Before You Tell Your Parents You’re Transgender…

*Note: I wrote this post before I came out to my mom. You can find my mom’s initial surprisingly supportive reaction to the news here, and her backtracking later on here.

**Disclaimer: I run with a slightly older crowd of trans men in their 30s and late 20s. Several of them, especially those who came out to their parents about a decade ago, did not have positive experiences. It may be that, thanks to people like them, trans folks coming out to their parents now will have, on average, an easier time. I don’t know.

I just read this post by SouthCarolinaBoy, and sadly, I think his advice to trans kids – to not trust your parents and to do your best to be financially independent when you do come out to parents – is good. Transitioning seems to bring out the worst in otherwise loving, supportive parents; you can imagine what it does to the conservative, judgmental kind.

My major piece of advice to transpeople coming out to parents is this: prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

You should know that it is possible and even likely that parents will do one or more of the following: deny that you are trans; refuse to recognize you as your true gender; refuse to use your preferred gender pronoun; refuse to use you preferred name; forbid you from telling other family members; forbid you from accessing hormones or surgery; manipulate your feelings of guilt, familial love, faith, and filial debt to make you feel that you are doing a terrible thing; convince you that your life will be impossible, that as a trans person, you will never have a lover or a friend, that you will lose jobs, family, and housing if you choose to live “openly” as a trans person; etc. If all they do is verbally abuse you, manipulate you, and question your right to exist as your true gender, you are lucky. Because they could disown you, throw you out of their home (if you still live with them), cut you off financially (if you are recieving financial assistance from them), cut off all contact with you until you agree to live as your assigned gender, or hit you. I have close friends whose parents did all of these things.

What this means is that trans people coming out to parents should plan, take care of themselves, and make sure that they are prepared for the worst. When you do come out to parents, make sure you have friends on call who will take care of you and support you. If you are living with your parents, are financially dependent on them, or need to be under their health insurance in order to medically transition, be strategic. Have a plan in case things go badly. It is wise to have someone who has agreed to take you in, in advance, if your parents kick you out or if you find it unbearable to live with their transphobia, disrespect, and verbal abuse. It is best if you have a job and can be financially independent. (The Point Foundation offers mentorship and college scholarships to youth who have lost financial support from their parents or have been otherwise marginalized due to their LGBT status). If you think there is a chance that you could lose health insurance benefits, your home, or a significant financial contribution by telling your parents about your trans status and that this loss could leave you in a major bind, consider whether you could stand to put off coming out to your parents until you are better able to be independent of them. Gay and lesbian culture values being “out and proud,” and it is certainly important to be able to live freely as one’s true identity, but in order to make this possible, you may need to be strategic about when you tell your parents. Even when parents don’t intend to disown you completely, they often try to make it impossible for you to transition by cutting off access to money, health care, and their home.

If you are in an early stage in your process of coming out to yourself, and you are still feeling insecure and highly vulnerable to what others think of you (which is completely normal in the early stages of transition), it might not be the right time to come out to your parents. They could react very badly, and you need to be as strong and confident in your trans identity as possible before facing the transphobic verbal abuse your parents might heap on you. Likewise, if you feel that you need your parents’ understanding, support, and approval, you should think twice. Are there other places you can turn to for understanding, support, and approval? Because what you get from your parents might be the polar opposite.

If you are one of the “lucky” ones who “only” receive verbal abuse from parents but are not otherwise rejected, this does not mean that you should just grin and bear it. Things could be worse, yes, but it can still be incredibly traumatizing to have those who profess to love you tell you that they hate what makes you you. You have the right to take care of yourself and to surround yourself with people who support you and the way you identify. You have the right to refuse to speak to parents who have made it clear that the only way they will interact with you is by abusing you, manipulating you, and denying your identity.

This may seem grim, but it is better to be prepared than to be taken by surprise.

When you do come out to them, be aware that you may see your parents temporarily metamorphose into crazy, hateful people whom you no longer recognize. Be prepared to talk to them as you would to small children. Because in this situation, you are the grown-up, and they are the children. Be calm and firm and stand up for yourself. Try not to be too wounded by the things that they say in this state of trans panic. If you are lucky, it won’t last long.

