I Am A Mother of a Trans Teen and Here’s What You’re Getting Wrong about Them
By Amanda Jette Knox
Photo © Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Jun 9, 2020
This piece was updated on February 16, 2021
As a mother who is open about having a transgender teen, I’ve heard it all: everything from how “abusive it is to enable a confused child” to how I’m “condoning children as young as five getting genital surgery.”
These ideas are as absurd as they are inaccurate. Sadly, that doesn’t make them uncommon. Inside of a year, I’ll receive hundreds, if not thousands, of comments like these on social media and in email. People have plenty of opinions about what affirming a trans child means, but what they often lack are some realities. From parents and kids like us, who are living it.
This mother is honouring inclusion at home, in an effort to raise young advocates — read it here.
Trans people are regularly attacked, both verbally and physically, for simply existing in the world. They are, by far, one of the most misunderstood and mistreated demographics on the planet. Trans youth often face this hatred as well, along with having their maturity and sense of self questioned by everyone from family to physicians. Many think they’re too young to know who they are — or are not — and can’t possibly make decisions that could impact their future.
Their accepting parents, by default, become targets of these ideas, too. For example, how dare we feed into our children’s “fantasies”? What if little Timmy wanted to become a dog or a superhero? Would we allow that, too?
"Trans people are regularly attacked, both verbally and physically, for simply existing in the world."
As someone who wouldn’t have to write for a living if she could pay the bills with misdirected hate from strangers, let’s look at some of what I see as the biggest misconceptions about transgender kids.
“Transgender kids are just confused.”
Trans and non-binary children are anything but confused. A recent study found that they’re just as sure of who they are as kids who are cisgender (those who identify with the gender assigned at birth).
Gender identity is something we all have — it’s just that most of us don’t have to think about it because the world has always seen us the way we see ourselves. Trans kids do have to think about — and often talk about — gender because who the world has perceived them as isn’t who they are.
If they’re lucky, they’ll find willing ears and open hearts to listen.
“Just let boys wear dresses and girls play with trucks and we won’t have trans kids. Problem solved.”
Not quite. People often conflate gender identity and gender expression. Gender identity is who we are, and gender expression is how we express that.
There are many boys who wear dresses and still identify as boys. This is known as “gender non-conforming,” which means they don’t conform to the societal norms expected of their gender.
"Trans kids do have to think about — and often talk about — gender because who the world has perceived them as isn’t who they are."
Gender identity runs deeper than what we wear or what activities we participate in.
It should also be noted that gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation. There are many gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and asexual trans people.
“Why don’t we just teach children to be comfortable as the gender they were assigned at birth?”
Horrifically, this was tried for years, and falls under the same category as trying to convince gay people they’re straight. “Conversion therapy” — also known as “reparative therapy” — has been banned in many places because of the damage it does to the individual.
A quick look at the statistics shows a high risk of trauma, mental health issues and self-destructive behaviours. Trying to force people to be who they’re not is extremely harmful.
Today, we know it’s better to help kids be who they are, not who we expect them to be. Outcomes for children who are affirmed in their gender identity are very positive.
A recent 2019 study from Transgend Health concluded that "support groups provide an important complement to specialized clinical care for families with trans/GNC children."
Queer parents with young kids sometimes have to navigate learned heteronormative attitudes — read about that here.
“It’s too easy for kids to medically transition.”
If anything, I'd argued it's not easy enough. When a young trans person wants access to transition-related medical care, the process is long and often daunting. Wait lists can span months or even years, followed by several appointments and assessments between each step. Historically, medical transition has been difficult to access and heavily gatekept, especially for minors. Things are slowly getting better as more professionals learn how to best support their trans patients, but I'd say it's by no means an easy or fast process.
“Doctors are prescribing hormones and doing surgery on little kids!”
From everything I've read and everything I've experienced, this isn't happening.
When younger children come out as trans, they will often socially transition, which means living as the gender they identify as, and sometimes using a new name and/or pronouns. They might be followed by a gender specialist or clinic, but there are no affirming medical supports for pre-pubescent trans youth.
Hormone blockers — a group of safe, reversible medications with a long history of pediatric use — block unwanted puberty from continuing, if that’s needed. Hormone treatment and some gender-affirming surgeries are reserved for teens and older, while other surgeries are only performed on adults. The ages vary depending on individual cases, medical standards and geographic location, but it is certainly not something young children have access to. It’s also important to note that not all trans or non-binary people medically transition, and that medical transition itself is very individual.
"Ask a parent of a trans kid what it feels like when they no longer hear their child crying in the shower ...."
As always, when it comes to something we don’t have personal experience with, it’s best to get our information from the source. Rather than reading Uncle Jerry’s late-night Facebook post about the “dangers of puberty blockers,” go find a trans person’s book, blog or YouTube channel discussing how life-saving these medical supports can be. Ask a pediatric endocrinologist working in a gender clinic about how many trans kids change their minds about transition (spoiler: it's low). Ask a parent of a trans kid what it feels like when they no longer hear their child crying in the shower, and instead see them living a full and happy life (I speak from experience on that one).
Research before you judge. Kids like mine will be all the better for it.
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