FULL SCRIPT:

“When your kid tells you that they’re transgender, what do you do?

41% of transgender adults have attempted suicide, mostly as a adolescent or young adult. [7][9] Parental support can dramatically reduce the risk of suicide, by 3.5x [3][2]. But many parents are terrified of doing the wrong thing. So. What should you do when your child tells you that they are transgender?

The first thing to realize is that there is a very good chance the child is right.

In nearly all of studies I am aware of, NO child regretted transitioning. [1]

I’ve spoken with two nationally recognized endocrinologists that work with trans kids, and they are aware of only one case of regret in the thousands they’ve treated.

Additionally I’ve never met a single person who has transitioned and regretted it. I’ve never met a parent of a trans kid who regretted letting their kid transition.

I’ve only ever met parents who regretted not letting their child transition sooner.

Regardless of their identity in the end, you have two choices — reject or accept their declaration.

If you reject them, no matter the end result, you will contribute to their harm and increase the risk of mental illness.

Studies have shown that, regardless of what happens outside the home, familial support can literally save your kid’s life [2][3]. Familial support reduces suicide by 3.5x and substance abuse by 2.5x [3]. If you as the parent reject your child’s identity, you are the largest and most negatively impactful bully in your child’s life, more so than any and potentially all of the bullies at school.

That is, when your child says something to you about their identity and you say ‘no’, you are telling them that they cannot trust how they feel, they cannot trust you to listen to and hear them, and they cannot trust themselves. That creates an invalidating environment, and invalidating environments are hotbeds for the formation of many serious mental illnesses that last a lifetime [5][10].

If you choose to affirm their identity, no matter the end result, you are telling your child that they can trust you. That they can confide in you. That they are allowed to trust themselves and their own feelings, and that you trust them to learn and figure themselves out. This is a part of building a healthy parent-child relationship [5][10].

A reminder that up to 41% of trans adults have attempted suicide at least once [7][9], mostly as kids. If you reject their declaration of identity, you increase this risk of this suicide. If you affirm them, you reduce the risks — and so much so that in one study, socially transitioned children with supportive families reported depression rates indistinguishable from cisgender youth [1].

It is also important to keep in mind that by the time your kid brings this to you, the parent, they have probably spent months or maybe years crying themselves to sleep at night, wondering if you will still love them. This declaration to you is not a whim, this is well-thought through statement, and in this moment, you have a rare opportunity to show your kid they can trust you, that they can confide in you.

In the end, you as the parent have the choice: You can either increase the risk for harm and suicide by rejecting them, or you can dramatically reduce that risk by affirming their identity. It is your choice. Don’t be your child’s first bully.

FURTHER THOUGHTS:

“But my kid is too young to know they’re transgender! This is such a big life decision and I don’t think they’re old enough to make it.”

This is actually incorrect! Studies show that gender identity actually develops quite young – before kids begin school, around the age of 3-5 years old [11]. This doesn’t mean that every kid realizes that they are transgender this young. Social and parental pressures as well as general societal stereotypes of gender can cause many transgender individuals to remain presenting as the gender they were assigned at birth for many years. Still, the argument that kids are “too young” to be able to know who they are is scientifically and psychologically incorrect. Kids absolutely are capable of knowing their gender identity.

Do not conflate gender identity with executive functioning. Many folks know that the prefrontal cortex (where executive function originates) does not mature until mid to early adulthoold [12]. But, this is irrelevant to the development of gender identity. Executive function is often referred to as cognitive or self-control. This skill set includes the following three skills: cognitive flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control [12]. Inhibitory control includes the ability to hone attention and focus, ignore distractions, and inhibit or regulate base emotions and impulses. So, if anything, mature executive function could actually reduce the ability for a person to be able to openly speak their mind and express their authenticity because mature executive function allows for a heightened ability to inhibit oneself — and potentially could allow a trans person to inhibit their expression of self due to fear or some other hesitation. This implies that children are actually better equipped neurologically to be able to express themselves authentically.

“But some people do regret their transition!”

Yes, they do! The video does not say that no one ever regrets transition. It says that almost no one. This is statistically true. A handful of folks do de-transition and realize that they are actually their assigned gender. This handful out of the literaly millions of transgender people in the world is statistically insignificant. Additionally, I have read zero accounts/case studies of folks who regretted transitioning or who de-transitioned who thereafter experienced significant psychological harm or distress. They usually express that the experience wasn’t for them, and they actually would rather live in the gender they were assigned at birth. Compare this with increasing suicide attempts by 3.5x due to rejection of identity. It is always better to affirm, even if it means that (less than) 1% of the time, the person might not be transgender in the end. They are more likely to be alive if you affirm them. They might not be if your reject them.

SOURCES:

  1. De Vries, A., Mcguire, J., Steensma, T., Wagenaar, E., Doreleijers, T., & Cohen-Kettenis, P. (2014). Young adult psychological outcome after puberty suppression and gender reassignment. Pediatrics, 134(4), 696-704.
  2. Schmitz, R. M., & Tyler, K. A. (2018). The complexity of family reactions to identity among homeless and college lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer young adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(4), 1195-1207.
  3. Klein, A., & Golub, S. (2016). Family Rejection as a Predictor of Suicide Attempts and Substance Misuse Among Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Adults. LGBT Health, 3(3), 193-199.
  4. Espelage, D. & Holt, M. K. (2013). Suicidal Ideation and School Bullying Experiences After Controlling for Depression and Delinquency. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(1), S27-S31.
  5. Linehan, Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder Guilford Press, New York (1993)
  6. CDC, NCIPC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010) {2013 Aug. 1}. Available from: www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars.
  7. James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
  8. (2010). Mental health disorders, psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. American Journal of Public Health. 100(12), 2426-32.
  9. Herman, J., Haas, A., & Rodgers, P. (2014). Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults.
  10. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
  11. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/children-and-gender-identity/art-20266811.
  12. Zelazo, P., Blair, C., Willoughby, M., & National Center for Education Research , sponsoring body. (2017). Executive function : Implications for education. Washington, D.C.]: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.