“My 16-year-old claims to be trans, but I don’t believe it. I cannot see my daughter as a boy. His bedroom is pink and he has a doll and stuffed animal collection. We are in a trans group for teens, and I think all of the kids are amazing. I can see him being a butch female, but a trans guy? Not so much. We are very close, and I don’t want to be an unsupportive parent, but I honestly don’t understand this.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Julie Tarney
Your son obviously trusts you. By coming out to you as transgender, he shared his innermost, deepest truth about himself. Diving inside oneself can be scary enough to begin with. But then to share what you discover—even with your mom—can be terrifying. I’m sure he hoped that after he told you, your unconditional love and support would not waver.
To say that you don’t believe him—that you can’t see him for who he knows himself to be, because of his presentation or possessions—is the same as saying that you don’t trust him to know himself. His gender identity isn’t about how you see him; it’s about how he sees himself. Nobody can know someone else’s gender better than the person themselves. I assure you the person inside your son is the same person you have loved since birthing him. And that person needs you to trust him.
From the close relationship you’ve described, I don’t really believe you’d be willing to risk losing that trust based only on your beliefs that boys can’t like the color pink or that only girls can have a doll collection. Most of us, from an early age, were taught society’s rules that boys and girls need to fit neatly inside a gender box that’s either pink or blue. Thankfully, due to continuing education and a wide range of present-day challenges to those rigid social norms, we now know that clothes, toys, and colors don’t have a gender. Boys can wear dresses and play with dolls; girls can have buzz cuts and wield lightsabers.
We’re talking about gender norms and stereotypes here. And stereotypes are nothing more than beliefs we accept as truth. If your beliefs about what’s appropriate for boys and girls are limiting your ability to fully support your son’s gender journey, then I think you may have a little personal work to do. Read through some of the belief exercises I suggested to another mom for her husband to think about. Challenge yourself. Bust a few myths!
There’s a wealth of other information in the gender section of My Kid Is Gay, including shared stories and practical advice to help you better understand your son. I also strongly urge you to pick up a copy of This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids. It covers every question parents might struggle with after their child comes out to them. It’s the kind of book you can come back to over and over as new questions arise. I think you’ll find the chapter titled “Questioning Gender” invaluable right now. And while I know you and your son are in a trans group for teens together, I’d like to recommend a support group just for parents of transgender kids, where you can hear how parents in similar situations are managing their concerns. PFLAG has hundreds of chapters across the country and, ideally, there will be one near you.
Lastly, I bet you’d agree with this statement: no one knows you better than you. Please extend that same understanding to your son. Trust that he knows himself better than anyone. Even if his gender identity continues to develop or change over time, which it may, it’s my hope that you’ll believe him every step of the way. And whether or not you fully understand what’s going on inside his head, what will be most meaningful to him are your smile, your hugs, and your continued love and support in every present moment. I believe he needs all of that more than you know.
Julie Tarney is an advocate for LGBTQIA youth, speaker and author. Her award-winning memoir, My Son Wears Heels: One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass (University of Wisconsin Press 2016) and blog of the same name are about her experiences raising a gender nonconforming child in the Midwest in the 1990s and what she learned from him along the way about gender identity, gender expression and self-acceptance. Julie is a board member for the It Gets Better Project, blogs for HuffPost Queer Voices and is an active member of PFLAG NYC’s Safe Schools program. Her book won Bronze in the 2016 INDIES Book of the Year Awards. A longtime resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Julie now lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she can often be found cheering in the audience at her creative director and sometimes-drag-artist son Harry’s performances.