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Telling the Extended Family and Friends about your Transgender Child

The following is an excerpt from Irwin Krieger’s book ‘Helping Your Transgender Teen – A Guide for Parents’.

“Telling the extended family and friends of the family is a stressful experience for most parents of transsexual teens. Fear of rejection and criticism, or fear of causing unmanageable distress for older family members is common. Many families keep this matter secret until a social or family gathering is coming. My recommendation to teens is that they defer to their parents, whenever possible, on notifying the relatives and adult family friends. My recommendation to parents is that they begin early on disclosing to close friends and family that their son is questioning his gender identity. This lays the groundwork for a later disclosure of the new female identity. As with your teen’s disclosures, you will get the best responses from those who have already indicated in some way that they are open minded about LGBT people. Start with them first.

When it comes time for your child’s social transition, it is important that you be in charge of how this information is shared with the extended family. In my experience, families have accomplished this by direct phone calls to each individual if the network is not that large, or by a letter or email if calling everyone is unmanageable. I do not recommend taking the short cut of asking one person to tell another, unless the intermediary knows your child well and is well-versed in information about transsexuals.

By the time you are ready to send this letter, you will have gained some comfort and consistency in using your child’s female name and using female pronouns. This will be reflected in the way you write your letter. Notice that I use female pronouns in the following suggestions for the letter to extended family and friends…

…You may want to include some or all of the following points in your letter:

  1. Tell family and friends that you would like them to receive some important new about your teen with an open mind. Let them know as simply and clearly as you can that you have learned something new about your child’s identity. Share the new name and ask that they be respectful and make every effort to use this name and female pronouns when they speak to or about your child.

  2. Explain that while your child’s new gender was difficult for you to accept at first, you now know that this transition is best for your teen and will lead to the happiest outcome for her and for the family. You may add that this is something she has struggled with for a long time in silence. You are proud of her courage and glad she is finally able to be true to herself.
  3. Stress that she is the same person she was when they knew her as a boy, with all of the same positive attributes you all value and love. (Don’t hesitate to mention what those wonderful characteristics are!)
  4. Let them know that you welcome any questions they have about this change and that you look forward to telling them more about this if they would like to know more. You can also recommend this book to them so they can become more familiar with what it means to be transgender.

Be sure to review the letter with your teen before you send it out so she is comfortable with what you have written. Your teen may want to send a separate letter, or include a personal message in yours.”

The key point to remember is that you, the parent, should manage the communication of the news with the extended family and friends. Just as you needed time, so will they. Be patient as they adjust to the news, be open and answer their questions, and be firm in your support of your teen.

At the Center for Human Potential, we have psychologists who regularly support transgender teens, their families and their friends through all phases of transition and acceptance.