A Letter to Parents of Faith Learning a Child Is Transgender

6 min read

By Melissa J Grey, Ph.D.

Dear Parents:

I’m a long-time listener in conservative faith communities. I’ve been listening to concerned parents and family members, youth who have come out as transgender, non-binary, or questioning, and youth who are silently struggling while hiding their gender identity at home. If you’re a faithful parent just learning your child is transgender, I suspect you’re seeking reliable, wise information you can apply because you love your child and would do anything to help them not only survive but thrive. I hope to share a little of what I’ve had the privilege to learn.

Being a parent and being guided by your faith may be the most important aspects of who you are, which is why it might be important to reflect more deeply on how to practice or embody your values now that you have a child coming out as transgender.

What is gender diversity?

Let’s start with some basics. First, sex and gender are different aspects of a person. Sex refers to how an individual’s body has been affected by certain genes and hormones. Sex is typically assigned at birth (male, female, or intersex). Gender is psychological and social, a person’s sense of who they are as a boy, girl, or other gender.

Although it was long absent from our mainstream conversations, gender diversity is common throughout history and cultures. To be transgender means a person’s gender does not match societal expectations (for example, a person assigned female later identifies as a boy). In this letter, gender diversity means any time youth identify or express themselves—through dress, behavior, or otherwise—in ways that might be unexpected for their assigned sex.

What are practical strategies for parents with gender diverse kids?

An abundance of research informs the guidance that accepting kids for who they are is best for their health and well-being. What does acceptance mean?

  1. Listening to your child’s self-expression in a caring way.
  2. Allowing your child to express themselves in safe ways through, for instance, their dress, hair, and accessories.
  3. Not all gender diverse youth wish to change their pronouns or name, but if your child does, using them is an important way to be supportive.

Gender diverse youth are impacted by more mental health problems. It is not their gender that leads to mental health problems but the stigma and rejection that often follow them. Your affirmation and acceptance, allowing your child to express themselves and showing you love them no matter what, helps protect them from emotional struggles and the higher risk transgender kids have to attempt and commit suicide.

Use credible sources and reach out to trusted professionals, including pediatricians and psychologists, as they are likely to form their conclusions from vetted research and draw from evidence-based resources (for example, the Family Acceptance Project).

Just as gender diversity exists everywhere, every community has ways of affirming diversity. Consider this a time to learn, be curious, and review resources from your culture or faith community.

Beware that “change efforts,” “conversion therapy,” and “wait-and-see” approaches are not alternatives to acceptance. Conversion efforts include any time a person has the goal to change “gender identity, gender expression, or associated components of these to be in alignment with gender role behaviors that are stereotypically associated with sex assigned at birth.”

A consensus of health professionals makes clear these approaches risk significant harm and bear no promise of the change they promote. Therapists and other helping professionals often do not label practices as “conversion,” so be cautious of any of the following:

  • Unsupported explanations for gender diversity (for example, that being transgender is caused by trauma, parents’ or friends’ behavior, or the child’s social network).
  • Any promise or encouragement that gender diversity can be influenced, prevented, or “corrected.”
  • Any time a person indicates one gender or gender expression is healthier or preferable.

When seeking support from mental health professionals, selecting those with a license and competence with gender diversity can provide some protection from possible harm that may come from incompetent care (such as conversion efforts), but parents’ active involvement remains important. Any help or support should follow the guidance that acceptance has no substitute.

What if I can’t be accepting right now?

If you do not feel ready to be accepting, reflecting on why this may be the case may be a place to start. We’re all capable of change, and it’s important to acknowledge that what you’re experiencing now is not necessarily your permanent position. Try to allow yourself grace to grow.

If you find yourself feeling as if you cannot accept your child’s gender diversity, how can you practice some psychological flexibility before trying to restrict or change your youth? Some steps in this practice may be private, such as learning to tolerate and stay with the difficult emotions that arise from gender topics. More ways to support yourself in doing the hard work of parenting include:

Alexander Grey | Pexels

Source: Alexander Grey | Pexels

  1. Trying not to get stuck in an either-or-dilemma of either getting a pride flag tattoo or forbidding gender diversity; most families do not live on the ends of such a continuum, and there is no need to choose a “side.”
  2. Sharing your challenges with your child may be harmful, but you still need support. Do your best to process your challenges with peers or support resources who can support you.
  3. Learning about gender diversity. The fact you are reading this is an indication you are on an information-gathering journey. Consider reflecting on your gender experiences, learning others’ stories, and vetting your information by starting with trusted sources like those in this post.
  4. Taking it one step at a time. This might include feeling gratitude for knowing something about your child, even if it is difficult to hear.

Your work to navigate questions about gender and support your child are important steps in creating your family’s unique way. Please keep caring, loving, and struggling, and know your efforts are appreciated by many of us who are listening, most importantly, your gender diverse child.



Melissa J. Grey, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in southeast Michigan, where she teaches, practices psychotherapy, and advocates for more compassionate and liberated communities.

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