren’t the only person in their life they have to be educating and explaining this stuff to.
- Reflect on your own privilege and how systems are likely designed for you.
- When talking about what the doctor assigned a baby at birth say “assigned male/female at birth”.
- Learn about the differences between gender and sexual orientation. Someone’s gender doesn’t tell us anything about who they may like or fall in love with.
- Learn about all forms of transition. Many people assume that all transgender people want to take hormones and have surgery. This can lead to a lot of unwanted pressure to conform to this idea.
- Recognize that trans women also deal with sexism on top of transphobia.
- Learn about non-binary trans identities. Not all trans people identify as “men” or “women.” Many trans people and genderqueer people identify as both, as neither, or as something all together different.
- Throw away the idea that all transgender people feel “trapped in the wrong body.” This is an over-simplification and not all trans people feel this way.
- Think about what makes you feel uncomfortable and why.
- Recognize the diversity of transgender people’s lives, and that these identities are part of other identities that often intersect with race, class, sexual orientation, ability, etc.
- Talk about trans issues/rights. Engage people in discussions and share your knowledge. The majority of the “information” people have surrounding trans people are stereotypes and assumptions.
- Share that a person is transgender (otherwise known as “outing” someone). This can be dangerous for them or show you don’t believe their identity.
- Ask a trans person what their “real” name is. If you do know their old name, don’t share it with others.
- Use words like bio or real (“biologically male” or “a real girl”) use trans and cisgender instead.
- Say someone was “born as a girl/boy.”
- Ask trans people about their bodies, how they have sex, if they have a penis/vagina, etc. This includes asking someone if they have had surgery or if they take hormones.
Myths about Trans Identities, Debunked
80 percent of kids will grow out of it
The 80% statistic is critiqued by trans health specialists as it comes from a flawed study conducted by Thomas Steensma in 2010. The study is criticized because the researchers lost track of 45% of the participants and assumed this meant these participants had grown out of their gender variance. Additionally, the researchers did not screen out kids who may play or dress in creative ways for fun, from kids who experience gender dysphoria (persistent, insistent, and consistent discomfort around their gender). Lumping all of the children together caused the data to be skewed and made it sound like most kids can just grow out of their gender dysphoria.
Parents make their kids 2SLGBTQ+
Parent(s) cannot change their child’s gender or orientation. Often, people understand that parent(s) don’t make their kids straight or cisgender so it makes sense to include gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender kids in this equation too. Just as your parent(s) did not create your gender or orientation, you will not be able to change these parts of your child’s identity.
There are only two genders
Gender is more like a spectrum or web than the 2 boxes we often describe it as. Some people may fall on either end of the spectrum but others could feel somewhere in between, a little bit of both, or like no gender at all.
There are examples of gender diversity across all cultures and histories. In India there is a 3rd gender called Hijra that is recognized by the Government and protected under the law. Here in Canada, many Indigenous cultures recognize up to 6 genders. The English term for these genders is Two-Spirit but many Indigenous languages also have their own words for this. Here in Alberta, the Provincial Government now legally recognizes a third gender category called non-binary.
All people who are transgender are also gay
Gender and orientation are different. Gender is a person’s internal sense of who they are, while orientation describes who a person is attracted to. Someone’s gender does not determine who they will be attracted to. They may like someone of the same gender, but they may not. Only time will tell.
All people who are transgender need medical intervention
Not all people who are transgender want to take hormones or have surgery. Some trans people like their body the way it is and find social transition (name changes, clothing changes, hair style changes, etc.) to meet their needs. Unfortunately, a lot of media representations focus on the single story of medical transition. There is no script or path to follow and each individual will have different needs in their gender journey.
You can tell a kid’s gender by their interests in clothes and toys
Children may play with certain toys for a variety of reasons and may not associate toys or clothing in the categories adults do. Children may play with toys or dress in ways that align with the gender they were assigned at birth to please parents, so they don’t stand out within friend groups, or because of their personal interests. Ignore the toys and the clothes when it comes to gender. The only way you can know anyone’s gender is by listening to them.
If you don’t let your child act or dress that way, they’ll stop doing it
Although you can stop behaviours associated with gender creativity, your child’s feelings aren’t going to go away and suppressing them could lead to harm in the future.
Kids are too young to understand their gender
Research has shown that developmentally kids begin to understand their own gender as young as age 3.
2SLGBTQ+ identities are a new thing
The words we use to talk about 2SLGBTQ+ identities are newer, but these kinds of feelings have always existed. Historically, people would have used different language to talk about these feelings, or expressed them in different ways, but we can still find many examples of 2SLGBTQ+ identities across history.
Kids are only acting this way because their friends are doing it
Kids may start to express themselves differently within friend groups because those friends make them feel safe, not because those friends have made them gender creative. This goes along with the parent(s) make kids 2SLGBTQ+ myth. Friends and family cannot change a child’s gender or who they are attracted to.
- Be open-minded
- Be willing to talk
- Do your research
- Don’t assume that everyone you know or meet is straight
- Don’t assume that everyone you know or meet is cisgender
- Speak up to your teacher, principal, or boss if you notice things in your school or workspace that may cause harm to 2SLGBTQ+ individuals
- Reflect on your own assumptions. Most people have homophobic and transphobic thoughts and feelings. Even 2SLGBTQ+ people themselves! Many of us carry these kinds of thoughts because of the society and culture we grew up in. Don’t beat yourself up over this but do work to uncover and unlearn them.
- It can be easy to get angry at people who make homophobic and transphobic jokes but part of being an ally is setting your own emotions aside to make the world better for the 2SLGBTQ+ community. It can be exhausting for community members to educate others on the harm of these jokes, so if you can have these conversations, try to approach them with kindness and compassion. You may be able to help the other person on their journey of learning how to respect 2SLGBTQ+ identities.
- Don’t give up. Sometimes you will have to have the same conversation several different ways. Eventually, it makes a difference.
- Know that when someone comes out to you, it means they trust you a lot.
- Talk about 2SLGBTQ+ identities and issues openly and often.