Is there a transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming young person in your life? If you’re cis-gender (you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth), it can be difficult to understand how transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming people feel, but your support can make a huge difference.
If a young person you care about has recently come out to you, you might be wondering what you can do to help support them and help them feel safe.
As Outreach and Support Services Manager, I work with youth on various aspects of the gender spectrum, so I can give you a little advice:
- Be supportive. If a young person has come out to you, realize that they view you as a safe person to turn to. Acknowledge them and make sure they know you love them no matter how they identify.
- Let them define themselves. Allow young people to choose their own wardrobes, hairstyles, pronouns and name. All of these choices might change over time or even daily, but it’s okay!
- Remind others of their gender identity. If you have extended family or community members that continue calling your child by their former name or gender, remind them to respect your child’s preferences.
- Respect their privacy. On the other hand, if your child isn’t ready to be out publicly yet, respect that. Allow them to identify as their preferred gender only at home for a while, if that’s more comfortable for them. Don’t share their story with anyone they aren’t ready to share it with.
- Talk to a professional. Puberty is challenging for most adolescents, but it can be particularly tough for transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming teens. Help your child access a competent therapist for any mental health issues, and talk to a medical professional if they are experiencing any gender dysphoria (the distress felt from their gender identity not matching their gender assigned at birth).
- Don’t assume. Just because a child is transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming doesn’t mean they’ll take on the societal male/female stereotypes. A transgender boy might not like sports. A transgender girl might hate dolls. Remember that gender is just one aspect of a person’s identity – they’re still a unique individual and should be given space to explore, develop and express themselves in a way that feels comfortable for them.
- Find help for yourself. Supporting a child as they explore their gender identity can be very demanding on their caregivers. It can be helpful to have somewhere to vent, ask questions, and process your youth’s changes. Look for a support group, online resources, and maybe a therapist of your own, so that you have people to lean on when you are struggling.
Most importantly, remember you are not alone! Many caregivers are helping their young people get through their gender identity questions and gender dysphoria. It is okay to ask questions, be confused, and grieve. Do not project these feelings onto your child and find a safe outlet to channel your emotions throughout the process. Your unwavering support can make a huge difference for the young people in your life.