Some parents think they know what’s best for their children, but this is not always the case. As children grow up, they encounter the world on their own, and these encounters shape who they are and what they believe in. When transgender individuals tell their parents their gender identity and preferred pronouns, some parents may not be aware that they are experiencing gender dysphoria. As a result, the parents might not accept their children unless they conform to their gender assigned at birth. Parents have to be informed that not accepting their children for who they are can have negative effects on their children’s mental health.
From October 2011 to March 2012, the Williams Institute at UCLA law, a research organization that focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, conducted a survey study with 354 agencies that work with homeless and runaway youth in the United States. Out of the 381 surveyed participants, 40% of them identify as LGBTQ. They found that the prominent reason why LGBTQ youth are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless was family rejection due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The second most frequent reason for LGBTQ youth homelessness was being forced to move out by their parents, also because of their sexual orientation or gender identity (Durso & Gates, 2012).
The homeless shelters that some transgender youth turn to because of family rejection may not be a safe option for them. The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) found that more transgender and non-binary individuals avoided the shelter system when compared to cisgender individuals. Problems with homeless shelters include transgender and non-binary people often getting misgendered, placement in a shelter that matches the gender on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity, and being recruited into sex work (Holder, 2019). If you are a parent with a child with gender dysphoria, before not accepting your child or forcing your child out of the house, it is crucial to consider the possible negative outcomes that can happen to your child outside in the streets or at a homeless shelter.
Additionally, family rejection can potentially lead to or increase the likelihood of suicide attempts and substance misuse among transgender youth. A study published in the LGBT Health journal found that out of the 3,458 transgender individuals surveyed, 42.3% of them experienced a suicide attempt and 26.3% utilized drugs or alcohol to deal with the gender dysphoria discrimination they have faced. The surveyed individuals reported the level of family rejection they experienced (low, moderate, or high), and those who reported high family rejection make up most of those statistics (Klein & Golub, 2016). Transgender individuals should not question their self-worth or blame themselves for their parents not accepting them. They did not do anything wrong; however, their parents probably grew up in a conservative household or they are not used to encountering members of the LGBTQ community.
Summer Luk, a transgender female, remembers feeling angry when her parents did not accept her gender identity. Over time, she forgave her parents when she realized that she was unaware of her parent’s conservative upbringing. “I think it’s common for kids to think of their parents as superheroes. As a result, it comes as a surprise to realize that beneath that superhero cape lies a person who has their limitations, who’s just doing the best they can with what they know”(Luk, 2017). After asking her parents questions, hearing their stories, and debating with them, she realized that her parents are afraid because they never had close friends that identified as LGBTQ, and they never saw positive portrayals of the LGBTQ community in the media. Although Luk acknowledges that her relationship with her parents is a work in progress, having conversations with them has been cathartic, and she is willing to continue talking and making progress with them (Luk, 2017). It is easy to hold a grudge against someone who has a different ideology than you, but Luk’s story reminds us that through communication, we can attempt to reach a mutual understanding with the person.
As a parent, it is important to realize that the life that you envision for your children may not make them happy. Some parents may believe that their child is going through a phase that will subside, but distress becomes perceptible when a child is denied an identity. Furthermore, sexuality and gender identity do not define a person. Having a preference for who you are attracted to and how you identify as does not change anything; you are still the child your parents raised. It is important for parents with children who have gender dysphoria to communicate with them, do research, and support their children. This plan of action may help youth with gender dysphoria in maintaining their overall well-being.
Durso, L. E., & Gates, G.J. (2012). Serving Our Youth: Findings from a National Survey of Service Providers Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth who Are Homeless or at Risk of Becoming Homeless. The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund and The Palette Fund.
Holder, S. (2019). Why There’s a Homelessness Crisis Among Transgender Teens. https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/08/youth-homeless-shelters-lgbtq-support-transgender-children/592855/
Klein, A., & Golub, S. A. (2016). Family Rejection as a Predictor of Suicide Attempts and Substance Misuse Among Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Adults. LGBT Health. https://doi.org/10.1089/lgbt.2015.0111
Luk, S. (2017). How I Forgave My Parents’ Rejection When I Came Out as Transgender. Retrieved from https://www.teenvogue.com/story/how-i-forgave-my-parents-transgender