Reaffirming My Transgender Child’s Identity is Not Child Abuse
Emotional abuse is just as real for children as it is for adults. As April is Child Abuse Prevention month, we must take this time to ensure that parents, caregivers, and other adults in children's lives, are acutely aware of the emotional dangers of denying children of their whole selves.
Bills are being considered and passed in states like Florida, Idaho, Texas, and my home state of Arizona that directly threaten the lives of our transgender children. Parents across the country are being accused of child abuse for following professional medical guidance and embracing their child’s gender identity. Caregivers who allow their transgender children to choose their name, use preferred pronouns, and consider puberty blockers to suppress puberty temporarily are increasingly threatened with criminal charges of child abuse.
42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
LGBTQ youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual identity, but they are at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society. When caregivers also feed into this narrative, we are causing further harm to the lives of our nation’s young people.
As the mother of a 13-year-old transgender son, I can personally vouch for the accuracy of these statistics. The experiences my son and I have shared over the last few years include suicidal ideations and self-harm, resulting in a prolonged hospital stay. The most frightening instance resulted from family member abuse simply because he was unwilling to wear a bridesmaid dress at a wedding. So, I have a passionate plea to the rest of the parents out there…
Respect and reaffirm your child’s identity.
All major medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, back gender-affirming care and, specifically, urge parents to support the identity expressed by their children. They guide parents to support their children and acknowledge that supporting gender-affirming care improves mental health and reduces suicide. We can save young lives with love, support, and understanding.
For parents, finding out that their child’s identity is changing can be confusing, and we can very easily get pulled into the thought process of “It’s just a phase.” However, we know that gender dysphoria that starts in childhood and worsens with the start of puberty rarely goes away.
Our trans youth deserve a welcoming and loving world. So, what can we do?
Only one-third of LGBTQ youth experience parental acceptance and, one-third suffer from parental rejection. We also know that transgender youth who feel accepted by the adults and peers in their lives have significantly lower odds of attempting suicide, and benefit from increased mental wellbeing. Our trans youth deserve a welcoming and loving world. Here are four ways that you can help a child you care about to navigate their lived experience.
- Educate yourself and others – start with this helpful guide from The Trevor Project on how to be a good ally.
- Recognize the warning signs of suicide and always take them seriously.
- Respect and use chosen names and pronouns. It is OK to forget sometimes but keep trying.
- Remind your child they are loved and respected and that you are a safe adult to talk to about anything.
Together, my son and I have created a safe and supportive space for him, including my ongoing education and understanding of transgender topics, his weekly therapy, LGBTQ affirming spaces for us to spend time in, and asserting boundaries around the family that has rejected him.
Supporting my sons’ identity as the spunky, artistic, authentic young man he is growing up to be is helping him build his emotional intelligence and resilience. Unfortunately, the world will continue to subject him to emotional abuse because of his identity. It is my opportunity as his mom to be his affirming safe space, free from emotional harm.
The Trevor Project is a wealth of scientific research and guidance on all things LGBTQ youth.
Fenway Health provides great talking points for conversations with others about your child.TAGS: #Children and Teens #LGBTQ+