If you are one of the unlucky ones, known that the things your parents say aren’t true. You can lead a happy fulfilled life, full of friends, lovers, and community as a trans person. Your birth family might not be a part of that life for a period of time or forever. If it’s any consolation, though, all of the trans people I know personally whose parents disowned them were able to reestablish contact with their parents within 5-10 years, after they had physically transitioned and moved into adulthood without parental support. So even in a worst-case scenario, your parents are unlikely to be out of your life forever (unless you want it that way). However, your relationship with your parents might never be the same again. Likewise, parents who swear that they will never be able to call you anything but your given name and assigned pronoun usually come around eventually (but again, this may take anywhere from one year to a decade). In interpreting parents’ reactions, it can be useful to try to distinguish what they are saying in the moment to try to scare you out of your decision from what they truly believe and will stick by.

Don’t assume that because your parents reacted well to you telling them that you were gay, lesbian, or queer, they will react well to you saying that you are transgender. Don’t assume that because they said something nice about a trans person they saw on T.V., they will be nice to you. Don’t assume that because you have always been gender-deviant, they won’t be shocked when you tell them you are trans. Don’t assume that their love for you runs deeper than their prejudice and their desire to appear to be a “normal family” before neighbors, extended family, and congregation.

This is the perspective of someone in his 30s with a conservative and unsupportive mother who he has not yet told about his trans status. I purposefully chose to wait until I had fully socially transitioned in my work and social life, had begun physically transitioning, and was confident in my decisions before telling her. I feel like I can tell her in the near future, because I now feel that I could survive hearing a lot of transphobic shit from her and potentially being disowned. But an any earlier point in my transition, these reactions would have severely impaired my ability to function. I do know quite a few trans people in their late 20s and early 30s who were disowned by parents or whose parents cut off all contact with them for years when they announced that they were transitioning. I also know people with conservative, religious Southern families who were supported throughout their transition. And I know people whose otherwise loving parents continue to call them by their given names and assigned gender pronouns.

One does increasingly hear stories of parents who are thoroughly loving and supportive throughout a child’s transition. Certainly, greater mainstream awareness and more sympathetic media coverage of trans people helps. Some parents who believe homosexuality is a sin think that being transgender or transsexual is a “birth defect” over which one has no control. So your parents could react well to the news. I still believe that one should be prepared for the worst.

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24 Responses to Before You Tell Your Parents You’re Transgender…

  1. “Be prepared to talk to them as you would to small children. Because in this situation, you are the grown-up, and they are the children.”

    Thanks. This makes a lot of sense. Then just refusing to offer responses is a valid tactic then? Because that is what I began doing very early on in the “argument.”

  2. Faggot Boi says:

    That’s hard to answer. Yes, if it’s clear that it’s a false “argument” (i.e. – she is just trying to scare you or hurt you; she already knows what your response would be if you deigned to respond; she’s not in a state in which she would really listen to what you said anyhow). But if you think she really believes the things she’s saying, even partially, you might have to walk her through things that seem like they ought to be painfully obvious.

  3. Pingback: Do Not Think That I Have Come To Bring Peace To the Earth « South Carolina Boy

  4. Ryan says:

    While I am not trying to detract from your message, I’d just like to say that there is hope. I recently came out to my parents as trans (I’m 22), and they have been amazingly supportive. The rest of my extended family has been pretty great as well. I absolutely recognize that I am incredibly lucky, and that your advice is totally valid, and that the majority of parents likely won’t respond as well as mine did. I just wanted to say that although things look really bleak at times, it’s not all bad always. And good luck to you when, and if, you tell your mother.

  5. She was not open to hearing anything I had to say and I could see it was a waste of time. She refused to listen or even consider what I was saying. She might think about it later and if she tries to ask me for answers when she’s not mad I might try again. But no, it was to the point where she was ridiculing my attempts to explain and telling me that I’m wrong. She would ask me a question and when I tried to answer it she would talk over me saying, “Drama! This is all drama!” So I gave up and just let her rant for 3 hours.

  6. Faggot Boi says:

    Thanks Ryan, it’s important to recognize that some parents do well with the news. It doesn’t do to scare folks unduly. Also, as hard as it is for us to be trans, it’s hard for parents too. Sometimes they feel like it’s their fault, they fear for their child’s future, they doubt their child’s decisions, they mourn the “son” or “daughter” their losing, they feel ashamed. The hurtful things they say often come from the fact that they have a lot to process and, typically, not a wide trans-positive support network to help them with the process. So, unfortunately, they end up torturing their children with their process for a time.

  7. Faggot Boi says:

    @scb – it sucks when the cissexism we’re fighting against comes from our parents. And when they just don’t want to hear what we have to say.

