Being a Parent of a Gender-fluid Youth

My child, assigned female at birth, is discovering who they are. They have been gay, straight, pansexual, and everything in between. They have been male, female, both, and neither. They go by both their given name and the name they chose for themselves as a male.

They use the men’s restroom in public and have a “boy” haircut, but still love flowy dresses they can twirl and feel pretty in. They bind their breasts when they feel like a boy, but wear a basic bra when they feel like a girl. They don’t wear a bikini to the pool, but rather a swim shirt and trunks to feel the most comfortable in their skin.

“I am incredibly proud of the person my child is becoming and look forward to all the things they will accomplish.”

Since they now identify as both genders, but more often male, they chose the label gender-fluid. Gender-fluid means “denoting or relating to a person who does not identify themselves as having a fixed gender,” as from the Google dictionary.

Even though they now fit into one of the many labels available to them, it has been hard for me to accept the loss of my little girl. I have felt confusion and fear, sometimes so strangulating I fight back tears. Confusion as to whether I did something wrong in their younger years, or if there was something I could have done better to help them accept the gender they were born in. As I’ve had time to reflect, it has become apparent to me that my confusion came from a place of misunderstanding. An ignorance of how gender expression can be more than just male or female; that androgyny is an expression of gender as well, and there are many ways to explore gender other than simply what I grew up to accept. I have come to understand my child and I are on a path of self-discovery together, learning and growing into more well-rounded people as a result.

As such, I grapple with these feelings less often now, as my child brought up transitioning entirely from female to male a year ago, but the doubt and foreboding creep in as often as I allow myself to watch the news and there is another story of a young transgender person violently attacked flashing across the screen. I want my child to live in a world where they are free to be themselves, but the many stories I learn about society denying gender nonconformity are a sobering reminder that the outside world hasn’t caught up yet.

What are you supposed to say when your daughter wants to be your son? I love you, first and foremost, but what about after that? How do you talk about the life-or-death dangers of this world or the dread you feel in the pit of your stomach when you think about the school bullies, while keeping your child from a permanent sense of terror and ensuring their self-expression stays intact? The solutions I have found are in communication, love, and in my chosen family. My child and I talk often on ways they can continue to be themselves while staying safe, such as reporting bullies to teachers when they are at school. I also communicate with the school to ensure we are a united front and my child’s well-being is paramount. We also talk about how others’ reactions to them could be negative and how to handle it appropriately, with communication and nonviolence.

What are you supposed to do when your family is having a hard time adjusting to your queer child? I continue to love my child with all that I am as best as I know how. I maintain a working relationship with my child, who loves me unconditionally, and do everything I can to emulate that and provide them with a safe place to be themselves. I stand up for them against family that is having a hard time accepting my child’s new identity by reminding them my child is still the same lovable, outgoing, and excitable person they have always been — now they are just growing into an adult, as we have all had to do. If this is not enough, the offending family member’s contact with my child is minimized. I want my child to grow up in a supportive environment, and if that means people have to be extracted from our lives, then that is how it will be.

My child is a spunky ball of energy, steadfast in their beliefs, and always willing to stand up for themselves or others when an injustice is happening. I want that tenacity to flourish as they grow older, and if I continue to raise them in a supportive environment, this should be the case. I am incredibly proud of the person they are becoming and look forward to all the things they will accomplish between now and adulthood, and beyond.

I lean on my chosen family that accepts us as we are for guidance when I am lost. I go to them when I cannot come up with equitable solutions for my child’s needs, such as the pros and cons of binding and how to address dating. Together, we come to decisions, such as how to teach my child in a safer, more accepting environment like home-school, to help my child continue to grow. We also go to my child’s extra-curricular functions as a group as a sign of solidarity and support.

I know love and family cannot fix everything, every time. A person needs patience, a willingness to understand, an ability to empathize, and a strong will to defend themselves and their young one against a society that chooses not to understand, chooses to make our children feel like outcasts. We have to be willing to keep fighting for what and who we believe in until our society catches up to where it should be. We must hold our schools and leaders responsible for ensuring our world is all-inclusive and fair to everyone, regardless of how a person identifies themselves.

I cannot emphasize enough for any other parents going through the ups and downs of gender identity with their children the importance of continuing to accept your child in the face of societal hostility, to love them with everything you have, and to lean on your tribe when the external force of transphobia feels like too much. I know it can feel hopeless and daunting, but our kids will grow up, and by giving them a strong support network, they will be equipped to enter adulthood with the tools to chip away at the forces of transphobia, the turbulence of their childhoods just a memory.