Delving into the lives of transgender individuals and the hurdles they experience sheds light on numerous difficulties faced, mostly because of society’s reaction to their gender identity. This topic gets even messier when talking about trans children because how can such innocent beings already be aware of their sexuality? How can a boy who has been raised surrounded by blue, toy trucks, and dinosaurs suddenly feel like he’s a girl? We forget that all these are social constructs and that children have autonomy to decide what they like and dislike, what they feel like, and who they are. Nonetheless, we are part and parcel of this same society which has created these social constructs, and as members of this society, we too start to think of different clothes, toys, and nurseries based on the sex of the child.
So, when your 5-year-old son tells you that they are a girl, it not only challenges the very basis of your belief system but also your idea of your own child and the hopes and dreams you imagined. This can cause great pain and it’s important to understand that although your son is the one who is experiencing this turbulence in their gender identity, you still need time to accept this change.
It’s important to note that just because the child sometimes engages in gender nonconforming behaviour, it does not mean that they are transgender, unless this behaviour is consistent and the child keeps insisting that they are not the gender they were assigned at birth. According to a study by Olson (2013), children who have a strong gender identity that aligns with a different gender than they were assigned at birth, usually proceed to transition later on in life. By talking about transition, this does not solely refer to medical transitions, but also to pronouns and gender expression. It’s also worth mentioning that not every trans individual transitions or even wants to transition medically.
How can you be supportive?
- Your child will start to show you or tell you what they are feeling and it’s crucial that you don’t dismiss these messages. Despite your pain and fear of acknowledging the reality of the situation, avoiding the topic will not stop your child from exploring who they really are
- Acknowledge your child’s new gender and use gender-affirming behaviours, as these limit negative psychological effects which is evident in trans children whose parents express rejection
- Do not tolerate transphobic acts and call out hate when you come across it. Moreover, do not be afraid to correct people when they do not respect your child’s gender identity, for example, when they refer to them using incorrect pronouns
- Ask your child what they need and how you can be of support. Naturally, discussing a complex topic with a 5-year-old child is not easy, but it’s okay to consult with other professionals on choice of language and approaches that are suitable. Remember to also trust what your child is telling you and to take their thoughts and feelings into account
How can you cope with this transition?
- Research more about what it means to be transgender, however, acknowledge the unique situation of your child. No person is the same, whatever their gender identity
- Prioritise your mental health. This does not mean you get to refuse to accept your child but giving yourself the space and time you need to come to terms with this big change in your life
- Reach out to other parents who have experienced or are experiencing a similar situation
- Seek advice from entities specialised in the field of LGBTIQ+
When we talk about the topic of transgender issues, we tend to focus on the controversy and on creating a conversation about it. However, we tend to forget that behind all this talk, there are transgender people who are faced with countless criticism, discrimination, and marginalisation, and their family members who are also adapting to this change.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Human Rights Campaign. n.d. Transgender children & youth: Understanding the basics. Available at: <https://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-children-and-youth-understanding-the-basics>.
Yong, E., 2019. Young trans children know who they are. The Atlantic, Available at: <https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/young-trans-children-know-who-they-are/580366/>.