**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.