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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Resources for Parents of Gender-Variant Children

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For the past two years, I’ve co-facilitated a workshop at PrideFest Milwaukee about supporting gender-variant youth. This workshop, geared towards parents, family, friends and supportive adults, was designed to be a space to have safe conversation about this topic, so it’s hard to replicate in print. However, I’ve received a couple of requests this month to share the information we distributed at the workshop, so I will try to do that here.

We live in an interesting time. In the past few years, many new resources for families of gender-variant children and teens have emerged. At the same time, toys for kids have become more stereotypically gendered, sending a strong message at a very early age that there are only two “correct” ways to be gendered in our society. This makes it both easier and harder to support kids who don’t fit neatly into either the pink or the blue box.

Most children begin to get a sense of their own gender between the ages of 3 and 5. In an environment that supports exploration and rejects the idea of rigidly constructed gender roles that are tied to biological sex, some kids may come out as transgender, gender non-conforming, transsexual, or genderqueer at that time. However, people can come out as trans* at any time—puberty (when gender roles start to be more rigidly enforced and physical changes can cause a crisis) and late adolescence (when moving out of a family home or going to college can mean greater freedom and exposure to new communities and ideas) are other key times for young people as they develop their identities.

If you are a parent, family member or friend of a child or teen who is beginning to identify as trans*, please know that this is a change for you too. You may be very attached to and proud of the young person in your life as you already know them. You may have your own ideas about who this young person was going to grow up to be. You may be afraid of the very real dangers that a trans* person still has to face in our society. You may find yourself mourning the loss of the young person that you thought you knew. These feelings and worries are all very normal, and you have a right to feel them.

I encourage you to take time to explore these feelings and come to terms with them, but to do it in a space that is separate from your gender-questing young person. Seek support and information for yourself, whether that’s through counseling, online forums or other resources, but offer unconditional support to your child or teen as they form their identity. Some of the resources below may be helpful to you in this work.

In the past year, several books for children who have inclusive of different gender identities have been published. S. Bear Bergman has published Backwards Day and The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy through Flamingo Rampant Press. These books help kids understand trans* identity through fun stories and pictures. Cory Silverberg wrote What Makes A Baby, a book about conception and birth that does not gender people or body parts, making it appropriate sex ed for both trans* parents and kids.

 

Recently published books for parents and families include:

  • Beam, Cris. Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers. Mariner Books, 2008.
  • Ehrensaft, Diane. Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children. The Experiment, 2011.
  • Krieger, Irwin. Helping Your Transgender Teen: A Guide for Parents. Genderwise Press, 2011.
  • Pepper, Rachel (ed.). Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children. Cleis Press, 2012.
  • Whitley, Cameron T. and Eleanor A. Hubbard (eds.). Trans-Kin: A Guide for Family and Friends of Transgender People. Bolder Press, 2012.


Community organizations for trans* youth and their families include:

  • Camp Aranu’tiq Weeklong, overnight summer camp for transgender and gender-variant youth ages 8-15, with locations in New England and California.
  • Gay-Straight Alliance Network GSA Network publishes a free, downloadable resource for making schools safe for gender-non-conforming youth, Beyond the Binary: A Tool Kit for Gender Identity Activism in Schools.
  • Gender Spectrum Education, training and support to help create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens.
  • TransActive Non-profit in Oregon that provides education, advocacy and counseling. Administers the “In A Bind” free binder exchange program for youth.
  • Trans Youth Family Allies Partners with educators, services providers and communities to develop supportive environments in which gender may be expressed and respected.


Online resources for trans* youth and their families include:

  • Laura’s Playground Online support groups for transgender and transsexual teens and parents of transgender and transsexual kids.
  • TransFamily Hosts listservs and provides information and support.
  • Trevor Space Free, monitored social and peer networking site for LGBT youth ages 13-24.


Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than fifteen years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXPress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.