Lessons for the journey:
Psychologist and professor Dr. Dianne Ehrensaft offers 5 “lessons” for parents::
1) “When it comes to our children’s gender identity and expressions, it is up to the parents to listen, and for the children to tell.” (23)
2) “We need to learn to live with gender ambiguity and not pressure our children with our own need for gender bedrock.” (23)
3) We must help the child(ren) build a “psychological toolkit” including language to use in response to others, resources to turn to, etc.
4) We must assessing when “protective shields” are necessary and “communicating to the child that in no way are the parents trying to change the child’s gender, but instead sheltering it from an unfair world until the world is safer.” (23)
5) It is our job to make the world a safer place.
Diane Ehrensaft, "From Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Identity Creativity: The Liberation of Gender-Nonconforming Children and Youth" in Supporting Transgender & Gender Creative Youth: Schools, Families, and Communities in Action. ed. Elizabeth J. Meyer & Annie Pullen Sansfacon (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2014) p23.
Looking for more resources for parents? Scroll down to the bottom of this page for links to key organizations that support trans children, youth, and their families!
Key Findings from the PAR Group.
In January of 2017 as part of a Fahs Fellowship through the Fahs Collaborative of Meadville Lombard Theological School I gathered a group of parents together for a virtual parent participatory action research group. The core principle of participatory action research is that the questions, problems, and solutions for any given community rest within that community themselves. By bringing together a group of parents with transgender or gender creative children and youth my hope was to walk with them to identify key issues and gifts facing families like theirs, particularly as it related to connections with faith communities.
We had families from across the United States. All families were connected to a Unitarian Universalist congregation or fellowship, either as a family or just the youth/child. Parents were not asked to identify race, class, or ethnicity though at least one family disclosed that their trans child/youth was a person of color.
Overall Themes from the group:
· Parents expressed a deep desire to “do right” by and for your child/youth (privacy, transition decisions, etc.)
· Parents were reticent to talk about fears and/or had a deep desire to talk about hope in conjunction with fear;
· One of the most consistent needs and greatest benefits from the group was to learn from the experiences of other families who are traveling down a similar road as their own.
· Being an advocate was a central task of their parenting. While this is true of most parents, parents of trans/gnc children found this role to be even more acute.
· Each new relationship/institution/situation is a new place where they must act to educate and advocate
· They cherish places where do not need be advocates—this is primarily how parents talked about UU contexts—they found little to no push back, really supportive communities, and staff and congregations that rolled with changes.
· Their desires are parallel to parents of many children—they are especially acute because of concerns for challenges, dangers, and obstacles the kids will face.
· They viewed home as a place that ought to be unequivocally a place of support and acceptance and love
When asked what support they most need or most want parent/guardians of transgender and gender-creative children consistently name being in community with other parent/guardians of transgender and gender creative children and youth as one of the most important parts of their journey. While there are some options for in-person and virtual groups available (see resources below), one finding from the PAR group was the benefit of gathering together with parents who are open to speaking about the way spirituality and religion and involvement in liberal faith communities impact their journey. Meeting virtually allows parent/guardians who have limited access to in-person meetings to find community. Our experience with this pilot group suggests that continuing to offer PAR groups out of but not exclusively for Unitarian Universalist contexts would be valuable to many families.
Interested in being a part of the next PAR group?
We will be putting together future Participatory Action Research groups of parent/guardian(s) of transgender and gender creative children and youth. These groups meet virtually for 6-8 weeks. The benefits include creating community with other parent/guardian(s); gaining skills and support for your own parenting and advocacy as parents, and benefiting the wider community through joint problem solving of issues most important to the group. While these groups are based in Unitarian Universalism they are open to families regardless of faith, spiritual, or philosophical tradition. If you or a family you know would be interested in participating in future groups fill out this form and tell us a little about your/the family:
Resources for Parents
This organization offers ongoing support for families with gender creative,GNC, and trans* children and youth through monthly meetings and play groups. While this organization is Southern California Specific, there are other groups around the country and in Canada that do similar work. More are forming all the time. Many of the groups use some variation of “transforming family” as their name. However, there are a number of organizations that use some variation of “Transforming Family” that have nothing to do with supporting trans* children and youth and may actually be harmful to these families so be sure to do your homework when investigating local options.
Trans youth equality foundation
What to read
For more resources to read including guidebooks, handbooks, and parent memoirs see the Gender-Just Blog for bibliographies and reviews: