Your teen girl says they are a boy and has been telling you consistently for months that they are transgender. Of course, you love them and want them to live an authentic life by supporting them but you’re not quite sure how to navigate this new territory. Read on for effective ways you can support them.
Start with the very basics. Knowledge is key. Transgender (sometimes shortened to Trans or Trans*) is a general term used to describe someone whose gender identity is different than the sex assigned at birth. An * is placed at the end of the word Trans to expand the word to include all people with nonconforming gender identities. The word transgender should only be used as an adjective. For example, “Jane Doe is a transgender woman.”
Respect the words your teen uses to describe themselves. Transgender and gender-nonconforming people use many different terms to describe their experiences and not all terms fit all people. It’s important to ask your teen what language they want you to use. Ask them for their preferred name and pronouns and always use the name and pronouns they choose.
Open communication. Keep communication with your teen open and continuous. Have meaningful conversations with them to learn and to understand more about their personal experiences and what being transgender means to them. Create a safe environment where they can openly express their thoughts and feelings to you. Ask them about and get to know their circle of support. Consider support for yourself, too, by seeking professional guidance.
Tap into resources. Connect to organizations that lead the way in areas of sexuality, healthy relationships, human rights, gender identity, sexual orientation, equality, and more.
There are many local resources and services available right at your fingertips! Some include:
Other things you can do? Join support groups, online or in person. Connect with a health team that is knowledgeable, who can answer your questions and provide relevant information (e.g. doctor, pediatrician, psychologist, etc.). Ask your teen’s school what it is doing to support and affirm gender diversity and/or how your teen can set up student GSAs (Government of Alberta Gay-Straight Alliances).
Get educated. Find reputable resources and start learning. Read articles and books, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries. Cross-reference what you are learning with your teen to see if it fits their personal experiences. Although you don’t want to rely solely on your teen to educate you, you do want to make sure you are guided by their experiences.
There are several books available to borrow at the Family & Community Resource Centre in Calgary. For example, you can borrow Helping Your Transgender Teen: A Guide for Parents by Irwin Krieger and The Transgender Teen: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals - Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney. You can also check with your local library or with the Alberta Library, thealbertalibrary.ca, for availability of these resources.
Check your values and beliefs. You are likely experiencing a lot of mixed emotions. Mixed emotions may make it harder for you to support your teen. Give yourself time and compassion as you navigate this experience alongside them. Reach out for your own support, as needed.
This experience can be emotionally huge for you and your teen but at the end of each day, the most important thing you can do to support your teen is to send them a consistent message of unconditional love.
Chantal Côté (she/her), R. Psych., is the owner of Pyramid Psychology, helping teens (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets. Learn more by calling or texting 403-812-1716 or checking out pyramidpsychology.com.
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