The Experience of Parents Who Support Their Children's Gender Variance

A study outlining the struggles and needs of parents in supporting their trans youth.

Published in: Journal of LGBT Youth.  2015.  Authors: Annie Pullen Sansfaçon, Marie-Joëlle Robichaud & Audrey-Anne Dumais- Michaud

“Many parents need support in managing stigma and efficiently advocating on their children’s behalf as well as accessing information and specialized services or educating others (such as service providers) about their children’s needs and experiences. Wren’s (2002) interviews with parents of gender-variant teenagers revealed that how parents understood their children’s transgenderism is iteratively linked to their capacity for acceptance.” 

“Wren (2002) identified several successful coping strategies of accepting parents, such as confiding in at least one person, contacting a support group, or seeking help from professionals. Also, Grossman and D’Augelli (2007) found a need for interventions, such as educational programs for parents and caregivers aimed at understanding their child, psychoeducational programs for transgender youth to help them understand their bodily changes during puberty and/or transition, and training programs for mental health professionals to assist them in reducing the youth’s distress.”

“… Participants expressed a need to embrace their child’s identity and support any form of exploration, explaining how they felt they had to “deal with what you’re given.” The drive to mobilize themselves to support their children was grounded in the parents’ desire to protect them from the worst consequences experienced by many gender-variant children and youth—namely, bullying, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide.”

“…their acceptance did not occur overnight. Participants in the group narrated a process of adaptation that took time and was full of pitfalls. Most recognized that they were shocked when they first realized their child was gender variant… There were clearly challenges associated with acceptance. Parents expressed being constantly pressured by social reactions to their child’s gender identity and sometimes felt as though their private and public lives were in conflict.”

“For the participants, being trans—or being the parents of a trans child—comes at a price, and participants were fully aware of it. Transphobia is so present in society that some participants were apprehensive about being identified with the trans community. Indeed, some of the struggles related to the parents’ own acceptance of the child is linked to the judgment of others: Some participants felt uncomfortable discussing gender creativity with their neighbors, friends, and family. Being affirmative of their child’s preferred gender may come at a great personal expense.” 

“… While parent experiences may not come close to the experiences of gender-variant and transgender people themselves in terms of nonrecognition, our findings nevertheless indicate a need to understand that parents experience challenges while supporting and protecting their children, and that greater visibility and recognition is needed for parents as well.” 

“… practitioners working with families containing gender-variant children should facilitate networking among these families so that parents may exchange information and support one another’s development of best practices in parenting a gender-variant child. Finally, as the present study has shown, parents invited to participate in empowering forms of intervention can mobilize themselves. Practitioners can draw from this study to initiate opportunities for support and also action toward challenging oppressive structures that contribute to the challenges these families experience. As highlighted throughout, when presented with empowering interventions, parents possess the requisite skills and knowledge to act on their own behalf.”