The LGBT Health & Development Program

Family Blog—The Importance of Being An Ally to Your Transgender Child


Posted on August 12th, 2015 by IMPACT in Families Blog, Featured. No Comments

Written by Lingxiao Song, IMPACT intern.

mother embracing gender non-conforming child

Sharon Mattheson-McCutcheon, “Mom and Child,” July 27, 2013

Coming out as transgender (trans) can be a difficult process for transgender youth. It can be a difficult time for family, as well. Many families are not sure how they should react when they learn their child is transgender. Some react with anger, disappointment, sadness, or distrust. Some react with loving acceptance. What is the best way to respond to your trans child’s coming out? Recent studies show that an accepting and supportive family has long-term positive impacts on transgender youth’s health and well-being [1].

Some definitions: By “transgender” and “trans” we mean a person who feels their gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. To have a better understanding of gender-related terms, such as gender identity, check out our Being a Transgender Ally blog and Gender Identity Map.

Why is family support so important?

According to a recent study of transgender youth between ages 16 to 24, youth who reported having a very supportive family show these positive effects:

  • Better physical and mental health
  • Higher self-esteem and life satisfaction
  • More likely to find adequate housing
  • Lower rates of depression, suicide attempts, and risk of HIV and other STIs during adulthood [2].

This research has found no real difference in trans children’s health outcomes between families being somewhat supportive and those that are not supportive at all. This suggests that strong, genuine support is needed to have a positive effect on your child’s well-being.

What does it mean to be supportive to your transgender child?

  • Unconditional love:  Accept and support their gender identity and sexual identity even when you feel uncomfortable. Coming out as transgender is difficult because most children have learned to feel that being transgender is weird or shameful from family, friends, or others [3].
  • Wanting the best for your child:  It means really listening to your trans child and hearing what they say about who they are as a person, what they need, and what transition decisions would make them happy [3].
  • Protecting your child from harm: Tell your child that you would be there for them if they were mistreated because of their transgender identity by peers in school or people in the community. Advocate for your child instead of name-calling or blaming them if they face gender-identity related harassment [3,4].

What are some supportive responses after your transgender child comes out?

  • Be patient. Respect their disclosure and confidentiality decisions.
  • Create a welcoming environment at home and at family events.
  • Be willing to call your child by the name and pronouns they choose. Introduce your child’s name change to your friends and family.
  • Pronouns such as “they/them” might seem confusing at first, and you might you accidentally use the wrong pronoun. What is more important is that you put effort into learning it.
  • Seek transgender family support groups. Learn about transgender-related research.
  • Make sure you tell your child that you LOVE them [1,3].

For an extensive list of resources for parents of transgender youth, download our Trans 101 Resource Guide for Parents and Families or visit our Info Center.

Like this article? Read more on our Youth Blog and Family Blog.
Interested in participating in research? Find out if you are eligible.
Looking for other ways to help? Show your support by donating to IMPACT.

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References:

[1] McGuire, J. K., & Conover-Williams, M. (2010). Creating spaces to support transgender youth. The Prevention Researcher, 17(4), 17-20.

[2] Travers, R., Bauer, G., Pyne, J., Bradley, K., Gale, L., & Papadimitriou, M. (2012). Impacts of strong parental support for trans youth: A report prepared for Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services. Trans Pulse, 1-5.

[3] Ryan, C. (2009). Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children. Retrieved from: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/sites/sites7.sfsu.edu.familyproject/files/FAP_English%20Booklet_pst.pdf.

[4] Ryan, C. (2014). A Practitioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 1-18.





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