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Gianna Israel Gender Library

Telling Parents

Telling Mom and Dad that you crossdress, have questions about your gender identity or that you are making a gender transition, each can be a difficult process. This article explores preparing for that process.

Before actually introducing the subject to your parents, there are many questions which are helpful to examine. What do you hope to gain from disclosing? Most persons disclose to their parents with the hope that at the very least their parents will acknowledge the issue exists, and perhaps be accepting or supportive. Gaining this type of acceptance in many circumstances is not always immediately possible, particularly when the parent responds with rejection, denial or indifference. Occasionally, when a person least expects it, a parent may give unconditional support. Whatever you feel your situation may be, before disclosing you should be prepared for a wide-variety of responses.

Is disclosing to parents actually necessary? Not always. Persons who share their gender issues with others, in many circumstances are best served by only doing so when telling is going to increase the quality of the relationship. While most persons recognize this when it pertains to friendships and co-workers, they are not aware that sometimes telling parents about their gender issues may not be beneficial. This is particularly so if the person has no experience talking about gender issues with others or has no support system.

Most persons disclose their gender identity issues seeking some type of validation. This process can be a healthy part of defining one's sense of self, however it can also be misplaced depending on the circumstances. For example, if a person's primary motivation for sharing originates in a desire to share experiences and needs, than these are good things. However, if a person's motivation is designed solely to gain emotional support in a time of crisis, they may find the parent so shocked by the news that little support is gained. Additionally, disclosing during times of personal crisis may unnecessarily portray you as unstable. In most circumstances it is best to first seek validation as well as emotional support from persons familiar with gender issues.

Generally, the more invested you are in incorporating crossgender elements in your life the more essential it becomes to have a "support team." Utilize your support team to learn about disclosure, talk about your feelings, hear about the experience of others, talk about your own and get feedback on your situation. Having done these things you will then be better prepared emotionally to disclose to your parents. For example, you will be able to relay the fact that exploring gender is a healthy part of self-development, and do so with confidence!.

There are a number of other questions you may also ask. How validating have your parents been regarding you or your siblings needs? How well do they deal with hearing difficult news? Also, what views do they hold regarding matters of personal independence, and gender or sexual identity issues? Your answer to these questions can lend important insight into how your parents may respond to your disclosure. If your parents have not been supportive of your personal growth and needs in the past, that is a fair indication they may not be so regarding this issue. If your parents are relatively accepting of persons having different gender or sexual issues, then they may so with you. As you examine these questions, take time to find out how others have dealt with parents having similar attitudes.

When faced with the prospect of disclosure, many persons are uncertain how much information they should tell their parents. Choosing how much to disclose can depend on several factors. These factors include their ability to receive new or complex information without undermining relationships. Also, you need to take into consideration your own self-interests, including to what degree you believe gender issues affect your overall life.

Examples of this process include a variety of possibilities. For example, a person who only intends to crossdress privately on weekends may or may not disclose. Sometimes this depends on whether or not the person has concerns about being discovered. Occasionally in these circumstances it is better to disclose on your own, rather than having your parents find out through another source.

The transgenderist or transsexual who intends on living "in role" or making a permanent transition, obviously will need to do more disclosure. If you are convinced that living in role and having surgery are the right steps for you, be cautions how you portray these to persons not familiar with gender issues. In these situations it is best to inform others that living in role are steps of a "real life test" which will help you determine which permanent changes are right. Clearly this would include surgery. Disclosing information which portrays an interest in thoroughly thinking through changes shows good judgment.

As you prepare for coming out to your parents, remember that initially these issues can be difficult for others to understand. Do not give so much information that your mother or father ends up confused. Stick with the basics. Initially you might set the stage for discussion by simply stating you have been having questions about gender or that you currently are seeing a gender specialized counselor. Once you are prepared to come out, let them know how these changes will effect you and them. Invite questions. If you are uncertain what the future holds, confidently state so and let them know you will keep them informed of developments.

If your parents are important to you then disclosing in person is preferable, doing so by telephone is good when physical proximity doesn't allow face-to-face contact. You may prepare for the occasion by writing out your thoughts in a letter. Write out your thoughts, edit and pass your letter past several informed persons you trust. Try to avoid overemphasizing how anguish you have suffered or how desperately you fear losing them. Be confident. Try to save the more unsettling details for a conversation after your parents have heard the basics.

In my practice I regularly provided consultations to parents seeking information about gender issues from an objective, specialized source. You can do the same by providing your parents 3rd party literature that they can read about the issues you are facing. Examples of literature include: Coping with Crossdressing (JoAnn Roberts, Ph.D.); The Uninvited Dilemma (Kim Stuart) or Information for the Female to Male (Lou Sullivan).


GENDER ARTICLES. This educational column authored by Gianna E. Israel is regularly featured on the 3rd Monday of each month in Tg-Forum, the Internet's most up-to-date, weekly Transgender Magazine <http://www.tgforum.com/>. Several weeks later each article is forwarded to Usenet and AOL <Keyword TCF>. Each column has been written to inspire contemplation and dialogue. Columns may be reprinted in any medium insofar as each article, its introduction, and the author's contact information remains unaltered.

GIANNA E. ISRAEL provides nationwide telephone consultation, individual & relationship counseling, evaluations and referrals. She is principal author of the Transgender Care (Temple University / in press 1997). She also writes Transgender Tapestry's "Ask Gianna" column; is an AEGIS board member and HBIGDA member.She can be contacted at (415) 558-8058, at P.O. Box 424447 San Francisco, CA 94142, or via e-mail at Gianna@counselsuite.com.


Copyright © 2001 by Diane Wilson. All rights reserved.