Let’s change the negative language and therefore, the stigma of being transgender
Is this a phase? Parents commonly ask when their child comes out as transgender. It is most likely not a phase. More on this here: https://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-children-and-youth-understanding-the-basics For most parents this news usually comes as a shock but likely, the child contemplated their gender for a long time. Nobody wakes up one morning and, on a whim, decides to flip their entire world upside down and switch genders.
The Fallacy of “Just a phase”
A phase (used in this way) is generally something one chooses and gets instant gratification from despite going against norms or expectations. Nobody chooses to be trans; they are born trans. Being trans can be hard; nobody gets instant gratification and benefit from discrimination, misunderstanding, or feeling unsafe. Living in the wrong body and attempting to explain that to people is never conducive to instant gratification; it can be confusing and scary. Even if one experiences no dysphoria (dysphoria is not a requirement to be trans), there are still uncomfortable conversations and interactions to be had and the process of transition is long with many hoops to jump through.
The negative connotation of asking “Is this just a phase?”
To question whether or not something is “just a phase” can many times carry a negative connotation and implies a form of self presentation that one needs to outgrow like the terrible twos phase or the rebellious teenage phase. Nobody ever says “he’s going through the all A’s phase” or the “employee of the month phase”.
Many parents feel a sense of guilt about their child coming out – How could I have not seen this? Did I do something wrong? How could I have caused my child this pain? Being transgender is not inherently a bad thing that must be outgrown or a phase that one hopes will pass. Parents should not be made to feel as if something tragic just happened after their child comes out.
Let’s re-frame how we view being trans! One of the best forms of support is to change the negative language and therefore, the stigma of being transgender.
The media, the politicians, the bullies will portray trans as something to be ashamed of but you can refute this and empower your loved one by believing them and endorsing their self-awareness and reflection! When your child, your partner or your friend comes out to you, they are a light to be celebrated; they show immense bravery and trust to share their authentic self. Conviction in one’s truth is not something to feel guilty about. Rather, feel proud that you can teach strength and belief in authenticity!
Re-frame “Is it a phase?” to mean something positive
A phase – a temporary process of discovery – can be a liberating period of one’s life and lead to genuine growth. By honoring “phases”, we allow children a safe space to change their mind or change their identity without backlash, repercussion or the infamous, “I told you so!”. Dismissal of phases invalidates one’s ability to change. You might unknowingly send messages that a child is worthy of support and belief only when their identity is not a phase. We are teaching kids that identities must be set in stone and that gender must be permanent in order to be valid. This is a ton of pressure on a child to inadvertently expect them to know at age 5 for example, exactly who they are going to be for the rest of their life!
On the other hand, your child can change their mind and still be trans. They may take five steps forward and 20 back. They may retract and go back into the closet and this indecisiveness (or appearance of indecisiveness!) is normal. Coming out to family is scary. Coming out to yourself can be scarier. Gift them space to discover without letting the non-linear timeline de-legitimize their process.
How can we be certain something is or isn’t a phase, anyways?
Yet another perspective is that the “Is this a phase question” is moot. We cannot know in this moment if something is or isn’t a phase. It isn’t until looking back in hindsight, once the phase “ends”, that we can call it a definitive phase. Have faith in the present moment.
Celebrate diversity and their ability to change as so often adults forget how to be this free! Thank your child for their open mindedness in finding their own authenticity even if it makes you uncomfortable. Or, better yet, also ask: Why does this make me uncomfortable? How can I work through this for the betterment of my child and myself?
Again, how could you know for certain if something is a phase? Is the gamble of thinking you know your child better than they know themselves inside worth the risk? By honoring your child’s chosen pronouns and name, buying them gender affirming clothes and toys you lose nothing except your own comfort and security and they gain a hero, an advocate, a supporter.
For older kids, even hormone blockers carry little risk and merely put off puberty. It’s a way of buying more time as families navigate a plan of action. More on Lupron myths here: https://medium.com/@carolly/dispelling-the-myths-about-puberty-blockers-3a132119faca
Believe. Have Faith. Trust in the unknown
When I realized I was trans, everybody had some explanation as to why I saw myself as a boy instead of a girl as if they knew me better than I knew myself. Unknowingly, even those with the best of intentions tried to talk me out of being trans while I longed for somebody to just believe me. In the absence of belief, we feel invisible.
Nobody can predict the future. The greatest support you can offer is to have faith in the person you love when everything ahead of you is unknown and no matter how scary it is, walk forward into that unknown holding hands. Your belief, love and faith are the life-saving iron shield between your child and the cruelty in this world.