Every year on March 31, the world celebrates Transgender Day of Visibility. While I wish this were a truly universal celebration of transgender people, in the United States alone there are anti-LGBTQIA+ bills (currently 387) harming queer people. Many of these bills are targeting transgender youth and their access to gender affirming care and medical care in general.
Conservative lawmakers want to punish the doctors and parents supporting transgender youth, and there are bills targeting affirming care for transgender adults. Being trans is exhausting right now, and being visible can be downright terrifying as more prominent republicans call for our eradication.
If you are a supportive parent or caregiver of a transgender child, you are likely scared and tired too. Whether you’re new to advocating for your transgender child or have been doing so for a long time, I want to stress that the “visibility” element of this celebratory day needs to come with consent and ongoing conversations.
As their guardian, you need to do everything you can to protect their rights, physical safety, and mental health especially in the face of discrimination. Doing this also means protecting their privacy. Here’s how to do both.
Know The Difference Between Their Story and Yours
For all parents, it’s important to know where your story ends and your child’s begins. Their experiences are not yours. You shouldn’t use their identity as an example of your hardship or even your joy. Being a parent of a transgender child means keeping some of yourself private, because what you tell others could out your child and reveal their identity without their permission or knowledge.
While we want to show the world that our transgender kids are wonderful, valid, and just as worth protecting as our cisgender children, forcing them into visibility may make them targets of bullying either now or when they are older.
Have ‘Who Do You Want to Know?’ Conversations
Depending on the age of your transgender child, they may be able to have conversations about who they want to know about their identity and transition. Ask them who is allowed know they are transgender. Do they want your help when talking to friends or family members about their transition? Are they only out to certain people? Are there people around whom they don’t feel safe?
In some need-to-know cases, a doctor or school administrator will know your child is transgender, but it’s important that your child sees this person as an extra layer of support. If this isn’t the case, then you need to find a new doctor and/or school.
Protect Your Activist
While transgender youth should not have to be placed in roles of advocacy, some choose to do so. There are many amazing transgender youth activists who are showing their joy and using their experiences as examples of how to thrive because, rather than in spite of, being trans. Give them the space to stand up for themselves, but also talk to them about the risks of doing so.
You or they should consider using a fake name on social media, or limiting and censoring the images shared. Make sure their phone location settings, and yours, are set to private, and don’t share where you live or where your child goes to school.
Help your child navigate the toll of negative comments and news stories, establish a safety plan in the event of threats, and remind them that it’s okay to take a break and just be a kid.
Network With Other Parents of Transgender Kids
While having a transgender child is a gift, you need the support of other parents who can help you understand the nuances of raising a transgender kid in a heteronormative world. Other parents can offer you tips, education, and a trustworthy place to vent so that you can show up for your kids without putting the emotional burden of your fears or confusion on them.
It’s okay not to have all of the answers. Having a local or online group of parents who have been there before or who are also in the middle of figuring out how best to support their transgender kids is necessary, especially when you need to confide in people who understand the need for discretion.
Find An Affirming Doctor
You and your child deserve to feel safe and taken care of when going to the doctor, for anything from an ear infection to understanding how puberty blockers work. However, finding a trans-competent doctor or therapist near your home can be tough. Your insurance carrier or the state you live in may also limit your options.
Word of mouth from other parents of transgender kids or transgender people accessing health care is often the first step in finding the medical professionals you need. The Pride center, gender clinic, or Planned Parenthood in your area can also help you find providers who will support you and your child.
You can also try online resources at World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) and LGBTQ+ Healthcare Directory. The Trevor Project is a great resource for queer youth in crisis and in need of mental health support.
Another way to know if you will get the affirming care your child needs is to call the front desk of the provider you’re considering and ask about their discrimination policy. Check their website and doctor bios to see if they use language to include LGBTQIA+ youth.
Demand LGBTQIA+ Inclusivity Training At School
Whether your child is stealth (living without most people knowing they are transgender) or they are out to some or all of school administrators, your child’s gender, name, and pronouns should be correctly listed on paperwork and in computer systems.
School faculty, staff, and substitutes need to have a solid understanding of how important it is to protect transgender students’ safety by protecting their privacy. This starts with making sure a student is addressed properly and has access to the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
This could be as simple as a conversation with a supportive principal or superintendent, though you may need to work with your school district to make sure they and their teachers have been given basic inclusivity training on gender, gender expression, and sexuality.
GLSEN and HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools both offer curriculum support and training modules for school administrators to make their classrooms safer and more inclusive.
I wish we could shine a brighter light on transgender folks so people can see just how amazing we are, but with visibility comes risk. Thank you to all of the caregivers who are fighting for the lives of their children. I see you. Let your child decide when it’s time for the world to see them.
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