“I am the mother of 2 children: a 15-year-old cisgender daughter, and an 11-year-old transgender daughter. My husband and I are very supportive, but my older daughter is embarrassed to be seen with her sister in public– she has stopped wanting to go out to dinner or to the movies as a family, out of fear of being seen by someone from school. How do I support both of my children at the same time?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Karen Thompson
Your story reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my good friends whose oldest daughter came out as gay a few years ago. The daughter was attending middle school at the time, and of course, caught a ration of bullying. This was before any anti-bullying programs were placed in the schools, so her mom got no help from the school administration. She came to our PFLAG meeting looking for other parents of teenagers who had gone through this. As she talked, Suzanne told us about her younger daughter, who was generally very supportive of her older sister, and even went on group outings with her sister’s LGBT youth group.
The other day, I asked Suzanne how her younger daughter felt about all the time they spent at rainbow picnics and silent auctions. She said that although her younger daughter had never tried to distance herself from her gay sibling, she had occasionally complained about being bored with “gay stuff.” I totally get that. When I was fifteen, I was bored with anything where I wasn’t the center of attention. Alternately, I was also terrified of actually being the center of attention. I can remember being scared to death to eat in public restaurants. I thought people could hear me chewing, and were probably judging the way I put food in my mouth. My mother, who was very smart, finally said, “Honey, no one’s watching you because they’re all too worried about how they look.” She called it that “living-in-a-fishbowl feeling.”
I think we’re just now starting to understand that when someone comes out as transgender or gay, their family members have a “coming out” process as well. We come out to our friends and family as someone whose family doesn’t fit the expected norm. And then we come out as someone who is okay (or not) about our family being a little different. That process was very scary for me, because I never knew what reaction I was going to get, or if I was going to have to change my relationship with someone because of their reaction. I have to think it’s twice as scary for your older daughter to be seen as someone whose family is different from her friends’ families, because, you know, other teenagers are so kind about those things.
Does anyone in your family receive counseling? There’s a good chance she’ll balk at going, but your older daughter needs somewhere safe to vent her feelings to someone who isn’t invested in her feeling the “correct” way. It might help if she could say out loud all the bad, embarrassing, maybe angry feelings she’s having to someone whose feelings she won’t hurt. If you and she decide to do this, look for someone who comes recommended and maybe has some experience with transgender patients. You may be able to get referrals from your local PFLAG (Parents, Family, Friends and Allies of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender People). If there isn’t a chapter in your area, you may be able to find the information on their national website, PFLAG.org. Also, if you and your spouse need a place to talk to like-minded people, that would be a great place for you to go. There is also TransYouth Family Allies and transgenderchild.net. The Human Rights Campaign has a page on their website titled: Resources for People with Transgender Family Members.
I hope that you and your family get whatever help you need to be each other’s allies and soft place to land, even if the feelings expressed aren’t always very “politically correct.” If you’re not there right now, just finding a safe space to express the negative feelings may help your fifteen-year-old feel less overwhelmed and less inclined to withdraw from your family. Thank you for being an ally for both of your daughters. They may not tell you this, but they love you for that.
Karen Thompson currently serves on the board of Lucie’s Place, an organization dealing with LGBT youth homelessness in Arkansas, and as Vice President of the Little Rock, AR chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Karen is also a member of the Center of Artistic Revolution, an LGBT youth-centered organization in Arkansas. Karen works in loving memory of her daughter, a force of nature, Lucille Marie Hamilton–the one who taught her everything (1988-2009).
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