Supporting Your Transgender Child after They Come Out
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Coming out is an extremely personal experience for someone who is LGBT+. Your child will end up having to come out time and time again, but it is important they act as the director to each of their coming-out stories. For information on the process of your child’s coming out, you can read our Coming Out to Parents and Friends as Transgender.
Once your child comes out to you, you are going to be faced with a lot of decisions, and it is very important to talk to your child about each step that you take with it. There are going to be times when you, too, may have to “come out” about having a transgender child. However, it is important to be careful who you tell and when you tell them.
Because coming out is such a personal experience, it should be your child who decides who, when and how they come out. It can be difficult not to say anything without your child’s consent, but it is a matter of your child’s comfort, sense of security and safety. It can be difficult to talk to your child about this, and it can be equally as difficult to handle your own feelings and opinions about what you should do. If your child wishes for you not to tell anyone, you may feel like you are deceiving people, or you may worry about someone finding out and reacting in the moment. You may think that by telling people you can avoid those who would be unaccepting and make sure your child doesn’t have to deal with them. On the other hand, if your child doesn’t mind who you tell, then you may worry about them becoming the “trans kid” or the “other” and being pushed to the edge of their peer social group. Either way, these concerns are just another part of parenting. The fact that you are worried for your kid is good, but this might be the one time where you don’t have to decide what is best for them; who, when and how they come out is a decision best left to your child.
There are times when it is necessary for you to come out on behalf of your child, but the extent to which you do this can vary, and it is still always an important discussion to have with your child beforehand. Some examples of times when it may be necessary to come out for your child include:
Most of the time, it is important for doctors to know that your child is transgender, especially when it comes to navigating insurance cards, name and pronouns. If your child has not started (or does not intent to start) hormone therapy, it is possible that you will not have to come out to a doctor for them. You should ask your child and explain that if you do not let the doctor know, then the doctor will call them by the name on their insurance card and will use the pronouns commonly associated with their gender assigned at birth. Let them know, if they want, you would be happy to talk to the doctor so their proper name and pronouns will be used during the visit.
If your child is currently undergoing hormone therapy or has had trans-related surgery before, that makes it more difficult to bypass letting the doctor know. If one of the doctor’s forms requires you to fill out current medications, you should put down the hormone therapy to be safe. Of course, this is likely to draw questions. Sometimes, you won’t know what to expect until the appointment happens, and you and your child may be questioned on the spot. It may be useful to have a protocol in place with your child beforehand as to how they would like on-the-spot times with doctors to be handled: whether you’ll respond and explain, or allow your child to respond on their own. Additionally, if your child has to go to the hospital for any reason, it is important to disclose their hormone therapy. Usually, this does not allow for in-advance conversations, so a protocol again becomes useful.
If your child wants to be called by their proper name and pronouns and be allowed to use the proper bathroom at school, you will have to talk with the school and come out for your child. However, not everyone has to know. It could be agreed that only the principal and nurse will know; or only the principal, nurse and your child’s direct teachers will know; or all faculty and staff will know, but no students; or everyone can know, students included. Those types of decisions are very important to discuss with your child, and it is also important to be very clear when making decisions with the school.
If you need help working with a school, please contact our education specialist. We can help you and the school make the experience as comfortable as possible for your child, and all future transgender students.
Similar to a school environment, overnight camps call for some disclosure if your child wants to be called by their proper name and pronouns and be assigned to rooming or allowed in bathrooms for their gender, but the extent to which it needs to be out in the open can vary. Notifying staff at overnight camps can be done at different levels. It is important to talk with your child about who they want to tell, as well as how they would like to navigate bunks, bathrooms, and different camp activities. Once you are on the same page as your child, you can reach out to the camp.
If your child prefers minimal disclosure, it can be helpful to at least find a few staff members who can create a supportive network should your child need anything while they are away. This will often include the camp counselor. If you need any assistance with how to navigate camps, feel free to contact our education specialist who can discuss options and strategies for setting up a safe and comfortable camp experience for your child.
It can be overwhelming to think about coming out to the whole family, especially if you have a large family. You and your child may share similar concerns about how other members of the family will react, and what would be the best way to let everyone know. It doesn’t have to happen all at once, though it can be important to think through the process to make sure people know in the order and under the circumstances that your child would like. Talking with the family about when and how to come out for your child is important to consider, too.
A good place to start is in coming out to members of the family whom you have a strong feeling will be supportive. By doing this, you can start building your inner support circle, which will not only be a comfort to you, but will likely give your child some ease if they are worried. Still, it is important to talk with your child about who they want to tell and how they would like it to happen.
For extended family with whom you and your child are not particularly close, or for those that you feel may have a negative response, you may consider writing a mass email. This is also a good way to handle things if in-person or phone conversations are not possible or are otherwise too anxiety-inducing. Be sure to talk to your child about whether or not they are OK with this option. If you decide to pursue an e-mail approach, Gender Spectrum has examples and templates you can follow, or you can contact our clinic for a more guided form of support.
Often, we establish close relationships with our colleagues. It is possible that your colleagues know you and your family pretty well, and, if that is the case, it can feel important to notify them. It can feel especially pressing if they have a tendency to ask things like “How is your son doing?” or “How old is your daughter now?” because they have known you since before your child came out to you. As always, it is important to talk with your child about how they would like you to handle the situation. If your child is detached from your work environment, you have a little more say in how to handle things than you do in other situations. Still, it is always important to have these discussions with your child.
Similar to how you may navigate your extended family, it can be helpful to start with colleagues who you know will be supportive. When sharing the fact that your child is transgender with colleagues, it would be wise to set boundaries regarding disclosure. If you are not telling everyone in your workplace, those you do tell should respect your privacy and keep this information to themselves.
Additionally, do not feel like you need to tell your colleagues. It can be difficult to figure out how someone is going to react and could require a lot of energy on your part should they have questions or have a less-than-supportive response. It is important to take care of yourself and your child, and if that means not disclosing this information, that is OK. Coming out is just as much about comfort and safety as it is about freedom and being one’s self.