Talking to older adults about your child’s gender identity or transition can be some of the more difficult conversations parents of transgender children face. Grandparents and other older relatives and friends often have more conservative ideas about gender roles, and thus may have a more difficult time understanding or accepting your child’s transgender or gender-expansive identity.
Being an advocate for your child can be difficult when the person you are defending them against is your own family, so first and foremost, try to approach these initial conversations with patience and compassion, rather than being confrontational or defensive.
Situations to Prepare For:
Hard time with terminology – People who are not familiar with transgender people or concerns may have a steeper learning curve when it comes to terminology and pronoun use. They may be inclined to use terms that are now considered offensive or derogatory because those terms are more familiar to them, and it may take more time for them to understand the importance of preferred gender pronouns. As long as it’s clear that they are trying to change, be patient but firm in correcting their terminology and pronoun use.
Holidays, family gatherings, buying presents – If your child’s transition or gender-expansive expression is something new, it’s best to talk to your extended family before any family gatherings to avoid having potentially contentious conversations about your child’s gender identity while your child is present. If you know a family gathering is coming up, talk to family members one-on-one ahead of time and explain your child’s transition and ask that any new names and pronouns be respected. Cultivate allies among your family members and let them help you facilitate conversations that you anticipate being difficult. For holidays, remind grandparents and other family members to give your child clothing that affirms their gender identity, or if that’s a source of discomfort, give a gender neutral present like books, science kits or art supplies.
Family members who are determined not to accept your child’s identity – Unfortunately, there is often a family member who cannot accept your child’s gender identity. This lack of acceptance can include deliberate misgendering of your child, attempts to “change” your child and make them conform to their gender assigned at birth, to microaggressions that young children might not even notice. In these situations, you have to determine what is best for your child, even if that means keeping your child from having a relationship with that family member. Often people who are initially reluctant to accept LGBTQ people eventually change their minds, so the best practice is to keep supporting and loving your transgender child and hope that others come around.
Talking Points for Conversations With Family Members:
This is the same child you have known and loved, just a different gender – it’s often helpful to be able to explain the basics of things like gender dysphoria and the difference between sex and gender to show that this is something you have educated yourself about and understand thoroughly.
My child is happy living as their affirmed gender – Parents of children who have transitioned and are living openly as their affirmed gender often report that their child seems significantly happier than before transitioning. If that is the case with your child, it’s worth pointing out that you’re being a supportive parent and that your child is happier because of your support.
There is not anything “wrong” with my child or my parenting – Being transgender is not a phase, and trying to dismiss it as such can be harmful during a time when your child most needs support and validation. Trying to change your child’s gender identity – either by denial, punishment, reparative therapy or any other tactic – is not only ineffective; it is dangerous and can do permanent damage to your child’s mental health. So-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapies, which are typically faith-based, have been uniformly condemned as psychologically harmful by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and numerous similar professional organizations.