Q My daughter is 15 and says she is trans. I suspected that she was gay, but I was shocked when she came to me telling me that she is a boy. I want to support her - but I am so worried that it is a fad or that she is being unduly influenced by friends she spends time with online. I am terrified that she will ruin her life and equally terrified that I will ruin her life and our relationship if I handle things wrong. Please, what should I do? Where do I turn?
A Your daughter will always be your child and you her mother, however she identifies. The first transition is sitting with the enormity of what this all means to you as a mother. What are you thinking or feeling about what this may mean for you and your relationship with your child? There can be an unspoken grief as a mother as you imagine the possibility of losing your daughter as you know her, and what that means for both of your futures.
It is really important to check in with and discover whose grief it is, and it is yours. You may have dreamed and had hopes of the type of life she would have had in the traditional sense of seeing your daughter married and having a family. This may still happen, but possibly not as you envisaged. It is this loss and all it entails that you could sit gently with deep compassion and listen to your feelings. Being a parent is so intricate and intense. Separating your own feelings from theirs is a pivotal first step.
You said you are terrified? What are you most terrified of? Write it out. Talk with someone you trust or someone professional, or do all three. Working out your worst fears can decatastrophize unnamed feelings and emotions. When you name, you tame the emotion. As you name each emotion, connect with what it is conveying to you.
Are all the feelings yours or do you have concerns about how others will feel about this. Name the people you are worried about, is it your parents, or grandparents, other mothers or parents, teachers, your neighbours or society? This is completely normal; I'm not going to minimise or insult you by saying 'don't worry about what other people think.' Acknowledging belief systems that exist is much healthier than pretending you have no unconscious biases, which everyone has.
You will hold many belief systems, many unconscious about 'how' you thought your daughters' life would be. These belief systems would have been formed by all the people named above. It would be normal to feel uncomfortable as it goes against what is 'expected' to be 'normal' by society, anything outside of that been seen as non-conforming and which is often met with prejudice, fear and harsh judgment. Try and extrapolate yourself from your fears of judgement as a mother or parent from what others think and keep bringing it back to the relationship between yourself and your child having firstly identified your own normal fears and concerns. This won't make these fears disappear, but it will be easier to know whose fear you are dealing with.
When you say you are worried if this is a fad, can I ask you to look back and see if there was any gender dysphoria in childhood? This is a persistent and genuine disconnect transgender people feel to their assigned sex at birth that differs from how they identify internally. Sexual orientation and gender identity are two separate things. Even if you didn't see pain or distress in childhood expressed from an internal disconnect to their assigned sex at birth this is not indicative that those feelings weren't there. As many hide how they felt out of fear of rejection. This next phase in your relationship is to provide safety and a sense of wholeness. To explore and discuss all these topics together. To do this, I would recommend actively listening and learning it from their perspective. It might be helpful to get therapeutic support to explore gender with a therapist experienced in gender fluidity. As a safe experiment you could try a weekend where they try out what it would be like to be a boy. You could go somewhere for the weekend if that made everyone feel more comfortable. Gender exploring can be an eye opener. Giving space to this exploration can be healing in terms of parental validation.
Imagine the psychological strain when you fear expressing who you are as it will be met obstructively from most likely everyone, except their peers. Especially if their peers are also questioning their identity it will become an even safer refuge to express their real feelings.
This door you want to keep open, with openness, warmth and acceptance of the child in front of you. Isn't that one of parents biggest emotional hurdles to accept the child you have rather than who you thought they would be?
This is said with compassion, I can see your intent is to have a good relationship and you are terrified to do anything that would harm that. This may feel at odds with how you feel you can protect as a parent. It is exploring the concept of what you are protecting and that ultimately is a secure, loving, accepting relationship between the parent and child.
Fear of parental rejection is the biggest risk you face in terms of potential damage to the relationship. Name what terrifies you and then explore, educate and support yourself.
Here are a few resources that may be helpful: teni.ie; belongto.org; youngminds.org.uk/find-help/for-parents/parents-guide-to-support-a-z/parents-guide-to-support-gender-identity-issues/
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