  8. esmae or my real name is emily says:

    i am a 10 year old child and i havent yet told my family im a transgender i have told my sister and she slammed the door on me and picked up a phone and went into a different room to talk and im preety scared now so what should i do

  9. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi Esmae, I’m sorry your sister reacted so badly. Your comment just made me realize that I really wrote this post with people in their teens and early twenties in mind – young folks who might still rely on their parents for support, but who were old enough to be pretty independent. I’m not really sure what the best advice is for a 10-year old like yourself. I suppose you should go first to the people in your life who you trust the most, whether that is a friend, a teacher, or a family member. It can help a lot just to have support from one person in your life. Then you can go from there. It’s hard when you are so young and others have so much power in your life. Also, I think that adults don’t always . Ychildren seriously, and they think that they can change them. So if the people you tell react badly, try to stay strong and to remember that you are the only one who can know what gender you are. You may have to be patient with others until they finally start to get it and to understand you. If you can, you should try to watch the film My Life in Pink (Ma Vie en Rose). It’s a French film about a young transgender child who is trying to get their parents to understand them. It might even help to watch it at some point with whoever you decide to talk to. I wish you luck. You can email me at faggtboi@gmail.com if you want to talk about how things are going.

  10. Alex says:

    OK, I read the article and the all comments before responding to this article, which on the face of it would seem a rather obvious course of action, except that this is such an emotive issue and this seems to be a ‘hot button’ when it comes to culture, religion, morality, ethnicity, etc. Coming out? ‘Look before you leap’ is rather good advice, don’t assume you know people well enough to anticipate how they will react. Luck, patience, courage and timing seem to be the order of the day, and hopefully love, and the later cannot be overestimated. I am in my forties and have always known what gender I identify with, some aspects of my character have a more feminine taints others more masculine, and am pretty well-adjusted and ‘normal’ (whatever those two phrases happens to mean) … until I began to date my partner; whom happens to be a post-op transgender. Being honest by instinct and nature, I have always been up-front with my oldest and closest friends, and they have been supportive of – though not involved in – my years of work in association with LBGT organizations. Everything was fine until I began seeing M. Here I will refrain from singing M’s praises, or it’ll sound like an ‘admirer-fest’ (LOL), suffice to say we are very close as a couple and get on extremely well (BTW this is not a reference to any form of intimacy ‘blushes’) … To cut a long story short, in the space of a month my oldest ‘friends’, some of whom I have known since I was at elementary school, began avoiding me, they’d make excuses not to meet-up, I was no longer asked to babysit, go to the gym, social events, outings, aware of this I challenged them to be ‘straight with me’ … Seems it was OK for me to work with ‘misfits’ and ‘freaks’ (gay, bi, transgender, transsexuals, lesbians) but when I crossed that boundary I became ‘persona-non-grata’ … Despite a few heated discussions things seemed to settle down then one night three 3 weeks later, I was walking to the station (I’d been working late), a car pulled up beside me, 4 people wearing scarves/balaclavas wielding tyre irons and batons set-about me beside … ‘fag-hag, faggot, paedo, perv,’ the torrent of abuse was more hurtful than the blows … I fought back, and thankfully a truck driver and his mate stopped and got tore-in … At local hospital they treated my fractured color bone, chipped shoulder, fractured arm, broken fingers, various bashes, gashes and bruises, and gave me a bunch of pain killers. The police were very sympathetic, made took lots of notes, made lots of meaningful noises, and interviewed people, but have yet to make any significant progress. Part of me knows my friends betrayed me and broke my confidence, I had not shared anything of my personal life with my co-workers to this point, the law believes they either took part-in or actively conspired with my attackers, but have no evidence. Since then I have spoken to my ‘friends’, most of whom seem to think I should have either seen this coming or regard it as a ‘wake-up call’ … I beg to disagree. Why is this relevant? Since I have no surviving biological family, I imagined and felt my closest friends were ‘my family’, I thought I could trust them with my life … a decision which on reflection could well have cost me mine. Oddly I do not regret for a my decision to date M. if their desire was to force us apart – then it had the opposite effect. M. is my greatest support, and despite everything my LGBT associates have refrained from any form of ‘told you so’, they have behaved as more of a family to me than former ‘friends’ … Go forward, keep your chin-up, prepare for the worst, and you may get an unexpected surprise … remember who you are, and even more important who you will be.

