Support Systems

Support usually begins at home, and extends outward to include family, friends, teachers, and other important people in your child’s life. As our children venture further and further out into the world, support from schools and community become increasingly important. Parents and caregivers often become advocates for their children and help them to become strong self-advocates as well. This section focuses on privacy and disclosure, becoming an advocate for your child, and developing your family’s support systems.

Authenticity and safety

Authenticity and safety often go hand in hand within the home. In this small environment, you as a parent may be able to provide an affirming place without compromising safety. However, children constantly receive messages about gender from social environments outside the home and these messages (e.g. binary and segregated washrooms and recreation activities) can cause distress when they are internalized. While a safe home environment can foster emotional wellbeing and help children cope with gender-related stress, challenges around authenticity and safety often emerge in settings such as at extended family gatherings, schools, places of worship, and community spaces.

Safety concerns may arise about teasing, harassment, rejection, exclusion, and violence. The physical and emotional risks can be significant. Parents are faced with tough choices about how to support their child’s authentic gender self while keeping them as safe as possible.

Here we offer some suggestions for helping to transform the environments that your child regularly engages in:

  • Require respect. For example, ask that all family members use your child’s correct name and pronouns.
  • Plan for safety. Make sure your child can reach you or another support person if they are feeling unsafe.
  • Advocate. Your child deserves to safely access education and recreation services just like any other child. Advocacy may be needed in several settings, such as school, sports teams, and summer camps. Parents are often the primary advocates, but children and youth can learn to be strong self-advocates as well. Professionals can also be enlisted as advocates. They can write letters documenting what supports your child needs, attend school meetings, providing staff trainings, and help you prepare to advocate for your child. Please visit our Advocacy Tips page for more information.
  • Prepare. Prepare your child for the world that is and for the world that will be. Make sure your child knows that there is nothing wrong with them, that it is others in the world who have issues with gender. Work for change, to create the kind of world that your child deserves to live in.
  • Listen. Listen to what your child is telling you through their words and actions. For younger children, observe how they act out their experiences and feelings through imaginary play may be helpful in understanding how they are experiencing the world, what supports are working, and what supports are needed.

Privacy and disclosure

Every child’s situation is unique. However, there are times when parents need to make a decision about whether or not to disclose their child’s gender identity. This could be to another parent who is hosting a sleepover party, to a summer camp director, or a child care provider. Sometimes disclosure is needed in order for you to get care for your child or support for yourself. Disclosure to affirming people can also be an important step in building a strong support network for your family.

It is also important to consider the risks and benefits of disclosure both in terms of your child’s safety and their gender authenticity. Your child may want to be out to the whole world about their gender creativity or trans identity. They also may want to keep that part of their identity private. Both are ok, and often families operate somewhere in the middle. It is important to check in with your child about the level of privacy that is important to them and to discuss when disclosure may be necessary (e.g. for health care). A child’s level of comfort with disclosure will likely fluctuate over time. If they choose to self-disclose, this can bring up a lot of feelings (e.g. pride, empowerment, fear, anxiety). You can play a key role in supporting children and youth as they learn to navigate privacy and disclosure different social situations.

Developing your support system

Support systems usually include people who knew your child before they were living as their authentic gender self, such as extended family, family friends, parents of your child’s friends, and possibly staff at schools or community organizations. Support systems can continually expand to include people who are supportive of you, your child, and your family.
Intentionally creating a community that is affirming and supportive can be beneficial for all family members. Here are some ways to grow your supportive community:

  • Connect your child or youth with peers who have similar experiences.
  • Attend support groups for children, youth, or parents.
  • Connect with safe support networks online.
  • Foster positive relationships with gender diverse peers and adults.
  • Attend a conference on trans issues.
  • Go to pride events or trans films as a family.
  • Connect with others advocating for gender-affirming communities.

No one parent can change the world to make it a perfectly safe environment. However, the collective advocacy of parents of gender creative children and trans youth is now shaping the world that we live in. It is incrementally becoming safer for kids, one person, one school, one summer camp at a time. Our society is shifting, and there are more supports for gender creative children, trans youth, and their families than ever before. More and more, children and youth are able to safely identify and express their authentic gender selves in all aspects of their lives.

What’s next?

Next we explore ideas for building Family and Friend Support.

Resources

Books

Brill, S. A., & Pepper, R. (2008). The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals. San Francisco, Calif: Cleis Press.
Erickson-Schroth, L. (Ed.). (2014). Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Online

Advocacy Tips – Trans Care BC
Trans Rights BC – Vancouver Coastal Health, Transgender Health Information Program, Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre, The Law Foundation of British Columbia