My son and some of his friends have been watching Transparenting 101 with great interest. The other day he and I were in the car together and I asked him where he thinks things should go next. We already covered reactions in the introduction. Lesson 1 covered pronouns and the importance of patience and poise. After some discussion, we felt it was important to cover who to tell and how.
In my life I have lived in urban, rural, and suburban environments. The populations have been as low as 335 and as high as over 9 million. The rural and urban settings, conversation is a lot easier and organic than the suburbs. It is why mega churches and MLM’s do so well in the suburbs. Small groups and MLM’s offer reasons to gather and fill the void of suburban isolation. The dynamic of conversation is different in these settings, but overall, the rules of engagement are the same.
Your Child Controls The Narrative Right Now
I told a story in my book and in this blog about a young lesbian that I met when I was a taxi driver. I had given her some advice about coming out that I still hold to. She had asked me the following:
“I just do not know what to do. Do I come out now or come out later? What do I do about my family and the kids at school who say horrible things about the gay and lesbian kids?”
I took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. “I don’t know. You gotta come out when you are ready to. The good news is you can tell whomever you want whenever you want. For now, you control the dialogue. You can tell whomever you wish. You are in control of that. What you are not in control of is the reactions of other people. I’d love to give you a magic formula of how to say it and promise you that everyone will still love you and that no one will bully you. Truth is, I can’t. It’s not the world we live in. We live in a world with some parents who don’t love their kids unconditionally and we also live in a world where people bully others and say cruel things. Horrible things. You can’t control that. But they are wrong. God, they are wrong.”
In some ways, with few exceptions (I will get to that). They are in control of the story as this is their story. If you out them without their consent you could expose them to danger and cause irreparable harm. Transparenting 101 is meant to be kinder and gentler than some of my other entries, so when I say things like that, know it is not hyperbole. I “go there” sometimes because the well being of our children is more important to me than your feelings.
I have broken this rule in the past with my son. This led to a well deserved scolding from him for my lack of sensitivity to this being his story, and from there we discussed the rules of engagement. They are ready to tell others when they are ready not when we are.
Can it be frustrating? Yeah. It can. I remember being able to use one set of pronouns and name in certain social circles and having to use his dead-name and assigned sex pronouns in others. But for me it was merely frustrating. For him, it was scary and to be “discovered” before he was ready to tell his story to certain people was more important than my feelings.
Sometimes their concerns about a relative or friend are unfounded, sometimes they are, but this is their narrative, not ours. Respect that line.
Always Have Their Back
If someone does not react well to your child’s gender identity, this is not the time to see “both sides of the story”. You need to have your child’s back. I know that many have spent a lifetime of conditioning to not be able to stand up to parents, families or church leaders and communities. This is where the inner parent will have to be stronger than you have ever been before. You have it in you. In times of need, parents have lifted cars and fought predators with their bare hands to protect their children. We have an inner strength that we need to tap into.
My child has had some relatives that initially refused to call him by his proper pronouns and name. They were told very plainly that their position is not acceptable and if they want to see him again, they will use the proper name and pronouns. Most of them are now champions. Some will likely never see him again for the rest of their lives.
This disconnection from people seeped in lack of approval and love hurts. How we react to those people will speak to our children more than any words we tell them. If we say I accept you and love you as you are and do not stand up for them will lead them to doubt our words. Rightfully so.
Some religious leaders and church communities will not show you and your child the unconditional love they promised you their deity was about. As I have covered in the past, this lack of support will not just come from the evangelical church, sometimes you will see it in the UMC, the UCC, and Progressive churches. You may have seen them as your support community and your spiritual leaders and voice of god for a lifetime. Know this, there are over 40,000 different denomination of christianity. The odds of this one church of small minds having figured out the definitive answers to the universe based on their understanding of an ancient book is highly unlikely. If you are religious, this may be even harder than dealing with friends or family.
The Christian god I was raised and educated to believe in was willing to sacrifice his child for the comfort and betterment of others. He also asked other people to kill their children (as a test or cruel gag?). He sent angels to kill the firstborn of an entire people. When the same was about to happen in the town his kid was in, he warned the surrogate dad of his own and let the slaughter of the innocents take place with no warning to the other parents. I do not consider followers of this god qualified to tell me how to parent.
But the gentler versions of the Christian god will often have adherents and leaders who will not accept your child. They are wrong, case closed. Debating them will rarely lead to a change of minds and hearts. Best thing to do is to leave and live your life with a family full of love and acceptance. For some this will be hard. I am sorry. But it is the right thing to do.
There are other examples beyond family and church. End of the day, sometimes you will have to make a choice. Most of us crave acceptance. Many don’t like conflict. There are times where I feel the philosophy should be your happiness and well being first. This is one of those instances where the kids come first.
Lack of acceptance will hurt our feelings. A confrontation will be uncomfortable. We may even lose social standing or a job (I’ve lost more than one job and countless job opportunities over this road). For our kids, their lives are on the line. They always have more to lose in this situation. Have their six.
How to Tell Others
This will sometimes require you to work with your child. They may want to be there when you tell their favorite uncle or aunt. They may also want to be the one who tells the story but wants you to be there for backup.
There are some simple do’s and don’t here:
- Start from a position that you fully love, accept and affirm your child.
- Make it clear that there is nothing wrong with your child.
- This is the same child they have known, the only thing that has changed is what we know about them.
- Explain basic terminology and have clear expectations for how they will adress your child.
- Tell them starter information about the differences between gender and sex. (that will be n today’s resource section).
- Offer them resources and an opportunity to ask you any questions. Your child’s job is to be the best them that they can be, not to be an ambassador to the cisgender community representing all transgender people.
- Don’t back down.
- Don’t get into a debate about the validity of your child’s gender identity or the bible.
- Don’t give in, back down, or do anything other than stand with and for your child.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away from the table, even if it does not go well today, they may come around a different day.
Broader Family Gatherings
Religious, ethnic, and social dynamics will have larger family gatherings. It is unfair to stuff your child back in the closet, tell them to use their dead name, and dress in their assigned sex again. This is the time to write “the letter”. Monday’s lesson will be on “the letter”. That is a conversation in and of itself. This is a moment that is often full of pleasant surprises of acceptance, it is also a time of deep hurt. Regardless, it is a turning point for you as a family.
Exceptions to the Rule
Sometimes, it is appropriate to “clear the runway” for your child. I cannot tell you the hard and fast rule on when to break the rules, but you will have to use your best judgement. Sometimes you will have to pre-tell someone you and your child are going to come out to. There are various reasons for this. Here is what I would consider to be the closest I can come to knowing the line.
If you are clearing the runway for the safety and well being of your child, your heart is on the right side of wrong. If you are clearing the runway for the well being of the other person who is transphobic, you are not.
Link and Book and Video Resource
Link: If you are going to talk to others and offer them the basic about trans, gender fluid and other matters, you may as well have a cheat sheet. Consider the following link of Q&A to be flash cards. http://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-faq
Book: “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin. This is one of those important books that has trans and fluid youth tell their story for their perspective. From the Amazon description I linked to:
Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.
Video: In this video, young Jackson tells a simple and important story of what it is to come out to a parent and family. This is a no frills video. The story Jackson tells makes this a channel one needs to watch.