Before we begin, I want to thank you. If you’re here, you’re trying. I say it often that the parents of transgender children that I get to meet in my work are my favorite people. Because you’re seeking. Because you are learning. I doubt you were prepared for the moment your child came out to you as trans, or hinted that they might be. That’s not something that shows up in parenting books or conversations with your mom.
Your presence here, reading this, means something. I hope it means that you’re ready to hear. I want you to know that even though I’m writing this into the world that if you are reading this, I love you and I want nothing more than the best for you and your child. Some of what we’re going to talk about below might feel harsh on you as a parent. Some of what I say may feel stern. But none of it, not a word, is pointless.
This article exists to give you a place to start. It is a crudely drawn map, and I pray with every ounce of my heart that the words that I’m able to put down here are enough to give you confidence to take the steps your child needs you to make. So even if you find my words cruel or unkind, I hope you understand that they are backed by love and my personal history as a trans woman and the years of research and work I did to make it this far in my life. It’s basic. You will need to fill in the blanks, and you will need help to do so: help from your child, help from the trans community, help from medical professionals, and help from your community.
“My son just came out to me as trans. How do I help him?”
Let’s make some assumptions about you. You’re here, reading this, so let’s assume you care about your child and treating them right. Let’s assume you’re confused and you’re looking for where to start. Let’s assume that your relationship with your child matters very much to you.
In online trans spaces, this is one of the most common statements we hear from trans people: “my son came out to me, what do I do to help him.” The parent who immediately goes looking for help, guidance, and understanding is good in this case. The decision to learn more, to be there for your child, is probably the first and most important decision you’ll make. Everything else comes from that. Unfortunately, getting started is often very frustrating and confusing for parents, who typically find themselves in trans inclusive spaces asking questions in a way that confuses at best and offends at worst. So let’s talk about how to talk about your newly out trans child.
NOTE: For simplicity (and I hope you’ll understand why), I’m going to stick with using the example of an AMAB child who has come out as a trans woman. This isn’t to prefer one group over the other; it’s a way to reduce the complexity of this piece so that we aren’t blending pronouns and anecdotes in a way that might cause even more confusion. If your child has come out as a trans boy/man or as non-binary to you, you’ll need to adjust your language.
So let’s start with the language first. You’re going to need to adjust your vocabulary unless you want to enter trans spaces and get corrections almost entirely on your vocabulary. You might be saying to yourself at this point, “don’t trans people understand what I mean when I say ‘my son is transgender?’” And the truth is we probably do, but every one of us remembers what it’s like to have to try so hard to get our parents to acknowledge our identities that when you flub the language at this point, most trans people are going to start with your language because acceptance is so crucial to your trans child.
So let’s say your “son” came out to you, and it turns out your “son” is a transgender woman. You have two options here: you can switch to neutral pronouns, or you can start using the more common feminine ones (she/her) and adjust your language accordingly. You might not know your child’s pronouns yet! You might not even know their identity yet! That’s ok for you not to know stuff right now, but when your child came out to you as trans, the first thing they were telling you is, “You don’t have a son, I am something else to you.”
So step 1 is to stop referring to them as a son. The sooner you put that behind you, the better this is all going to be for you.
If you have it in your power, the first question you should ask your child is how they’d like to be referenced. If they’re teenage or above, the odds are good that they know their pronouns and even probably a name they prefer to be called. They’ve probably been using this name and those pronouns for a while online and with your friends. It’s rare that children that age first come out to their parents. Even if the new name and pronouns sit odd with you, the cost of you not trying right now is very high.
Your kid is paying attention to all of your first instincts. They’re going to have a lot to tell you. You are teaching them a lot about you. Your reactions here are teaching your child who you are when it comes to them telling you who they are. So do yourself, and your child, a massive favor and don’t sabotage your relationship with them by putting your ego first. Trust them first. Follow their lead. That starts with pronouns and names and identities.
If your “son” comes to you and says she’s your daughter, the first and most important step to take is to celebrate the arrival of your daughter.
And what if they are very young? The first step is the same. Teach your child you will address them how they see themselves, not how you imagine them. This applies if they’re four years old or 30. No harm is done by giving your child space in this way. You can teach them you aren’t safe or trustworthy by not giving them that space. Society is going to try to control them enough without their parents being the first ones to take a crack at it. Be on your child’s team here.
So, to reiterate. Step 1, the most critical step, is to get your identities right. You thought you had a son. You had a daughter, and you didn’t know it. The sooner you can acknowledge and digest this realization, the better your relationship with your child is going to be.
