We know how important names and pronouns are to our LGBTQIA+ youth.
We also know the reality that almost every family has at least one person who thinks mislabeling or misgendering your child will “change them” back into the person they were comfortable knowing.
What do you do?
Look inward first. What’s going on in your own mind? Are you coming from a place of fear, anger or love? This isn’t about catching flies with honey. This is about being in a space where you are at your best to take care of YOU. You want to be able to clearly hear the questions being asked and have access to all the love you have for your child throughout the conversation.
Next, decide how you want to have this conversation. For me, I found it easiest to begin with a full family email. This allowed me to be in control of the timing, providing uniform information, and clarity in what I wanted to say. It also allowed my family time to process the information before having further conversations. I provided links to the Trevor Project, favorite videos explaining concepts and psychological impacts of support.
You may find individual emails, in person or phone conversations are best for you and your loved ones. There is no wrong way. Remember, you are doing this because you love and support your child. Be patient. Be compassionate. And be open to growth. You have had more time to process the thoughts and feelings you are having. They may need that time as well.
Now it’s time to go for it. Explain things in very basic terms including the difference between sex and gender. Here is my favorite basic FAQ to provide: https://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-faq. And there will likely be further questions.
It may be difficult to answer some of these questions. Remind yourself that this is worth it. While your child is their own expert, it isn’t their job to educate others nor become a curiosity. It is much easier for them to have you serve as their advocate in these situations as long as you are respecting their privacy on who they want to come out to.
You will likely get the oh-so-common question, “what if it’s just a phase?” The answer is always some version of, “I support him/her/them for who they are.” Although I admit I have gotten more quirky with my responses, it always comes after the first bit of education.
So what about that person who won’t have anything to do with this?
We cannot control them. No matter how hard we try, we cannot be in control of another person’s thoughts, feelings or actions. Just as we have the right to accept change, they have a right not to. And this is where it often gets tricky for us.
Choose your battles. And decide ahead of time. For you this may mean including your child. Or it may not. Because of the relationship I have with my child, I include him in conversations and even had him help me write my family email. I’ve asked him what information he thought was most helpful and who he wanted included. We discussed how we wanted to handle individuals who may be challenging and what that would look like for us.
In her book Untamed, the author Glennon Doyle has a beautiful chapter about her coming out in which she describes her family as being an island and that not everyone has to be let onto the island. She wrote, “A woman becomes a responsible parent when she stops being an obedient daughter. When she finally understands that she is creating something different from what her parents created. When she begins to build her island not to their specifications but to hers. When she finally understands that it is not her duty to convince everyone on her island to accept and respect her and her children. It is her duty to allow onto her island only those who already do and who will walk across the drawbridge as the beloved, respectful guests they are.”
You get to choose who is invited to your island. And who stays. Many of my clients come to me with strained relationships, unclear of how to proceed. It’s not easy to create the boundaries of your island, but the longstanding effects are worth it.
Like many of you, we have those challenging individuals in our lives , some whom my child has chosen to continue relationships with and some not, some whom I have chosen to continue relationships with and some not. But either way, we have house rules for our island. This is how it looks on our island:
My son has a few people he is willing to tolerate misgendering him, one of whom is his father. He also does not want the conflict of me correcting his father around him. I respect that. But I have also communicated to his father that misgendering will not occur in our home or he will not be welcome within it. I limit communication to what is needed and allow my child to be in charge of his own relationship with him.
I am the point of contact and information for most of the adults in my child’s life per his request. So I’m usually the one sharing his name and pronouns. When doing so, I let people know that we are aware they will slip up and make mistakes. Everyone does. Just correct yourself and move on. No extended apologies required.
And for those who don’t or won’t correct themselves? For the most part I have a 1-2-3 system that begins after I’ve provided the initial information.
1. “Remember when we talked last? His name is ____ and he uses the pronouns he/him/his. Thanks.” I keep it short and sweet. We all forget. It’s human.
2. “It’s really important that you use my child’s name and pronouns. Using the correct name and pronouns are not only respectful of my child but suicide prevention tools for him and every other transgender person. When you slip up, would you mind correcting yourself?” I wait for an answer. I have yet to have someone (besides my ex husband) refuse but have had a few that have been outwardly unsupportive and continue to deadname.
3. “My son’s name is _____ and his pronouns are he/him/his. For him and other transgender individuals, this is an issue of not just respect, but dignity and life. I’d like to discuss it so we can decide if you are a healthy person in his life. ”
This is just my way. No right or wrong about it. The important part is that you have the conversations and have the necessary support for YOU to move forward with confidence and love. For we can only love others with the capacity we have to love ourselves. And we can only model the confidence we want our children to have by first having that confidence.
I know it’s not easy. Not only have I been there, I have coached dozens of parents and supporters like you. I can help you develop your own system based on self confidence and love. Just click here to schedule a time to talk. Together, we’ve got this!