A note for parents, friends, and loved ones of transgender

Several people have written to me who are the parents, friends or loved ones of someone who is considering transition, and are concerned about the idea and wondering what they can do. This is a complex issue. My own experience was that my parents did not take it well, particularly my mother. I have only seen her once in the last twenty years. Even though I eventually did resolve my issues in a different way and detransition, this was not helpful. Now we do get along better, part of it is time and part of it is my decision to detransition, but I still have some resentment towards her for not supporting me during that time, and it made it more difficult to detransition because I didn’t want her to be right. I do see that much of my own behavior at that time as selfish also. It can be a tricky question.

Still a few ideas:

Have compassion and love your child, and keep your door open to them. You do not have to approve of their actions, or pretend to, you have the right to your own integrity in that. However, it is important to continue to support them.

You can’t control the actions of your child, particularly if they are an adult child. They will do what they are going to do. If they are a teen, particularly a late teen they are soon to be adults and out of your control. You might be able to clamp down on what they are doing now, but in a couple of years they will be able to do what they want. Better that they explore their feelings while they still have your guidance, then do it when they don’t.

The issue of pre-pubescent children is a whole other issue. We know that historically most of these kids did not persist in their gender identity issues. (Around 84% in an older study) I worry a lot that transitioning these kids will increase the persistence rate. Also, I think the experience of puberty itself leads to the desistance as the biological instincts kick in, so preventing these children from experiencing at least some of this puberty might again make more of these kids transition than would otherwise.

This stuff is hard to deal with. I am critical of some of the ways the psychological community handles these issues and wish there were better alternatives to deal with it 20 years ago. I provide the ideas I have garnered through my experience and studies of psychology in the hope that others can be prevented from the suffering that I had. There are several people that have found them helpful, so I think I am on a good track, but I don’t think they will work for everyone. In particular these are deep-seeded issues that require more than blog posts to deal with. Some people will transition, and they deserve to have good lives. Much of the problems of transition have to do with social stigma associated with it.

Try to make sure they see a lot of different perspectives if you can. I do think there is a lot of groupthink happening currently, and I think it is important to counteract that. Do not trust any one authority on these matters, there are lots of crazy ideas going around, even in professional circles.

If you can meet them where they are, you should. If you don’t use their preferred name or pronouns it will just prevent you from communicating with them at all, and if you aren’t in their lives you don’t have any influence at all. Again this is a matter of your own integrity, but I think meet people where they are and giving them courtesy helps foster good communication.

16 comments

  1. Beautiful article, and I think, quite apt advice. Regarding trans kids: I do think that socially transitioning them and especially putting them on blockers will do more harm than good, not in any small part because for a couple of years I was part of that 85% and didn’t get over it until AFTER puberty.

    I agree that adults should be allowed to make their own decisions, and could not in good conscience actively encourage it, but would also not voice disapproval, especially during the time when they would hear disapproval of treatment as lack of empathy for their conditions. It’s also very important to use preferred name and pronouns in their presence, not just because otherwise it closes down communication, but also because it can make their feelings of discomfort stronger.

      1. I definitely think that it did. Prior to the beginning of my menstrual cycle, my dysphoria was more or less socially driven, and by the time my body was doing unambiguously female things (in particular related directly to reproduction) I had gotten to the point where I not only didn’t see myself as a boy, but was mortified when other people did (at least in real life).

        I’m probably not the best person to go to for advice because I’m still in my early-mid-twenties and have no long-term experience with this.

  2. One of the issues I have in dealing with prepubescent children is that their brains are still developing and changing. Employing puberty blocking medications can be a bad thing because their sexual and gender identity may be still be in flux and we are actually helping to cement it when we shouldn’t. It’s very difficult to know what to do but I feel the key lies in maintaining a balance between emotional support and not pandering to their every whim.
    I am reminded of the case of the young 11 year old who on the Oprah show insisted he was going to become a woman. He instead ended up a happy gay male by the age of 19.

