My only piece of parenting advice
Parents, when you make mistakes, let your trans kids be angry with you. That’s what I wish I had said to the person who asked me if I had any advice about caring for transgender children.
I’m hesitant to give out parenting advice. Raising a child is the sort of enterprise you survive rather than master. Childrearing advice is a sucker’s game for the even most experienced parent; as someone without kids, I’m not qualified to offer any opinion. So, at the time, I gave the mother who asked my thoughts the same advice I give everyone who asks me about supporting trans people: I recommend learning about trans people from trans people.
I stand by what I said, but there is one more piece of advice that, with humility, I’d like to offer now. I may not be a parent, but I do have parents, and I’ve been an openly trans adult for almost a decade. I know what it’s taken me to survive. So if you really want my opinion, here it is.
Let your trans kids be angry with you. If you make a mistake – and you will make many – don’t demand their forgiveness.
The world extracts forgiveness from trans people every day. The most common thing people say to me upon learning my pronouns is something like, “I’ll probably mess them up. I’m sorry in advance.”
Phrased differently, they demand I absolve them of guilt for errors they plan on making. It’s not an apology. It’s description of an unequal relationship. It’s telling me to expect disrespect.
Both in our relationships and on the job, trans people are forced to overlook the errors and slights of the people around us. Often, it’s not safe to say anything about them. Sometimes we must endure harassment and discrimination, or worse, until we can find a way to leave an unsafe situation. We’re forced to smile when we’re angry. It’s exhausting, depleting. Worse, holding our tongues damages our sense of self-regard. We are often forced to trade self-respect for survival.
Please, don’t be another person with whom your child can’t share their honest feelings. Don’t be so fragile that your kid must protect you.
You may be tempted to say something like, “Be patient with me. I’m still learning your pronouns.” Don’t do it. Instead, use the correct pronouns for your child and when you mess up, acknowledge your error and validate their feelings. Say something like, “I just screwed up your pronouns. I’m sorry about that. If you’re feeling mad or frustrated or sad, I understand. I’ll do better.” Your kid will appreciate it. They might even freely offer you forgiveness.
Trans people deserve to feel our emotions, including our anger, without fear. Trans children need to have their feelings validated to develop healthy coping skills — and to maintain open relationships with their parents.
Let your trans kids be angry with you. If they feel safe enough to roll their eyes at you or even yell, you’re doing it right. Someday, I promise you, they’ll appreciate it.