“My daughter is 14 and says she’s a boy. But she also says she likes boys. That’s impossible because a boy doesn’t love boys. That’s wrong. How do I tell her that she’s just having a phase?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Kai River Blevins
Hello! Thank you for writing in and being honest with us about your questions. I’m glad you’re taking the time to seek answers about your child’s gender identity and sexual orientation. I hope you take to heart what I’ve written below, because learning about these concepts will be crucial to your child’s wellbeing. After all, you wrote in because you want to communicate with your child about these issues, and I’m writing back to you because I care deeply about the wellbeing of LGBTQIA youth!
Before I get to your answer, I want to give you a couple of disclaimers. Firstly, I’m going to refer to your child throughout this post as your son, and I’ll be using he/him/his pronouns. I’m doing this for two reasons: (1) what you’ve described tells me that your son is transgender, and I want to model to you how to respect his identity through your language; and (2) I hope that hearing me reaffirm this will help you interact with him in ways that are affirming and encourage him to be his authentic self with you.
My second disclaimer is that the rest of this response is going to be “tough love.” While I understand that we’re all at different places with our knowledge about these issues, and you may be unfamiliar with what it means to be transgender or gay, you’ve already set a negative tone with your son by approaching the topic with the attitude that his gender identity and sexual orientation are “wrong.” I encourage you to approach the topic with an open mind, and leave behind your ideas about what is “right” or “wrong” when it comes to who we are and who we love based on gender.
Now, to answer your question! To start off, I want to reiterate what I said above: what you’ve described tells me that your son is transgender. This means that when he was born, the doctors assigned his sex as female, and that up until this point he has been raised with those expectations. But as he has told you, he is a boy. It may seem confusing—even scary—for you to hear this information, but please bear in mind that he has likely been scared and confused for much longer! He may also be experiencing gender dysphoria, or feeling alienated from his body and feeling bad because he’s treated as someone he’s not. Ultimately, it is up to you to create a safe environment for your son to discuss what being transgender means to him, and what support he will need from you moving forward.
Next, you mentioned that your son is attracted to boys. This is totally okay! What you’re describing is known as being gay, and this is not bad in any way. It may be confusing, since your son is also transgender, but remember that gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things: gender identity is who you know yourself to be in terms of gender, and sexual orientation is who you are attracted to either physically, emotionally, or both! Transgender individuals can and do have every sexual orientation imaginable, because being transgender is not a sexual orientation, it is an aspect of someone’s gender identity. For example, I have transgender friends who are straight, others who are gay or bisexual, and even ones who are asexual.
In addition to reading this response to your question, I encourage you to take accountability for learning more about how to be supportive of your son when it comes to his gender identity and sexual orientation. This includes actively listening to him without judgment, taking time to process what he’s told you with a therapist or a close friend instead of doing that with him, and keeping a list of terms you’re unfamiliar with to google after your conversations with him.
Finally, I know this is a lot for you to process, but wanting to tell your son that he’s just “having a phase” is not only incorrect, it’s harmful. Doing this forces your expectations onto him and communicates that his feelings are not valid, that he should not trust himself, and that you will not support him when he discovers new things about himself in the future. Here is a short video that describes more about why saying “it’s just a phase” is harmful:
Now that I’ve answered your question, I want to suggest some next steps:
• Do everything you can to learn about gender identity, sexual orientation, and the LGBTQIA community. In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, I encourage you to check out other resources available here at My Kid Is Gay, such as the Coming Out With Care package, This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, and the Defining Series. I also recommend that you connect to local resources, like a PFLAG Chapter or an LGBTQIA Community Center, where you can find support groups, information, and other parents who are in a similar situation.
• Approach future conversations with an open, non-judgmental mind. Your son has just done something incredibly brave that many of his peers can’t even imagine: he’s not only taken the time and energy to discover important things about himself, he’s decided to come out to you knowing that you would likely disapprove. I challenge you to honor his bravery by actively listening to him and taking what he says seriously, with the intent to take the information he’s sharing with you to learn how to best support him as he lives his truth. I also recommend you check out this response I wrote last year, where I outlined some suggestions about approaching difficult conversations with your child in a way that makes them feel safe and supported.
• Ask your son what name and pronouns feel affirming for him. Many transgender individuals decide to change their name when they come out, and they often change their pronouns to affirm their identity. I’ve been using the term “son” and referring to your child by “he/him/his” pronouns, instead of “she/her/hers” pronouns. I’ve done this because most boys use he/him/his pronouns, but not all do. Only your son can tell you what feels right for him! Again, ask with the intent of following through, and put in the effort it takes to learn to use these terms. It is definitely a difficult task, but it is necessary. And if he does use different pronouns than he/him/his, you can use this great app to learn how to use them! You can also check out this article for help getting used to using a new name and pronouns for your child.
• Ask your son how open he wants to be about his identity. Now that your son has come out to you, it’s important to know how personal this experience is. Coming out – or, as I like to say, “inviting in” – is a deeply personal decision that is affected by many factors, and it is up to him to decide who he wants to know about his identity. Sometimes we don’t come out to people because we don’t feel they will be a safe person to share this information with, and other times we know they’ll have lots of draining questions we don’t have the energy to answer in that moment. Letting him decide who knows about his identity not only encourages him to create his own boundaries, it affirms that you trust and respect his decisions when it comes to managing his physical and emotional safety. These are crucial skills for LGBTQIA adults, and you have the opportunity to help him build those skills!
• Ask your son what support he needs when it comes to school, church, or any other place he spends much of his time. Now that your son has come out to you as transgender and gay, he will definitely need you to be his advocate when it comes to being respected in public. This means not only figuring out what his school environment is like for LGBTQIA students, what support he has, and what support he needs, but also taking action when you have that information (I recommend starting with this article). You can also help him by knowing your state’s anti-discrimination laws, and making sure you don’t take him to public events or places that don’t respect LGBTQIA people.
• Learn more about homophobia and transphobia so you can recognize them in your thoughts, interactions, and values. Homophobia and transphobia are both value systems that place LGBTQIA people in a hierarchy beneath cisgender, straight people. Often, people think homophobia and transphobia are only present in overt discrimination and physical violence, but this is not true. Homophobia and transphobia are powerful ideologies that have been taught to us since birth, and they often play out in small ways, such as thinking it’s “wrong” to be transgender or gay, thinking transgender and gay people are inherently predatory, and voting for politicians who don’t support LGBTQIA rights. For more about homophobia specifically, I recommend reading Sarah Schuler’s book on the subject, “Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences.”
I hope this has been helpful! You are taking a great first step in being honest about where you’re at with understanding and communicating about gender identity and sexual orientation. The next step is to learn and put the information above into practice. Over time, I have no doubt that you will be your son’s greatest advocate and be able to help other parents who will be in this same position. Good luck!
Kai River Blevins is a genderqueer/femme poet, community organizer, and graduate student from western New York who now lives in Salem, Oregon. When Kai isn’t doing homework or writing on their blog, Queer as Life, they love to read, color, cook delicious vegan food, and spend time with their loving partner and adorable fur-child, Sir Reginald, the Earl of Puppydom. Follow them on Twitter @queeraslife