  3. I agree with TWT in that the issues involved here are extremely complex and fraught with danger and the ever present possibility of getting it all wrong. Examples of the consequences of ‘getting it wrong’ are all over the Internet including, but certainly not limited to, the Mike Penner/Christine Daniels debacle. Julie Bindell also provides some much needed perspective here:
    http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2007/may/23/healthandwellbeing.health
    However the practice of making such unqualified statements such as the following: “Employing puberty blocking medications can be a bad thing because their sexual and gender identity may be still be in flux and we are actually helping to cement it when we shouldn’t.”… is one of the main reasons that ‘getting it wrong’ happens so often and tragically at the expense of those most in need of informed decision making.

    What Jo has done here is a classic example of his taking a questionable, unproven presumption, “because their sexual and gender identity may be still be in flux”, and using it to “substantiate” his again unsubstantiated and unproven conclusion that “we are actually helping to cement it when we shouldn’t.”

    Personally I feel that TWT’s suggestion that, “If you can meet them where they are”, is the way to go. Once a trusting environment has been established a productive exchange of ideas can take place. If one side or the other takes a hard dogmatic stance such as those hard and fast statements of alleged “fact” as noted above, nothing constructive will ensue.

    1. Yes, it is important to create a trusting environment where a productive exchange of ideas takes place. That is one of the things I am trying to do here. This can be very difficult on the Internet, and especially when dealing with contentious issues such as these.

      I must again caution you to refrain from personal attacks as they degrade the trusting environment that makes for good dialogue. It is okay to disagree with Jo’s ideas, but saying that this is a “classic example” of her bad faith arguing is an attack on her and not on her ideas. It also seems like you have a personal dislike for Jo, which is okay, but I would request you don’t bring that into my comment section.

      I think you have made several good contributions today, and in the past, but in the future I will need to delete any comment that contains an attack on a person, in order to preserve the trusting environment that promotes good dialogue.

    2. What Jo has done here is a classic example of his taking a questionable, unproven presumption, “because their sexual and gender identity may be still be in flux”, and using it to “substantiate” his again unsubstantiated and unproven conclusion that “we are actually helping to cement it when we shouldn’t.”

      In English, the use of “can be” and “may be” indicate hypothesis or possibility, rather than presumption or conclusion. Thus, it’s quite clear that Joanna’s text was opinion, not an attempted statement of fact.

      Good reading comprehension skills are an important part of a constructive discussion, too, don’t you think? I’ve always thought of vocabulary as a quiver of arrows. Words are arrows, but neither are useful if not used accurately.

  4. TWT. I am afraid that you misunderstand. My comments about Jo’s faulty and IMO biased argument against the use of puberty delaying drugs in pre-pubescent children are based on his ‘style'(?), ‘habit'(?), of using unsubstantiated or unproven assertions to “prove” a conclusion which may or may NOT follow. This is not me alleging that Jo is arguing in “bad faith”, this is just my pointing out the type of presumptuous “group-think” that I believe both of us are trying to contest.

    1. The issue here is the distinction between criticizing the person vs. their idea. There is a difference between saying “I believe this argument is wrong because of xyz” and saying the argument is wrong because of some quality of the person making it. The latter is an ad hominem and can feel like a personal attack.

  5. Again. I defy you to show me any personal attack on anyone. Whether or not administering puberty delaying drugs is a good thing or a bad thing is way beyond my purview and I would not presume to comment on that without intimate knowledge of the situation in question as Jo has done.

    This is not an “attack” in o’s personage or his good or bad faith. This is a critique of an opinion proffered by Jo as fact, with no facts to substantiate any such claims to the validity of those facts, plain and simple.

  6. Hi, I reached out a while ago, are you still out there somewhere? I just need a bit of advice on the right questions to ask of our daughter who we are meeting with soon alongside her partner who is much older (ftm). She has begun transitioning which we are still not in agreement with however need some help with how to get her (them) to view different view points without it looking like an attack.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s