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Gianna Israel Gender Library

Problem Parents

Anyone who has been a member of the transgender community for any significant length of time has heard the horror stories. Some of us have experienced the situation firsthand. This article focuses on coping with the situation of a problem parent, one who says get lost after discovering their (adult) child has a transgender identity or cross dresses.

It is emotionally devastating when a parent says "go away," or "I can't support what you are doing." Earlier during their lives, many transgender men and women never imagined that it would happen to them. After coming to terms with crossdressing or having a transgender identity some expected to be abandoned. Sometimes abandonment happens, other times support comes when least expected. Dealing with parents while coming to terms with our self identity can be a very frightening experience.

Adult children and their parents have unique relationships. Even though their children may be grown, most parents do not stop investing their hope, caring and love into their offspring. Throughout their adult lives children hope to have their parents available for friendship, guidance and insights. After all, parents have traveled many of the life paths children are just coming to face during adulthood. The absence of parents can be a hardship. Without them, adult children are left to seek wisdom from others. "Adopted" parents can include friends, careproviders or other relatives. Sometimes more compassion, caring and insight can be found from these persons, even though the relationship may not be recognized.

Introducing a transgender identity or crossdressing needs into the adult child-parent dynamic can raise concerns that parents have difficulty answering. Did I do something wrong? Will others judge me because my child has a transgender identity or crossdresses? Is this just a phase that didn't get resolve during childhood? Parents also, like others, tend to promote their own biases. For example, frequently I have heard parents make the statement that they won't see their child become one of those people.

In most circumstances the adult child has more information about gender issues than the parent. This is even so for newcomers to the transgender community. Persons in the process of coming out can share how their feelings and experiences differ from non-transgender persons. At best, during disclosure a transgender person would be well-served to not over focus on how disturbed they feel or how much pain they are suffering. Instead, educated with easy to understand facts about transgender issues. Having this information available helps portray that you are in control! Most people do not respond well to dramatic scenes because it leaves an impression that the person who is unbalanced. When disclosing to close family members, it is generally best to speak with a gender- specializing counselor about potential approaches and possible consequences.

Parents can respond very differently to hearing their son or daughter has a transgender identity or crossdresses. In my experience as a gender specialist I have observed that typically parents respond to this issue much as they would other serious issues. For example, the parent who disowns their son or daughter because they dropped out of college, may also disown after the child discloses his or her transgender needs. However, many parents often only temporarily turn away until they have had a chance to sort out their feelings. During disclosure some parents may not want to hear about it. Because this is such a personal issue, transgender persons are well-advised to expect any number of responses during disclosure to parents. They also should be mindful that situations change, and more parents becoming accepting later than those who don't accept at all.

Being abandoned by one or both parents may come in many forms. Partial-acceptance sometimes can present unusual situations. For example, I have many clients whose parents do not object to the individual living in role part or full-time. However, at public or important social events the parental foot comes down. Don't you dare show up at your sister's wedding dressed that way! Another example that is common is for one parent to be partially accepting but refuse to allow the other parent to be informed. These half-abandonment or half-acceptance situations can create a number of complicated situations, and it is often wise to seek third-party advise on how to deal with them. For instance, imagine the difficulties it would present if a post-operative transgender person was told that one parent was dying, however the other parent insisted that this person not show up at the bedside with a new identity.

Complete or long-term abandonment by parents is something many transgender men and women might anticipate. However dealing with the situation is possible. Early I introduced the concept of "adopted" parents. These persons can change over the years, and even if the relationship is unrecognized it can be a blessing. Adopted parents should be part of the transgender persons support network which helps provide guidance and insights during time of need. Also, as adults children become their own parents. As such, we are responsible for our actions and responsibilities. We are also responsible for nurturing ourselves when parents no longer do so. When rejected we frequently must decide whether to maintain contact with parents who have disowned us. Sometimes doing so regularly, such as with a monthly letter, can be beneficial. Other times one is left to call into question whether parents who abandon their children, even as adults, are the type of people with whom one would care to keep contact.

Ultimately, when dealing with parents who have abandoned, transgender men and women are left to follow their hearts.


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.