A Brief Aside About Terms
You’ll hear some common acronyms (mtf or male-to-female, ftm or female-to-male) as you begin your research into the trans community. You should endeavor not to use these. They’re older terminology that saddles your child with an untrue history about them.
You’ll learn that these terms have been replaced with newer versions: AMAB or assigned-male-at-birth and AFAB or assigned-female-at-birth. Both of these acronyms are MORE true. Your child was born, your child received an assignment that was documented, and that documentation has put them on the path that they’re on today, right? So these are better and more honest.
You shouldn’t use them either. (Unless it’s entirely necessary.)
In most instances, your child’s assignment at birth just really, genuinely doesn’t matter outside of getting them proper medical treatment. It’s commonplace for people to start using these terms, but what you’re telling us about them is their genitals — and I promise we don’t actually care.
So wait… if you can’t say what they were assigned, how can you talk about them? It’s enough to say “trans girl” if your child was AMAB and “trans man” if they were AFAB. If your child is non-binary in some way, then it’s better to use more neutral language, though a lot of children like to be called “enby.”
And there are more terms you should learn to avoid now:
“Transwoman” and “transman” are nefarious attempts to create a new noun for trans people so that they don’t have access to resources meant for “real women” or “real men.” These words are meant to other trans people, to stop us from being acknowledged in our true gender.
Trans is an adjective that modifies the noun man/woman. Even that word is not always necessary, and most times it isn’t necessary at all! It is enough to call your trans daughter just your daughter without qualifying that with “trans.” When I introduce my partners, I don’t say “Oh, this is my tall girlfriend,” or “This is my short girlfriend,” or “This is my red-haired partner.” I just say their names and who they are to me. Transness is like that. It doesn’t need to be announced continuously.
That’s not to say it’s unimportant. It is very important. But it’s not always essential and necessary for others to know. Announcing that about your child can be dangerous to them.
You should also get acquainted with the term “cis.” You’re probably cisgender. What that means is that you are the gender you were raised as and assigned at birth. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not a slur. It is not an insult. It is a fact about you, and that’s all.
But What About My Son/Daughter?
It’s so common for people to begin a sort of grieving process when their child comes out. You have all these memories of them. You don’t know where to put that now. Were you always reading them wrong? How much have you hurt them already? How should you think about who you knew them to be?
And what of all your hopes? Every parent I know has glorious visions of who their child might be when they grow. You’ve raised them, right? You’ve watched them grow, and you saw them heading in one direction, and you prepped and planned mentally for that with humor and grace. “Oh, he’s going to grow up to be a lawyer,” you’ve muttered under your breath when your child found a loophole in your brilliant parenting.
And now that child, the one who was going to be a lawyer, you’ve lost them in your mind. You don’t know who this child is, you realize. You’ve never known. Have you?
I came out to my father a bit before my 31st birthday. I’d been transitioning for several months. The last time he’d seen me in person, I was 193 pounds with a full beard. Here we were, sitting at a table together at a hibachi-style steak house, and I was 135 pounds and starting to grow breasts. We were reminiscing at the table, and I made a crack, “Oh, you know me, I always…” and my father cut me off.
“I’m not sure I do.”
Those words sit on my heart like ice on roses after a cold snap. Because I realized he didn’t know me. He lost a son, the son he imagined, and he didn’t know his daughter yet. I’ve never forgotten that, that instant reaction of his. I don’t know if I ever will or if I ever can. I love my father. Our relationship has gotten much better, but that was hard to hear, and it did not make me confident in me getting to keep my family.
Here’s what I’m not going to tell you to do. I’m not going to ask you to swallow down those feelings of grief. You don’t have to eat your confusion and let it consume you. Your sense of loss, while not tangible, is understandable.
It’s just really, entirely, not your child’s problem, and you cannot let them see it. Get help in other ways, find counseling and support, read books, join supportive groups with trans people where you can see trans folks talking about their stories. Whatever you do, do not be the cold snap. Do not let your words be the ice on the roses. Your child needs warmth from you.
Even as a trans person, I can suss out that feeling of grief. I can understand where it comes from. The difference is that I’ve seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of trans people grow from the people folks imagined into the people they actually are.
If you can’t trust your child, trust me. Every single day I work with other trans people to educate cis people. Every single day I meet trans people who just came out. The person you thought you knew was only a seed growing the beautiful, fantastic person your child is about to become. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. You don’t know this new child, you’re right, but I promise you you’re about to witness something beautiful in them if you nurture them.
I’ve seen it so many times. Someone will join a group I’m in, and they will be sad and struggling and depressed. The group of people, trans people, will give that person — someone’s child — warmth and encouragement and acceptance. What happens next is fantastic every time and reliable as a sunrise.
