Advice from a transgender woman on how to raise a transgender child

By Janae Marie Kroczaleski with Lenville O’Donnell

Looking back I have no idea how  I managed to hide being transgender for as long as I did. Until I was publicly outed when my three sons were teenagers, I was known as the most muscular dad around, a former world champion powerlifter, a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps Presidential Guard. Things changed after that. The documentary Transformer reveals many of the challenges I faced being a transgender child and, later, being a transgender parent to three boys.

During my teens and early twenties, I was able to hide my gender identity. When I was ready to pursue long-term relationships with women in my late twenties I had to be open about being transgender with up front. It wasn’t fair to them - or to me - to attempt to hide it.

Talking to my children

I wanted to be open and honest with my children. When my three boys were very young, between the ages of four and eight, I sat down and explained that I was transgender and what that meant — in as an age-appropriate way as I could.

I described to them that someday soon I was going to change the way I dressed, put on makeup, and probably act a little differently than usual. That was not hard to explain. What was more challenging was explaining the most important part: why. I told each of my three sons that I would be dressing and acting differently because I have always felt like a girl on the inside.

They seemed remarkably unfazed by this. My sons only had a few questions. Mostly, they wondered if I would still do all of the things I normally did with them. They were really happy when I responded that nothing would change when we were together. From that day forward it made our bond even stronger. My boys knew that I would be honest with them and that they could trust me. This helped to foster the amazing relationship I have with them to this day.

It took compromises to make sure their lives were not affected by my transformation. We live in Michigan, in the Midwestern U.S., an area with very conservative values. When I went to their schools or their games, I did not go as Janae.

My physical appearance and behaviour became gradually more feminine, but I remained ripped and heavily muscled, so I still looked like the same alpha-male dad as I did before. That helped.

Thoughts on parenting transgender children

For parents of transgender children my advice is simple, but don’t let the simplicity of the message undermine the significance of it. The most important thing you can do to help your child is to let them know that you love them unconditionally.

I know there is nothing more traumatic for a child than the fear of losing a parent’s love. I was terrified throughout my childhood that my parents would discover I was transgender and reject me because of it. Unfortunately, my fears were confirmed. After a decade, they still struggle to acknowledge I am transgender. They can’t handle having a conversation about it. It still hurts that I am not welcome at family holidays and functions unless I hide who I am.

Support for transgender kids is crucial.

I believe there nothing a parent can do to cause of a child to be transgender, and there is nothing that a parent can do to change gender orientation. The causes are still not fully understood, but I am convinced by the evidence that suggests genetic and physiological factors.

Even though certain religious groups promote programs to “cure” transgender and other LGBT children, these practices have been found to be harmful, unsuccessful, increase the risk of suicide, and they have been condemned by leading medical, psychological and mental health associations.

You may not understand how your child feels or how you’re supposed to deal with it. The most important thing is not to be angry or blame them. Talking to them is important, but listening to them is even more so. Let them ask the questions. Ask your kids how they feel. Don’t ask them why they feel one way or the other. That can cause defensiveness and shame.

More than anything children need their parent's love and support. Parents may not be exactly sure how to do that with a transgender child. Let them know you are not perfect, and that you are struggling, too. I believe that the most important thing in the world parents can do is to make sure their kids are happy and comfortable.

MORE:
Find Me Some Body to Love
Losing It: The physical transformation from Matt to Janae

Tell your children, early and often, that no matter what, you love and support them, and you will do whatever you can to help them deal with this and any other challenge they face in their life.

Even though transgender people are more accepted in society than ever before, transgender children will face significant challenges that other kids don’t have to deal with. They should not have to wonder if their parents still love them.

If the transgender child knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their parents love them and support them unequivocally, success as a parent is guaranteed, whether you are transgender, cisgender or any other beautiful, natural variety of person that exists on this planet we all share.

Watch Transformer.

 

Produced with additional funding from: