I am a parent of a transwoman. I've talked to others, in similar situations, with children of all ages, and there are a lot of things in common.
We worry about losing the person we know and love well. Grief and all its stages come into this (denial, anger, sadness, acceptance) very much - after all it can seem that the person we know and love is dying in front of us, gradually fading away to nothing, and although we do know that one day there will be a new and complete package in exchange, it hasn't arrived yet, or is not yet complete, and your loved one has many months of what is often trauma to go through before they feel complete in their true self.
There is an element of uncertainty about the finished result. This, for me, was perhaps the worst of what I had to face. In reality, once transition was complete, our young transwoman was more or less just the same inside, the same person, just looking a little different. But more relaxed, easier to talk to, more fulfilled and confident.
Transition can be an unsettling thing - you are moving from one known to an unknown, are unsure of the hurdles and problems that you may encounter on the way, it can take away the feeling of security and rootedness that one feels when things remain stable, and can affect the emotions. Parents (and other relatives/friends/partners) of a transitioning TS person are also in transition themselves, although from a different perspective. Thus the transition may well affect them as well.
Parents worry about all sorts of things - they will obviously worry that their TS child is making the right decisions for themselves, and they will be initially unfamiliar with transsexualism and all its aspects. The one thing they will be familiar with is that for many people transsexualism brings with it stigma, misunderstanding, and intolerance, and they will worry that their child will have to suffer at least some of this along the way.
For some of those who are complete ignorant about transsexualism, they may worry about sexual identity, and all those worries about "perverts" that we know to be unfounded. They may also worry that if their child has kept this hidden from them for so long, what else have they kept hidden, and what else is there left to learn about the person that Mum or Dad felt they knew so well?
They will worry about the medical aspects of the transition - are the hormones safe? What if they cause health problems, and what risks are there? Is the surgery safe? Will their child be able to find a suitable practitioner to enable these changes to go ahead, or will they find their way blocked at every turn? Are these practitioners fully qualified, or are they quacks preying on vulnerable and naive people who are desperate for help? How effective is the treatment? Will their child really be able to "pass" after taking hormones etc., or will they face years of disappointment and ridicule ahead because they are so obviously "a man in drag"?
They will worry about their own feelings - can I really accept this, I love them now, but what if this change makes them so alien to me that I will no longer be able to love them? Will I still be able to love and accept them in the future in their new role? And of course the feelings of other family members will be taken into account - will Dad, Aunty Carol, Cousin Peter and his wife, Great-Uncle Colin, little Tom the 2-year-old all be affected - and just HOW do we explain it to the children? What if some of them reject my child, how will I cope with that - and how will my child cope with it too?
How am I going to tell anyone about this - or should I tell anyone? What if my best friend never speaks to me again, or finds it difficult to understand? How will the neighbours react? Will I be strong enough to stand up to them if they react badly?
Parents will also worry about their child's financial security...
Will they be able to keep their job? Or their place at college/University?
Will they lose any of their friends? Will they face rejection, and have to move away and change their complete lifestyle? How will they/I cope if this happens? Perhaps most importantly - how will their partner cope? and if there are children, what will happen, will their child lose everything, partner, children etc.? If this happens, how will the parent cope with possibly losing a daughter-in-law and the grandchildren?
If there is no partner, what about those hopes for the future that are now going down the drain? That nice young lady you had hopes for with your son - how you would have liked to see them married and producing grandchildren - and now this is no longer an option. Although no-one does have rights to have daughters (or sons) in law and grandchildren, most of us Mums do hope that one day ..... - it's hard to face that the child you love, who you know would be such an ace parent themselves, may never know the joy of having their own child.
And one more thing that I can think of at the moment - what hurt me most was the knowledge that someone I loved and cared for dearly, had felt the need to hide their feelings from me for many years, because they feared rejection - that rather than face this they had struggled on their own to understand such a complex situation, to face the tormenting of other people and to cover up the reality of the situation. It hurt me that they had suffered in silence for so long without any means of being able to discuss it, or share the burden in any way. Guilt can affect parents badly, especially if they feel that they may unwittingly have been the cause of the situation.
They shouldn't feel this guilt, because transsexualism isn't caused by nurture, but by nature - it's how you are made, a bit like having red hair, small hands or knock knees! But please, if your child discloses to you that they feel they have been born into the wrong gender, please take them seriously, whatever their age. No-one makes it up for fun.
Still, parents should take heart from what I have learned - that transition can bring blessings and benefits, and fulfilment. That things are rarely as bad as you think they are going to be, and that if you can tell your friends, and neighbours, in such a way that you appear confident and accepting, and that you think that transsexualism is the most normal thing in the world to face, then they will hopefully take their cue from you and accept it as easily.
That the world doesn't stop turning! That even if there is some rejection from colleagues, friends, family, etc., this can often be short-lived, and might also be compensated for by unexpected benefits in other areas. That which takes one person a few weeks to accept may take a few years for another person to come to terms with, but the end result will be as good. That there are laws designed to protect jobs, and to protect people from harassment and bullying, and that the world at large is becoming more relaxed and understanding on the subject of transsexualism than it used to be 20, 10 or even 2 years ago.
COPYRIGHT Margaret Griffiths, 18th June 2000