“Parenting Is Not a Job... It’s a Relationship”: Recognition and Relational Knowledge Among Parents of Gender Non-conforming Children


“Parenting Is Not a Job ... It’s a Relationship”: Recognition and Relational Knowledge Among Parents of Gender Non-conforming Children

A study on how parents understand, make sense of, and then advocate for their children’s needs, and how an affirming approach honors the needs of the individual, the family, and is based in individual and social justice.


Published in: Journal of Progressive Human Services.  2016. Author: Jake Pyne.

“A proliferation of social science studies and a burgeoning field of transgender studies have challenged the assumption that gender is the natural and mechanical expression of biological sex, exploring at length the discord between the medicoscientific knowledge of gender versus the historical and social realities of how gender is lived and embodied. Although this distinction may be self-evident to critical theorists, it remains a site of ongoing struggle in the lives of parents of gender non-conforming children.”

“Yet within the past decade, a different response has emerged publically. Supported by a number of mental health clinicians and advocates, some parents are taking an affirmative stance on gender non-conformity, supporting their children to express their felt sense of gender and advocating for their rights and inclusion in social life. In the face of opposition and disbelief, affirming parents support their children to live in non-prescribed gender locations and, at times, facilitate the social or medical transition to a new gender… [in this paper] I explore what participants’ knowledge might make possible, in contrast to the pathology approach to gender non-conformity. The affirming approach is proposed as a justice-based parenting practice.”

“… Proponents of the corrective-treatment approach have cited the prevalence of violence and other potentially painful life experiences as the rationale for conformity’s being best (Green et al., 1972; Zucker, 2006)… We hear concern for the brutal living conditions of gender non-conforming people, but we do not hear proposals for advocacy to challenge these conditions. Instead, what is made possible is the continued subjugation of gender non-conforming people in the name of their own interests. What is foreclosed is the possibility of social change.”

“… participants in this study responded to their children’s genders as subjective experiences of the childrens’, recognizing and learning this experience through relationship. By refusing to problematize their children, parents demanded places of belonging for their children, refocusing the gaze on the policies and practices of institutions. By searching out affirming communities and language, parents sought contexts in which their children’s differences could be valued. By “desacralizing” professional knowledge, they expanded ourways of knowing gender outside of medicalized discourse. By conceptualizing gender transition as a process of sense making and embodiment, they made possible a destigmatized reading of transgender subjectivity. By relinquishing authority over who their children could be, they challenged the framework of parenting-as-job and child-as-product. In responding to otherness without aggression, they opened the possibility of doing justice to difference.”

“… In closing, parents of gender non-conforming children encounter substantial conflict as they negotiate their children’s otherness. For decades, a pathologizing service model has advocated clinical correction (Zucker & Bradley, 1995; Zucker et al., 2012). In opposition, some parents adopt an affirming stance toward their children. This study explored the knowledge underneath this stance, asking parents of gender non-conforming children how they know what they know. Analysis revealed a process of recognition and a knowledge of the children’s needs acquired through relationship. Drawing on political philosophy and psychoanalytic theory, I argue that the affirming approach to gender non-conforming children is a non-aggressive response to the other and a justice-based parenting practice.”