“You Have to Give Them a Place Where They Feel Protected and Safe and Loved”: The Views of Parents Who Have Gender-Variant Children and Adolescents

A study on parent's experiences and feelings around their trans/'gender variant' youth. Sound familiar as a study topic? This study found that affirming these youth was initially difficult for some parents but ultimately led to better adjusted youth, and more close family relationships.

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Gender Dysphoria Affirmative Working Group

Journal of LGBT Youth. 2008. Darryl E. Hill & Edgardo Menvielle

“This study focused on the experiences of parents of gender-variant children and teens. The goal was to document issues faced by parents of kids with childhood gender-variant behaviors and/or gender-variant identity… Parents were asked for a history of their child’s gender, focusing on their experiences and their thoughts about how to parent gender-variant youth. Parents spoke about their gender beliefs, how they came to accept their child, and the main challenges they faced.”

“... Another mother of a five-year-old boy shared: ‘You have to love your kid unconditionally. And you have to love them even a little bit more I think when they’re like this, because they know they’re different… you have to give them a place where they feel protected, and safe, and loved, and free to be who they are or what they’re going to be.’ ”

“Such unconditional acceptance had a strong positive impact on her boy, according to a different mother: ‘if you’re there for them and they’re happy and they’re confident, they’re going to be much more successful at dealing with [kids who tease them] than if they’re not and if you’re not there.’ ”

“One mother of a five-year-old boy, at the urging of a psychologist discouraged her boy’s stereotypical feminine interests while rewarding masculine ones: ‘it was probably the most horrible thing we’ve ever put [him] through… I mean you can just imagine what a blow to self-esteem that is for anyone? A four-year-old… You just can’t do that.’ As a result, ‘He became so introverted that he wouldn’t even discuss the issue with us at all…. He would spent countless hours alone in this room... it’s like what you imagine of an adult depressive person. I would never, ever do that to him again.’ ”

“A mother of a five-year-old boy who had censored her son’s behavior found that ‘All I saw was that it created more tension in him, more bad behaviors… Because I think a lot of his bad behaviors were [due to] the fact that he felt so… different and he felt so bad about himself… And since we’ve really started giving him this freedom to be himself within our family unit, he’s been a much, much, happier litte guy and a much more easier going kid.’ ”

“This study sought to portray a nuanced view of the experiences and issues faced by parents of children and adolescents who display variant behaviors… [While parents] initially questioned their role in their child’s gender, some felt unconditional acceptance was important and most discussed strategies they used to ensure their child would be safe.”

“Upon reflecting on their earlier attitudes, some parents came to see their earlier gender-normalizing efforts as either harmful or futile…”

“… Hopefully this study will encourage further development of affirmative interventions for youth with gender-variant behaviors and more rigorous scientific studies…"