The only sure thing about parenting is how unpredictable it is.
While it’s impossible to know what kind of person your child will be, sometimes their actions or thoughts can reveal personality traits. Some parents might think their child could be LGBTQ+ but are unsure how to approach the subject with their child. Other parents find their children coming to them and don’t always know how to respond.
Christine* is a mother in Kildare with a now adult trans daughter. She says she always felt that there was, “something different” about her child when she was growing up.
“From the time she was a small child there was an interest in my clothes and heels and make-up. I know these are not the things that make a woman, but sometimes, they are indicators.”
At 16, her daughter Niamh* told her that she was gender neutral, meaning that she didn’t identify as male or female. Niamh began dressing in more feminine clothing. Christine says she asked Niamh if she was gay.
“She said yes. I was relieved.”
However, the coming months bought more changes as Niamh became more comfortable wearing clothes mostly associated with women.
“She decided to come out around the time of her graduation. She wore a beautiful slinky skirt and vest and six-inch heels. She was practising wearing these heels in the house and asked what I thought.”
Christine admits she was struggling with her daughter’s gender identity and expression of it and the idea of her attending the prom as a girl made her feel upset and angry.
“I didn’t want this and didn’t want her to come out at such a public occasion. I told her I was finding this hard, that I understood some of what she was going through but could she not understand how I felt? She told me she was having a hard enough time getting through life day by day and dealing with this herself and she couldn’t deal with our “shit”. She was right. The evening was fine and I was so relieved.”
Sexuality educator, occupational therapist and founder of The Talk.ie, Sarah Sproule (pictured above), says that Christine’s initial response to her daughter is not unusual and that if you’re a parent going through this process it’s important to practice kindness to yourself.
“If your child wants to talk to you about their sexuality or gender expression the most important thing to do is listen to them.”
Sarah empowers parents to be able to talk to their children about sex and gender in ways that promote a positive parent-child relationship. She offers step-by-step advice to parents in this situation,
“Thank your kid for coming to you to share their news. Say something like, ‘I always like to learn new things about you and I’m grateful when you share things.’ You could ask them,’what does support look like for you right now?'”
“And then listen. Listening and acceptance are the biggest parts of this process. Listening builds and strengthens the parent-child connection.”
Sarah, who has a masters in sexuality studies, bases her parenting advice on evidence-based therapeutic techniques. Sarah says that the support of a parent is vital as it allows the child a safe space to talk about what is going on for them and provides a space to, “think about and practice speaking about their identity in a world that doesn’t necessarily support LGBTQI people”.
“When we support a child through listening it allows them to process the emotions of their experience. This allows children to feel supported, seen, loved and accepted. These experiences help our children to develop self-acceptance and resilience.”
Sarah says that supportive parents raise self-accepting children who in turn develop stronger resilience skills.
“A resilient child is more able to handle going out into a world that doesn’t always see being LGBTQI+ as a positive. Self-accepting children are more resilient to attempts to shame them or put them down.”
Niamh, who has fully socially transitioned, has experienced different forms of people shaming her or harassing her for being trans. Christine says these attacks are her “greatest fear” as a parent.
“We’re years into this process now and there are still days when I could cry for this life she will now have. I wish it could be easier for her, for us. Trans parents often feel powerless.”
“You want and need to do the right thing medically, emotionally, psychologically and socially. You sometimes get it wrong.”
Christine wants people to know that no person “decides” to be trans. “All they choose is whether or not to transition and for many, this is not a ‘choice’, but a necessity.”
Like Sarah, Christine cites the evidence that supporting children in their chosen gender identity or sexual orientation leads to better outcomes for the child.
“I think we are supportive now, I suppose we were never not supportive, just upset and confused, and I’d say that’s OK too.”
“I am not great because I accept her, she is my child and I love the very bones of her. I always have and I will fight with every fibre of my being for her right to live as her true self.”
*Names changed to protect identities