PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Experts say there’s been an increasing number of adults and children coming out as transgender or gender non-conforming. They say part of the reason more people feel comfortable coming out is that society is generally becoming more accepting.
For children, a big part of how comfortable they feel with revealing this information about themselves has to do with the acceptance of their parents.
Dr. Danielle Moyer, director of psychology for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital’s gender clinic, and Jenn Burleton, program director of the TransActive Gender Project at Lewis & Clark College, say there are essential things parents can do when their children come out to them to make their kids feel more comfortable.
The first thing both of them say parents should do is listen.
“I think there’s a pull to react and to see ‘what should my reaction be?’ But I recommend sort of stepping back and actually listening and seeing what your child is saying,” Moyer said.
Burleton said parents should know that their child probably spent a long time thinking about coming out before speaking to their parents. She said it’s important to understand that what they’re sharing is an authentic experience.
Parents should make sure their children know that they have love and acceptance no matter what, Moyer said.
After a child comes out, Moyer and Burleton agree that parents should work to educate themselves and find supportive resources.
Burleton emphasized the importance of parents seeking out reliable sources of information. She said there are people out there working to spread disinformation or extreme political or religious views that can make the truth more difficult to find.
One primary piece of misinformation being spread is claims that children are given “sex change drugs” and medical operations at a young age.
“That is absolutely a falsehood. That is absolutely a lie,” Burleton said. “There is no pre-pubertal medical intervention that is either being given or that is appropriate with relationship to trans-affirming care.”
She said pre-pubertal support primarily involves kids making a social transition, where they start using a gender-affirming name, the pronouns they prefer, and where they’re allowed to dress and present themselves in a way that corresponds with their gender identity.
At the time of puberty, pubertal suppression is an option and doctors say it is safe.
To ensure families receive accurate and reliable information, Moyer and Burleton suggest they join support groups for families of transgender children or reach out to organizations like TransActive that can help guide them.
When asked if parents should ever expect their children to re-transition back to their birth gender, Moyer and Burleton said this is extremely rare.
Research conducted by Princeton University and published in the journal Pediatrics in May 2022 found that 5 years after children made their social transition, 94% of them continued to identify as binary transgender youth.
Moyer said the biggest protective factors for transgender youth are their parents’ support, using their chosen name and pronouns and providing them access to medical care if they want. She said doctors have noticed that kids who have tried to suppress their gender identity have experienced just as much, if not more bullying than kids who were accepted by their parents.
She reminds parents that connecting children to a gender clinic doesn’t have to involve medical care. She said gender clinics also support the social mental health of transgender youth.
Burleton said the advice she gives to parents applies to friends and extended family members as well.
“If you love your friend, if you love your family member, then it should be extremely important to you that what their experience of identity is, is far more important than what your experience of observing or perceiving their identity is,” she said.
She said we are currently living in one of the scariest times for transgender people, and if transgender children aren’t allowed to grow and thrive in an accepting environment, then she fears this generation could be lost.