When a child or young person in your life comes out as trans, you might have a lot of questions about what that means, what they’re going through, and how it might impact you as a parent or family member of a trans person. Below, you will find answers to some frequently asked questions about gender, being trans, and how to support trans young people.
People discover their gender at all different ages. Sometimes, children have an awareness about their gender and make that known to the world at a young age. Sometimes, trans folks come into an understanding of their gender at older ages. There is no one perfect age to come out as trans. If you child has come out to you as trans or non-binary, likely it means that they have spent a lot of time thinking about their gender and how they want to express that to the world. If you are unsure about your child’s gender identity, it might help to have an open and honest conversation with them about it. To learn more about how to support your trans child, view our Adolescent content pages here.
Dismissing you child’s gender identity as “just a phase” can be very harmful to them during a time where they need to feel loved and affirmed the most. Just like cisgender people, trans people often go through stages of self-expression as they learn more about themselves. Sometimes, trans people change their name and pronouns more than once, which might signify to you that they’re gender identity is a phase. However, trans people are usually just trying to communicate what they know and understand about themselves in a given moment. It is important to honor their shifts as they come, keeping in mind that one of the best ways to show love and support for a trans person, regardless of their age, is to shift your language to match their needs.
It’s important to note that it is really damaging to try and force anyone to change their gender to conform to normative ideals. “Conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy” is ineffective and very dangerous to the mental and physical health of anyone forced to undergo those practices. Many states have laws that protect young people from the perils of conversion therapy, and numerous mental health and pediatric agencies formally reject reparative therapy practices as a method of trying to forcibly change someone’s identity. To learn more about these practices and the harms associated, view the HRC’s official statement here.
Many people have a sense of their gender that is binary, meaning that they identify exclusively as a man or woman, male or female, masculine or feminine. However, many people understand their gender to be non-binary, meaning that they exist either in-between the binary gender poles or they feel like they exist outside that structure entirely.
Some other terms that refer to similar ideas of gender outside the binary are genderqueer, gender expansive, gender fluid, gender flux, and gender non-conforming. To learn more about non-binary identities and how to show love and respect for non-binary people, read this page written by the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Sexual orientation and gender identity have to do with different parts of someone’s identity, and neither can be assumed. It’s important to remember that these are distinct identities for every individual despite often getting mixed up. A person’s gender identity does not imply that they have a particular sexual identity and vice versa. Generally, when referring to sexual orientation, we are referring to how someone experiences attraction for other people. Different words to describe sexual orientation are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, asexual, pansexual, straight or heterosexual, and many others.
When thinking about gender identity, we are describing the way someone experiences their sense of self and how they want to communicate that to the rest of the world. Words to describe gender identity are transgender, masculine, feminine, non-binary, two-spirit, agender, androgynous, cisgender, and many more. Trans people, just like cisgender people, can be straight, gay, bisexual, asexual queer, pansexual etc.
To see a fuller list of terms that help describe the varied members of the LGBTQ+ community, view HRC’s glossary here.
In the past few years, we have noticed a rise of transgender people feeling safe and comfortable to “come out” and live their lives as their true and authentic selves. With the rise of public trans folks in the media, we have seen a reduction in social stigma around trans identities in communities around the country and across the world. However, this increase in visibility has led to a paradoxical surge in violent backlash against trans folks. To learn more about the rise in transphobic violence as a result of an increase in trans visibility, read this Vice news piece on the topic.
From the outside looking in, it might seem like it has become trendy to be trans or non-binary. But, trans and gender non-conforming people have existed for as long as humans have existed. Before European countries colonized much of the world, indigenous people across the globe lived in cultures that respected and revered trans people, often holding roles of spiritual and organizational leadership in their communities. Indigenous cultures had unique terms to describe their gender-variant community members, and today we often refer to indigenous trans folks as two-spirit (amongst other terms). To learn more about gender variance around the world, view Teen Vogue’s article on the topic.
“Rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD) was a term coined in 2016 on three specific blogs that promote anti-transgender ideas (to learn more about the origins of the term, visit this article by Julia Serano, author of Outspoken: A Decade of Transgender Activism and Trans Feminism (2016) and other titles). As a theory, ROGD attempts to explain that adolescent-aged young people who come out as trans after displaying minimal to no gender dysphoria in early childhood only wish to transition because of the “social contagion” of transgender peers or media content. The only scientific study of ROGD surveys parents of trans kids (not the kids themselves), and the link to the survey was only posted on anti-trans blogs and websites (meaning that parents who subscribe to these negative ideals are the only ones who had access to the survey).
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the World Professional Association of Transgender Healthcare (WPATH), and the Brown University School of Public Health Faculty Members have spoken against ROGD as a means of restricting access to gender-affirming mental health and medical care and censoring adolescent-aged trans people’s search for trans-related information. “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria” is not a recognized diagnosis by the DSM-5 or by the WPATH. Trans adolescents or adults who experienced minimal or no minimal gender dysphoria or discomfort in childhood should be treated with the same respect and have access to the same resources as trans folks who displayed signs of gender dysphoria or discomfort in childhood.