As a parent or caregiver, having your teen come out as Trans may be an overwhelming experience. You may feel confused about what this means, question whether their gender identity is a “phase,” or feel concerned about what this might mean for your teen’s safety and well-being in the future. You may also feel relieved about having a better understanding of what has been going on for your child, and grateful that they feel safe to disclose their gender identity to you. It’s important to know that you are not alone. Statistics suggest that at least one to three out of every thousand people identify as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth, so there are plenty of other parents who can relate to your experience. It’s also important to recognize and work through these feelings in a supportive environment so that you are emotionally equipped to support your child. Evidence shows that strong parental support is the most important factor in improving physical, emotional and mental health outcomes for trans-identified youth.
Understanding Gender Identity
When you are working on understanding what it means to be Trans, it’s important to remember that everybody, whether they realize it or not, has a gender identity! Typically, when a baby is born, a healthcare provider looks at the baby’s sex organs, and, based on what they see, decide whether that baby is a boy or a girl—this is sometimes referred to as “biological sex” or “gender assigned at birth.” Gender is distinct from the sex a person was assigned at birth. The term “gender” refers to socially constructed behaviours, roles, identities and expressions that we tend to associate with men, women, or transgender people.
For many people, gender identity aligns comfortably with biological sex. If you are one of these people, your gender identity can be described using the term “cisgender.” For Trans people, gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex. Some may feel that their identity is aligned with one particular gender (e.g. “man” or “woman”), whereas others may identify somewhere in the middle, or find their identity fluctuates over time. People who feel this way may use any of a number of terms to describe their gender identity, depending on what fits best—common terms include (but are not limited to) transgender, trans woman, trans man, nonbinary, genderfluid and two spirit (which is a special term used within some Indigenous communities). In the interest of simplicity, in this article we are using the term “trans” as an umbrella term to include all non-cisgender identities.
Supporting a Trans Teen
Lux Welsh, a peer support worker who works with Trans, non-binary and Two-Spirit youth in Victoria says, “It’s important to recognize your emotional reactions and find a supportive way to let those feelings out in a way that doesn’t necessarily involve your kid.” Welsh reminds parents that youth have often gone through years of introspection and consideration to get to the point where they are ready to come out to family members. While the news about your teen’s gender identity might seem to arrive totally out of the blue, it’s likely something they have been contemplating for a long time.
Other suggestions from Welsh:
• Attend a support group for parents/family members.
• Use affirming language: mirror the language that your teen uses around their gender, pronouns and choice of name.
• To help advocate for your teen, ask them “what kind of support do you need?”
• Identify what types of support and advocacy are within your power as a parent; this might mean calling your teen’s school to have their listed name changed, reminding other family members to use your teen’s chosen name and pronouns, or helping them access medical care.
• Anticipate change, growth, and exploration over time, as you would with any youth.
It’s important to ask your child what they need help with when it comes to affirming their gender identity safely. For some youth, this may mean helping them access clothing and other supplies that help them feel more comfortable in their bodies. Some teens might feel that it is important to access medical interventions, such as hormone therapy and/or gender affirming surgery.
Some services for Trans youth on Vancouver Island are listed below. Please note that this list is not exhaustive. If you have trouble finding the service or supports you need, contact Trans Care BC (see info below).
Trans Care BC, phsa.ca/transcarebc
Trans Care BC is a B.C.-wide information service and resource hub, working to make sure people have the information they need to access gender affirming health care and supports.
Resources for Parents/Caregivers
Gender Spectacular Caregiver Support Group and Family Drop-ins–Victoria
Families in TRANSition Guide is a comprehensive guide for parents and caregivers of Transgender and gender questioning youth. PDF booklet can be downloaded at: ctys.org/information/resources/ctys-publications/
Medical Care & Access to Hormone Therapy
Foundry Victoria (250-383-3552) and Foundry Campbell River (250-286-0611)
Primary care, mental health and gender care services for youth aged 12-24
Island Sexual Health Society located in Saanich (250-592-3479), islandsexualhealth.org
Gender Affirming Care for youth and adults aged 16+; reproductive and sexual health for individuals of all ages
BC Children’s Hospital Gender Clinic, bcchildrens.ca/our-services/clinics/gender
Treatment with puberty blockers and/or gender-affirming hormones for transgender and gender-questioning youth. Physician referral required.