They start to put down roots and branch out, exploring the words and ideas they need to give them strength to go into the world. Those roots grab onto the labels and terms they need, and they come to conclusions like “Oh wow, I’m a trans woman.” And then they start coming out, and you’re on their list…
So are you going to be the sun that helps your child grow or the cold snap that holds them back? That’s your choice. It’s a simple one. Simplicity can be cruel. You have to make a choice who’s going to feel that cruelty: you or your child. What your child needs to see from you is warmth, and what you need to understand is that your child is going to be ok. Get acclimated with trans people, hear our stories. I know it’s hard to hear right now, but what you “lost” if you lost anything at all, was a tragic story.
If I’d been forced to keep pretending to be a man, my parents would never have had the child they imagined. To be blunt, they’d have had a corpse. They’d have had a funeral. They’d have all of those photos and memories that they don’t know where to put now. They’d still be asking those questions, and they’d be asking what they missed.
Please don’t bury a child in your mind or your heart. That grief, that’s not a response to loss. It’s a response to change that you don’t understand. Endeavor to understand. Get so familiar with all of our stories that you know that you as a parent gained someone amazing in your life when your child came out.
And coming out to you? That was a gift your child gave you. It’s beautiful. Coming out is a sign of trust. It’s a sign that your child wants you there. It’s a sign of love and vulnerability. Your child is trusting you to see the real, honest them, the person they’ve worked so hard to protect until now. Will you accept that gift and put it in its proper place in your heart?
I hope so.
And again, what if your child is young? We hear from so many people whose children are 4-8 years old. What then? Really the process is the same, right? At some point, they trusted you with this about them, but your choice matters even more here because you will establish the pattern of how they interact with you in the future. Trust me, if your child tells you who they are and your response is any version of, “no, you aren’t,” you’re going to be the last person to hear who they are down the road.
Don’t Be The Philosoparent.
Let’s be honest with each other. You probably don’t understand “that whole transgender thing.” You’re about to go through some culture shock, and there is no way anyone can spare you from it. You’re about to see a lot of power structures that were invisible to you. You’re going to see a lot of walls you used to think were windows. You should lean into this part.
You probably don’t understand gender. A lot of parents obsess over what it means to be a man or a woman. It’s ok. You’re about to learn that all of that certainty you had about gender was provided for you on the back of forms and media was misguided. They told you a simple story about people: that they fit in easy little boxes and that the human experience in this way is simple. You’ve never had to look at gender.
You have some options here.
You can either dedicate yourself to learning why everything you’ve been taught is not what you think. You can just accept it and go with the flow. Or you can choose to stand firm on “gender is between your legs” style rhetoric. If you do the latter, you are going to destroy your relationship with your child.
You decide if feeling like you’re right is more important to you than your child.
Build a Support Network
As a parent to a trans child, you are going to need a support network. You need more than a network to give you space for your feelings — you need a network to support you in making right decisions.
You need a place to share your successes, your hurts, your wins, and your setbacks. You also need a place that can help you answer tough questions or give you useful guidance. We in the community will always stress that your child should be in charge of their body, but you as a parent still need to guide them and help them make good choices. That means you need to know what good choices look like — and right now you probably don’t. That’s ok.
That’s why you should start joining good and reputable groups where you can get information. It’s why you should start learning what voices have useful information on trans topics and which ones are propaganda. Trust the trans community. Nobody wants your child to hurt. Everyone wants your child to feel whole.
I’ll include some groups that I find reputable and sound at the end of the piece, one of them I help administrate.
Center Your Child’s Health and Happiness.
This is a short bullet point, but it’s very tempting to start thinking things like, “How am I going to explain this to…” or “This is going to be embarrassing.” This isn’t about you, and if you find yourself centering your personal narrative, take that moment to realign and make sure you’re focused where you need to be: on helping your child.
You might be so scared that you’re tempted to delay your child’s transition until they’re 18 to put the decisions on them, “when they’re ready.”
This is tantamount to torture. I don’t usually use such strong language but listen to trans people on this one. If you force a child to live in a body that is mutating into something they hate because of your fears or ignorance, or a desire not to have to make decisions for them in this way, you will do irreparable harm to your child and they will suffer for the rest of their life.
Which brings us to talking about transition.
Let’s Talk About Transition.
A lot of this conversation we’re about to have won’t matter if your child is an adult. If your child is over 18, these decisions may very well be out of your hands and entirely in theirs. You should be supportive, though.
But what’s next? Your child’s come out. You’ve accepted this gift from them. Now what? It’s at this point that a parent usually turns to, “Oh my god. What’s next? What do I do to help my child?”