  11. Faggot Boi says:

    Thanks for sharing your tale of scary violence – it is important to be reminded of the hatred that can linger under the facade of liberal acceptance (your friends had no problem with your LGBT associates until you took a crucial step “over the line” and began to date one). If there’s one thing your story points out, it’s perhaps the way in which queer people have had to develop a kind of sixth sense about which people can truly be trusted and which can’t. Queer people have been forced to learn that forms of association that others take for granted and can assume to be permanent (elementary school friends, kin, sometimes longtime neighbors), cannot be counted on to perdure through certain revelations. This is why other queer people begin to count so much in our lives: we usually feel that we can rely on them, to a greater extent than others, to not abandon us for who we are or who we date (this is why, for someone who was formerly a lesbian, coming out as a trans man and being rejected by the lesbian community can be so traumatic).

    But there is no good answer about whom to tell and when. Ultimately we have to hone and follow our instincts for survival and try to build networks that will hold us when the inevitable abandonment and betrayals occur. We also have to do that which seems less intolerable. However important safety and caution might be, under certain conditions, it is more intolerable to remain closeted or to not tell the full truth about an important aspect of our identity or our relationships than to risk exposure, abandonment, and violence. We each have to decide what risks we are willing to take while cultivating the forms of support that we need to hold us. And you are right to emphasize that we may always be pleasantly surprised when we take a risk. Or we might simply be glad to be released from bonds which were proven to be shallow and empty in the end of the day.

  12. chickenchops says:

    Hi I need your help! I am living with the man I love we have two children and i believe he is transgender! I have been with him for 17 years (i am a woman) and i want to help him. He is in complete denial of his ways. He enjoys immensly dressing as a woman and fantasies about being a woman. He is always unhappy but he says it is because of his job. I am not so sure! what do you think.

  13. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi there, if he fantasizes about being a woman it is quite possible that he could be transgender and that some of his unhappiness could be caused by this. If he is trans, however, this is a realization that he will have to come to himself. As his partner, you could assure him that you would continue to love and support things if he were to be transgender as well as help explain things to the children. I suppose that you must have good communication with him if he has spoken to you of his fantasies about being a woman. Perhaps the next time this came up in conversation you could communicate this to him. I suppose you might also suggest that he see a trans-friendly therapist that he could talk things through with. And of course, you could encourage him to join a trans and gender-non conforming support group of some sort. Aside from this, there is not much you can do but wait until he is ready to make a decision or to talk to you.

  14. chickenchops says:

    Thank you so much for replying i do want to help him. Whilst he is dressed as a woman he also fantasises about having sex with men. Is this what transgender people want? I am sooooo confused, I do find this part of our lives is becoming harder not just for him but for me too, i want to be there for him but no longer as his girlfriend. I feel cruel but desperate to get him help so he can enjoy his life aswell as myself. I will show him this website and i hope he takes your advice to see a trans therapist.

  15. Faggot Boi says:

    Not all trans women like having sex with men, but many of them do. FYI, some male people enjoy crossdressing sometimes but don’t understand themselves as women or want to become women. So just know that there are possible distinctions here.

  16. chickenchops says:

    Thank you, your insight has left me more positive for the future. I just need to get him to open up now! I think the first step is to identify what he feels and go from there and perhaps encourage him to see a therapist. I also saw him looking up depression on the internet yesterday. I do believe in my heart he feels down because he is repressing this side of him. I worry about his mental health and this is why i seek help for him. You have been fab and appreciate your help.

  17. Aneko says:

    hello my name is (TECHNICALLY) hannah but i prefer Aneko. i am 12 years old and transgender and have felt this way since i was 7, and have yet to tell anyone. i have a transgender friend who i know will be supportive. but my large issue is that i still dress as a girl but if i ask for guy clothes and haircut my mom will know somethings up, so how would i go about dressing the part before im ready to tell my parents without them knowing what im doing? sorry if this is a stupid question

  18. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi Aneko, not a stupid question at all. Life is all about risks, so it’s just up to you to decide what risks are worth it to you. If you ask for guy’s clothes and a short haircut, your mom will probably ask questions and might try to not let you have them. Lots of trans kids fight with their parents over this, so that’s normal. And just because your mom asks doesn’t mean you have to tell her if you’re not ready. It’s fine to say, “I don’t know, I just like these clothes better,” and stick to your guns. If you hate the idea even of your mom asking you questions, you can try finding girls clothes that are androgynous and not feminine. And if you have a little money of your own, you can buy guy’s clothes from thrift stores – that’s where I got my first guy’s clothes as a teenager. And sometimes women get short haircuts, so you could ask for a girl’s pixie cut if you don’t want to make waves. Good luck!

