“My 12-year-old nephew just came out to me as trans. I’m the only other queer member of the family and have a degree in gender studies, so I’m pretty well-informed about trans issues and I totally support him. However, his parents are not known for being open-minded about this stuff (he’s never been very feminine, yet his mother still insists he wear dresses). After he comes out to them, what’s the best way for me to help my brother and sister-in-law be the supportive parents my nephew deserves?”
Question submitted Anonymously
Answered by Jules Vilmur
First off, kudos on being the kind of adult a 12-year-old can tell his greatest secret to. Seriously, that’s awesome. I continue to be amazed at how brave today’s transgender youth are in asking for what they need in order to live authentic lives. The recent tragic death of Leelah Alcorn has demonstrated how important the support of parents and other in-charge adults is and how devastating their rejection can be.
Your background and understanding of the situation makes you an indispensable part of your nephew’s support system and, by extension, that of his parents. Your acceptance of his gender identity gives them room to do so as well. Encourage them to understand that trusting his experience, respecting his honesty, and using his preferred name and pronouns are all conscious acts of love on their part, even as they come to terms with this new information.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do beyond encouraging acceptance is arm yourself with resources that can connect your brother’s family to the people, materials, and services that will serve them best. Contact their local PFLAG chapter, LGBT Center, and any trans-specific organization in their area. Request meeting schedules and events calendars along with information on any one-on-one services (counseling, support line, etc.) that these organizations provide. If possible, get your brother and sister-in-law in the room, on the phone, or in a virtual forum with parents of transgender kids as soon as possible. Interacting with other families that are navigating the same path is particularly therapeutic in the early stages of parenting a transgender child.
Books like The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals and This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids can be immensely helpful, and there is a wealth of good information on the Internet through groups like The Transgender Law Center, Trans Youth Equality Foundation, and My Kid Is Gay. Keep in mind, though, that they’re starting from square one, so choose literature appropriately.
Often, parents have to unpack a lifetime of misinformation, prejudice and negative media depictions of trans people. Their heads may well be filled with drag queens and CSI murder victims instead of empowered young transmen like Kye Allums and Ryan Cassata. Exposing them to positive images and messages will go a long way to changing those preconceptions. For starters, check out The Trans 100, a celebration of trans people doing great things in their communities and lives.
On the list of important things every trans child needs, a fierce advocate sits squarely at the top. The kind of support your nephew will require in the face of systems designed for conformity can be overwhelming, especially for a parent still struggling to get up to speed. Ensuring that counselors and doctors have experience with trans youth is vital, and educating teachers and administrators too often falls on the shoulder of the parent or child. If you’re not able or comfortable with filling the advocacy role, consider helping them find someone who will do so.
On a final note, if your brother and sister-in-law remain resistant to change, you may want to gently caution them in regards to the increased risk for depression, self-harm, and suicide that their child faces in the years to come. Parental rejection increases this risk, the results of which can be devastating. In short, your nephew’s chances at a happy, healthy adult life rest in large part where they always have—on his parents’ unconditional acceptance and support of who he is now and who he is to become.
Jules Vilmur is a mother and freelance writer living in California with her husband and too many greyhounds. She studied Resistance Literature and Therapeutic Writing at UC Santa Cruz and her memoir “The Complicated Geography of Alice” tells the story of a mother who believes that her transgender daughter is going to blaze a brave new path if she can just keep her sober long enough to grow up.
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