There are three significant parts to transition for every trans person: legal, social, and medical. Most parents fixate on the medical portion: they worry about hormones and surgeries, but all three parts are vital.
At the risk of reinforcing that fixation, let’s talk about medical stuff first.
Shall we clear the air on hormones? If your child is very young, they will not be given hormones unless there is some other medical necessity not related to transition. At around age 10-12, with guidance from a medical professional, hormone blockers may be introduced.
This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide, just enough to get you started. In the United States, hormone blockers are issued to prevent a child going through a puberty that may leave them permanently changed in irreversible ways that will make them very sick. The two most common types of hormone blockers are histrelin acetate and leuprolide acetate.
There’s a lot of propaganda related to giving children hormones blockers. A lot of places will tell you to read the side effects (and you should), but you should always in your mind be comparing these potential side effects to the consequences of allowing your child’s puberty to begin as it would normally.
The cost:benefit on these treatments is terrific, and you should listen to your doctor, but what these medicines will do is buy you and your child and your doctors’ time to make good choices for your child.
Your child may also be prescribed anti-androgen medications if they were assigned male at birth.
Hormones and Other Medicines
If your child is very young, they will not be given these unless there is some dire medical need not related to their transition.
When your child hits an appropriate age (usually between 14-18 years old), your medical team might start talking about when it’s acceptable to begin HRT to start puberty for your child in the right way.
This is not a decision made lightly by any medical team, parent, or even child. All hormones, whether they’re body-grown or store-bought, will eventually cause permanent and irreversible changes in bodies. That’s kind of the point. The questions at this point are more about how your child is doing acclimating to social roles and if they’re living comfortably in their gender and presentation.
If your child is older, and already in or going through puberty, they may insist on medically transitioning before beginning social transition. This is to protect them, and it’s common for adults to be months or even years into HRT before they come out. Your child may want to begin medical transition but move schools or continue using their deadname (the name they used before transition) when at school for their safety and convenience.
And that sort of brings us to the other points.
When your child is very, very young (4-10 years old), this is the dominant part of the transition. Social transition means different clothes, using a different name, and usually a change in hairstyle. That’s. It. This is the biggest and most important part for young children. Do not listen to people who suggest transition for youth in this age bracket means pumping a young child full of hormones. That’s simply untrue, and it’s propaganda designed to scare you. Do not let people scare you into hurting your child.
Social transition happens in conjunction with schools, teachers, friends, sports teams, and what have you. Depending on where you live, this might go smoothly or not so smoothly.
Legal transition involves name changes and changing gender markers. Anything you’d want to do here is reversible— It’s just dull, time-consuming, and sort of expensive. Also, you might have to deal with lawyers, and that may very well be the most painful part of this whole process. Once you’ve settled on names for your child, it’s ok to start the process of changing their name if they feel certain. That’ll usually set you back a couple hundred dollars, depending on where you live.
Concerning changing gender markers, the criteria for this are different from state to state. Surgical changes may be required before this can change, and it is almost impossible to get genital reconfiguration surgery done before age 18. So you may not be able to change gender markers for your child depending on where they live.
So Now You’re Ready To Start Learning.
This isn’t everything. It can’t be. You’re going to learn so much about your child, and the world, in the upcoming months and years that no article on a trans advocate’s website could even begin to touch on. This was enough to help you get started and to understand what you need to research.
You will have to adapt. There will be medicines to research, surgeries to understand, treatments to explore. Your child will possibly need therapy to give them tools to adapt as they start to shift roles in society and endure the shock that can bring.
Be flexible here. Be ready to learn. Your relationship with your child is going to depend on your learning some new skills that you weren’t expecting to learn. Your child’s health is going to depend on your willingness to challenge what you think you know.
If you’re reading this, there’s a reason. Your child is the reason. You’re reading this because you care about them. You’re reading this because you want to make the right steps for them.
Your North Star has to be your child. Let them guide you. Take in all the information you can find from reputable and good sources and understand that sometimes reputable doesn’t mean scientists. There’s not always proper research on trans topics. Sometimes you have to be willing to accept guidance from the lived experience of trans people. Most of the time, we’re trying to prevent you from hurting your child in the ways we were hurt because we see ourselves in your child in a way.
When your North Star can’t be your guide, I hope this map will help you know what your next steps look like.
When you care for your trans child, you have the full warmth and love of the trans community behind you.
Be well. Thank you again. Together with your trans child, you’re changing the world and making it more beautiful.
Love, Evey Winters (and every trans person who’s rooting for your success)