Being trans is not a problem to be solved: How to make space for joy when your child comes out

Ben Greene headshot/"My Child is Trans. Now What?" book cover
Photo: Brian Munoz/Rowman & Littlefield

For so many parents and families, learning that someone they love is transgender can put a pit in their stomach, and this is understandable! In addition to the intense social climate and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, most of our conversations around supporting trans youth begin and end with statistics around poor mental health.

While we absolutely want to avoid that, coming out isn’t just about moving away from pain — it’s about moving towards something joyful and beautiful. Below is an excerpt from my new book, “My Child is Trans, Now What? A Joy-Centered Approach to Support” that helps parents meet their children as they are, work to build a better world for them, and ride the rollercoaster of emotions this journey entails.

I think the metaphor of a rollercoaster actually works quite nicely here; like any rollercoaster, there are going to be quite a few emotions that come up along this journey. Anticipation before big conversations, twists and turns where you feel like you’re just barely hanging on to the cart, and, of course, the depth-defying stomach-churning drop. Perhaps you’ve already had that drop moment. Perhaps you’re in the middle of it right now. Perhaps you feel it’s still coming. That moment is terrifying, no two ways about it, but to continue with our rollercoaster analogy for just a moment longer. The reason we feel safe getting on a rollercoaster is because even if it’s our first time on board, we know that that rollercoaster track was designed by a group of experienced professionals with everyone’s safety in mind. Thousands of families just like ours have ridden this loop before and made it out the other side with smiles on their faces. 

Every conversation I have about the trans community has joy at its core. There are so many reasons that coming out is joyful. Not only has someone realized something profound and beautiful about themselves, but they have identified you as someone who is safe enough and important enough to share their truth with. That is worth celebrating! Focusing on the joy as you go through this journey is crucial, and this book is grounded in trans joy and celebration. Though many of these pages are filled with suggestions for solving problems that may arise, it is important to remember that coming out and transitioning are not problems to be solved; the problem to be solved is society’s response to coming out and transitioning. 

Throughout these pages, I’ll be sprinkling in “joy exercises” to help continue to ground us in joy and celebration and find moments of love and happiness in this exciting time. As luck should have it, you’ve arrived at the very first of these exercises. 

Joy Exercise: Celebrate Coming Out 

It’s so crucial to remember that something incredible is happening. Your VIP feels ready to share their true and authentic self with the world, and they want you to be a part of that journey. There is often a lot of stress associated with and in the days/weeks/months leading up to a coming out conversation, and now that you’re past that initial conversation it’s a great time to celebrate. It doesn’t need to be a huge party; there are so many kind little things you could do to celebrate or show your VIP that you support them and you’re there for them. Ideas for celebrations include: 

  1. Baking/buying a cake with rainbow icing
  2. Buying a pride flag for your VIP to hang in their room or in a home space 
  3. Having a “gender re-reveal party” 
  4. Having a family photoshoot with your VIP presenting how they want to be seen to replace photos they may be uncomfortable looking at 
  5. Taking your VIP to their first nail salon, haircut, or store trip to purchase affirming clothes 
  6. Have a fashion show of their new, affirming clothes 
  7. Attending a pride parade if it’s seasonally appropriate 
  8. Watching a TV show or reading a book that includes a positive representation of their identity

Joy Exercise: Family Photos 

Though it may feel sad to take certain pictures down, this is also a delightful opportunity for a new source of joy for your family. Once your VIP has found a “look” that they feel comfortable enough with, set aside some time to take new photos. Book a family photo shoot with an LGBTQ+ friendly photographer, or become a tourist in your hometown and discover old and new favorite places to take pictures together where you all feel at your best. 

Joy Exercise: Coming Home To Our Bodies 

For those that want them, transition-related gender affirming care can be absolutely magical. Looking in the mirror and recognizing myself for the first time, learning to shave my new beard, getting to go swimming without a shirt on, these were huge milestones that I was so excited to celebrate with the people I love. Here are a few quick suggestions for ways you can celebrate these moments: 

  1. Send someone who has started testosterone a shaving kit or carving out special time to teach them how to shave. 
  2. Remind your VIP to take progress pictures and videos throughout the process of hormone replacement therapy. Changes can feel very slow moving and your VIP may not notice them at first and looking back on old pictures is a great way to realize just how far you’ve come. 
  3. Help coordinate a photo shoot for your VIP to celebrate looking and feeling more authentic to how they identify. Consider replacing old family photos with new ones taken together where they feel more seen. 
  4. If your VIP is musically inclined, changes in voice can sometimes be stressful. Have a mini-concert where you celebrate the new songs they’re able to sing with their vocal range. 

Joy Exercise: Find ways for your VIP to learn about, see, or meet older members of the LGBTQ+ community that share their identity or interests to show them positive possibility models. 

Joy Exercise: Make a regular habit of taking care of your community with your VIP. Whether that’s by participating in mutual aid groups, volunteering to help organize clothes at a community closet, or something else, practice taking care of the people who take care of you. 

Hopefully this list has given you enough tools to talk to your VIP and help them find all the joy they’re looking for. These tips are starter ideas to help you develop your own joy practices, and your VIP will guide you to find things that bring you joy together. Remember too that joy exercises must fit into a larger allyship strategy to make a meaningful impact, both are pieces of an overall strategy to make sure your VIP feels seen, supported, and loved exactly as they are. 

Ben Greene is a trans man, transgender advocate, and educator who has spoken internationally on topics surrounding transgender inclusion. After coming out at 15 in small-town Connecticut and giving a popular TEDx talk at Brandeis University, Ben has devoted his career to spreading empathy, education, and storytelling around the trans experience. He is the author of My Child Is Trans: Now What? A Joy-Centered Approach to Support.

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