  19. Shiloh but birth name is Sierra says:

    Hello. I have known I am a ftm trans since I was 13 and I am now 16 almost 17. My best friends triplets identical brothers and my God family have accepted me for who I am but the hard part is telling my parents. They are both strong Christians and I know that they would try to talk me out of my so called ‘sin’. How am I to tell them that their only daughter is their forth son? I am a gay ftm and I am afraid of being kicked out with no where to go. I would stay with my girlfriend but he is having troubles of his own at home. I have already started saving money for veterinarians college but I do not know for what gender I apply for when it comes down to my gender because of my biological birth and what I am. The only reason why I am thinking of college is because I skipped my seventh grade year and I am going to be a senior this September. Can you help me with some advice for my parents and for my college registration forms? It woulf be gladly appricated. I have one more question, if you do not mind. How do you decide on a new name? My birth name is Sierra Cheyenne and I want something close to it with the same first and middle letters for my parents. I know I want my first name to be Shiloh but I cant decide on a middle name. Can you help me? My last name starts with a C. Thank you.

  20. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi Shiloh. It is risky to tell your parents that you are trans without having a viable back-up plan in case you are kicked out. It is up to you to decide whether or not it is worth it to you to take this risk.

    For college, the first question is: do you want to / is it feasible for you to attend college as a man, or do you need to “pass” as female, given that you are still living with your parents. If you decide to attend college as a man, you need to contact an Human Resources representative to explain that you are a transgender man and that, though your official records list you as female and as “Sierra,” you want to be called “he” and “Shiloh.” There may or may not be ways for you to have a preferred name and gender on college email and records. If there is no official way for you to do so, you should apply in a manner consistent with your official documentation and simply individually email each professor to explain to them that you would like them to refer to you as Shiloh and “he/him/his” in their class.

  21. Draven says:

    Hey there, I’m a 13 year old transgender, and I decided to take the easy way out. I wrote my parents a letter. I haven’t given it to them yet, though, because my mom already doesn’t want me cutting my hair too short, or shopping in the men’s section. I’ve been prepared for the worst my entire life, as I’ve had to come clean about a lot of things. I already feel as if they don’t love me, so I don’t have a problem there, and I already have plans if I ever run away, so being thrown out wouldn’t be a problem. I really want to come clean and tell the truth, but I was wondering if I should give it to my parents as a note, or if I should try and talk with them face-to-face?

  22. Joseph says:

    I know it’s a little late for messages here, but
    I’ve been a transgender for as long as I can remember, and I only told my mum last year (I’m 18 not) and she literally said “I don’t care, as long as you’re successful and you do the gardening, the plumbing, the electrical work, DIY, etc” which is good, but also kinda disappointing that ‘doesn’t care’. But I have yet to tell my father, and I’m going to start the transition next year. He calls me his ‘princess’ and his ‘little girl’ and it makes me sick. I have no idea what to do. He’s going to react very badly, I know this. He’s such a let down, blah blah, he ruined my life. But still. I want him to accept me. I’ve also never met another trans person in real life before. I feel massively alone. But my school is massively supportive. The staff call me by my preferred name and they’re very good to me. It gets worse…I have mental problems as well, so a lot of people don’t believe me. But you know what, reader? I’ve lived my whole life pleasing others and not letting myself be happy. It’s time to live the life I want to live or die trying.

  23. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi Draven, you’ve probably decided what to do by now, but my two cents is that there’s no right or wrong answer about whether it’s better to write or tell them in person. It’s definitely easier for you to write them. So the only question is whether your parents would react better to one or the other approach, and that depends on their personalities. What’s worse, their spur-of-the-moment emotional reaction or their judgment after they’ve had time to sit down and think? Some parents might blow up and be really rejecting if surprised by a face-to-face revelation but be kinder if they’re given time to sit down and consider how to respond to a letter. Others might have a hard time being mean in person but, if given the chance to deliberate, might write an incredibly moralizing and rejecting response. So what’s worse – their emotional instincts, or their logic and morals

    It sounds like you’re well-prepared for whatever may occur.

  24. Faggot Boi says:

    Good luck telling your father, Joseph. Remember that if he does respond badly, there are other adults in the world, and we don’t only have to care about the approval of our parents. It’s really wonderful that your school is supportive and that you’ve already been courageous enough to talk to them. This is a big chance. When I was growing up in the south, there wasn’t even anyone who was openly gay or lesbian in my high school. Clearly, some things have changed. It’s going to be great when you eventually meet other trans people (and you will)!

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