Transgender Children: Frequently Asked Questions

Stephanie Grant compiled the following frequently asked questions and recommended reading for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

1. How do kids know they're transgender?

Trans children know who they are the same way we know who we are. Imagine you go into the hospital for a minor operation; you wake up to find that by some horrible error you've mistakenly been given a full sex-change operation. Do you think that just because your body now looks like the opposite sex you will ever be comfortable living as a man or a woman? This is the only way those of us who "match" (our brain development and our biological body are congruent) can relate. At no point, regardless of how happy the child looks, is the child truly comfortable in his or her body or with his or her expected social roles. The only recourse for these children is to dress as they identify and hope that no one remembers what is really under their clothes.

2. Isn't it easier to teach your child how to be a boy (or a girl)?

Not for the child. Trying to teach a trans child how to be the opposite of how he or she feels is like trying to teach a nontrans child the same. All you are really doing is teaching them how society expects them to behave based on their genitalia, which also comes with a number of ramifications. First and foremost, this track further emphasizes trans gender children's hatred of their bodies. Telling a child "You are a boy -- you have a penis" (or the opposite for a female-to-male child) just reinforces the feelings of discomfort. This "hatred of their body" often leads to eating disorders, self-mutilation and suicide.

And even if you could successfully teach "proper expected behaviors," you end up sending mixed messages when you attempt to teach your child right from wrong when dealing with peer pressures. How do you successfully teach your child how to be who others expect and also try to teach your child not to be pressured into acting like "all the other kids" when the behavior is wrong? Teaching your child to "be what others expect" is contrary to developing a good sense of conscience and self-esteem.

3. How do I tell my family?

Keep your family informed and involved from the beginning. By supporting your child and allowing him or her to express in front of others, you avoid the "bombshell." Your family will become the most important part of your child's team.

If you have already hidden these behaviors and feelings, then bring family members up to speed with as much history as you can. Then give them time to adjust and absorb. Remember, you didn't "get it" at first either. Do not expect people to accept this within one or two conversations; time and patience will play a huge part in the transition.

Finally, get educated. Help family members understand that your child is not alone nor are you the only family faced with openly raising a trans child. There is wonderful documentation out there to help family, schools, pediatricians and others understand. A great place to start is www.trans family.org.

4. Aren't there problems in school?

Yes. But the most serious problems are those associated with not allowing your child to "be who they are." Most children born gender dysphoric suffer from high levels of social anxiety and attention deficit disorder. When a child needs to spend so much time focusing on "acting in a way that pleases others," the child finds little energy left to relax and be attentive in school.

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