Transparenting 101 Lesson 3: The Letter You May Have to Write

"The Letter" by Pat Green
“The Letter”
by Pat Green

There is a letter that most supportive transparents have to write in regard to their child at some point. Sometimes this letter is sent within mere weeks after the child has come out and other times, it is a year or more. This is the announcement of your child’s gender transition.

Over a decade ago I was doing a research on a matter of local history. I found myself in the microfiche labs of the library downtown and a few newspaper offices that let me into their dusty recesses. Letters and local papers used to announce things all the time.

If you were getting married, had gotten married or had a child, there was a letter and something in the local paper. If you ran a club and were having a meeting, there were written invitations and something in the local paper. And if you were having a societal event for your child like a sweet sixteen or a debutante or a Bar Mitzva, the same.

These letters celebrated something and there is no reason the coming out letter cannot have the same tone. So what is this letter and why do I have to write it?

Every child comes out at a different rate. Some only tell who they feel are on an absolute need to know basis to start. Others expand the scope a bit. Regardless how broad the scope, there may come a family gathering (holidays, religious event, reunions, etc.) where you are going to encounter family members who do not know, are not on facebook, and so forth.  THis is a time where, like it or not, everyone in that room is going to know. I am not going to stuff my son into a dress and make him use a name that hurts him just to make my aunt and uncle comfortable.

Many of the parents in some of the support groups that I go to have had to write this letter, as have I. There are some common tips and tricks to writing this letter and some variances. That is why today’s resources at the end will include variances on the theme.

Cut to the Chase

In the first paragraph, get to the point. Aunt martha is a busy woman who may think that this is a polite letter about nothing if you do not get to the point. She will put it on the mantle unread with all the Christmas cards she received. Then go to the family Christmas party and make a scene. Nope. Let’s head her off at the pass and get to the point. My child is a (place gender here).

Talk About How Normal This Is

Your kid’s name is (place name here) and their gender pronouns are (place gender here). This is how their known at home, at school, with friends, in the local club they belong to (karate, horseback riding, spelunking planning society, etc). This is a good thing here. People will follow your lead. You make something sound great and exciting, they will follow your lead. They make it dull or scary, they will follow your lead. This happens every day in every ad we see, social media meme, or clickbait story.

Explain What This Is and Give a Resource

This is now a good time to unpack what being transgender or gender fluid or gender non conforming is. Explain it a little in terms they will understand and that you can explain. Toss in a resource. This is important.

You need to steer them in a direction of resources that will give not only accurate information, but supportive information. I have been giving you resources in 101 series in every installment and will continue to do so. It is at the end of every article.  Introduction, lesson 1, lesson 2 and this lesson all have resources at the bottom.

Tell Them What is Expected

They do not have to change their political views or religious views overnight. But they do have to treat your child with respect and not harm them. You would never let someone backhand or punch your child. Deliberate misgendering or refusal to use their chosen name is harmful. This is not the time to see both sides of the story. This is the time that a subject is not open for debate. Frankly, this is very black and white. They need to know that they are to call your child by their chosen name and correct pronoun. If they cannot do this, for the well being of your child, they cannot see your child until they can behave in the manner you have asked them to.

 

Close With a Helpful Reminder

This is the point where you can acknowledge that this is confusing news to hear at first, but keep it positive. You are announcing who your child is. Offer yourself to answer any questions. Make sure they understand that your child’s job is to be a child that is growing up and not the family ambassador to all things trans. Should they contact you with questions, see if the questions they ask are something that was covered in the resource you suggested. If it is, answer the question and  refer to the resource. If it is not, answer the question and then refer them to a resource that will give them good information.

There is a practical reason why I suggest this resource referral. Some family members will have some surface 101 questions. That is fine. Others will want to become dependant on you for all things trans. You have a life. Make sure you are free to live it and not someone’s personal resource center.

The Letter I Wrote

I did mine with some humor. I filtered this through what I am known as in some pockets in my family. A smart-alec. In the resources I am going to give you another sample letter written by another parent. You will see different tones. You set the tone you are comfortable setting. Also, I do not write my son’s deadname anymore. Ever.

Hi!

I have something important to tell you. For the last 14 years I’ve been telling you my child’s name is (deadname) and that I have a daughter. I was mistaken. Terribly sorry about that. Mybad. He is a boy and his name is Dave. How does something like this happen? How did I get this little detail wrong all these years? Well, I did not know what being transgender is. He is transgender so I had to learn about it really quick. Long story short, transgender people don’t identify with the sex they were born with. 

Anyway, my ex wife calls him Dave. I call him Dave. All of his classmates and the school calls him Dave. His therapist calls him Dave. Why do we all do this? Because his name is Dave and his personal pronouns are he and him. He’s a fine young man and he’s forgiven me for getting that Disney Princess bike when he was 6. Anyway, being given this respect and affirmation to his identity has been very helpful. He’s so happy and so am I. 

Look, most of my family is either Irish or Lithuanian. We have a lot of Catholics and a few rebels that went protestant, baptist, evangelical, etc. I know that some of you may have some idea of what transgender is or is not. I had the same issue a year ago. Here’s the basics. 

When we are born we usually have a sex. Most of the time it is male or female. That is not someone’s gender. Gender is more. At some point, Dave was able to express to me that he was a boy. This is not a feeling, this is not something he suddenly understood. This was a process of being able to express something that has been since he was born. We’ve walked down this road with teachers, counselors, and others. We have been learning so much together and we are so appreciative of all the support we have gotten from doctors, therapists, school administrators, and friends. We cannot wait to have you as part of that support system. Go on the web and visit  PLAGS’s website at www.pflag.org/transgender

Which brings me to my next point. I need something from you. When we are at the party, I need you to make sure that you call him Dave. When using personal pronouns, use he and him pronouns. Don’t bring up the old name or old gender. That will be uncomfortable, hurtful, and make things weird. 

Even if this is not something you are okay with right now, use the name Dave and the pronouns he and him. I am not asking you to agree, I am asking you to respect. If you cannot do that, tell me now. The harsh reality is this. If you can’t adhere to this simple request, I cannot have you and my son in the same room until you do. Let me know if this is the case and we can figure out what to do about the party. I’m not exposing my kid to hurtful words and ideas. 

Thank you so much for reading. This is a good thing. It is a beautiful thing. I am so very proud of him and I cannot wait for you to see him again. He’s still the same kid you have known. His warped sense of humor, his love of art, all of it. Nothing is different, just this little detail I got wrong. Reach out to me if you have questions. His job is to be a kid, not your resource center on gender matters. 

Cheers!

Patrick

Homework Assignment

I’ve decided to have assignments in this series. This assignment is for the experienced parents and a transperson or two. In other words, upperclassmen and alumni. I would be honored to see the letters you wrote to your family, friends, and associates. You can share them in comments or you can send them to me privately and either give me permission to post them or just allow me the honor to read them.

Link and Book and Video Resource

Link: A different sample letter. This Slate article has a sample letter from a book. Click here. 

Book: “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community 1st Edition” by Laura Erickson-Schroth. This book is a little expensive and it is also a little dry. Despite not being a page turner, it gives amazing information and is a great resource for any parent of a transgender of gender fluid child to have in their library. 

Video: My normal policy in the resources is to ensure the voice of the community is being heard. In today’s video I am breaking the rule just a little bit. I think this is a good article to include the voice of another parent with a different perspective than me that shared a heart for their trans child. Enjoy this moving TedX talk.

 

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