Being a parent is difficult. There are many obstacles in our way. I’m not only referring to the landmines, aka toys, we must hurdle through, or all the poo and vomit we must clean up when they are young, and the years of lack of sleep. I’m also referring to the societal pressures, each unique to not only our respective countries, but also our local communities. When you are an LGBT parent, you begin this parenting game on a much harder difficulty level.
Being the parent of an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old, plus I’m a trans man — born biologically female but my gender identity is masculine — I’ve accumulated a lot of experience points in this area.
My boys have always known that I wasn’t like the other mothers, even before we would start having open dialogues about what makes me different. Two years ago, when I came out publically, these open conversations became even more complicated yet wonderful.
Before coming out in public, not only did I have to jump around the “normal” obstacles of parenting, but I had to run the gauntlet of parenthood while hiding my true self. Trying to fit into the “mom/women” roles and attempting to hold on to my masculinity, while dealing with temper tantrums and explosive baby poo, plus trying to be a “good parent” by volunteering at school, and the list goes on…
I’ll unapologetically admit, I’m happy those days are over.
Even though the added pressure of hiding is gone, being out has changed the game, but the difficulty setting is still extremely high.
I live in Canada. As far as LGB issues are concerned, things are pretty good here. But as far as the T* goes, we still have a long way to go. The slow progress on trans* issues was a contributing factor to staying in the closet for close to four decades.
Because each parent has a unique set of monsters to slay, and these monsters will vary based on cultural background and location, it isn’t always easy to pass on nuggets of wisdom or hand over those cheat codes. Again, this is even truer for those of us who are born the LGBT way.
However, I think I have learned a few tricks that may unlock some secret manna, and help fellow LGBT parents on their journey.
1. Be Open
It is extremely important to be open with your children. While you’ll have days where you think the entire world is casting judgment on the way you were born and your family, your children will love you unconditionally. Closing off lines of communication with your children, or hiding aspects of life as an LGBT individual may cause the exact effect you’re hoping to avoid. Being open means not only being open about who you are, but open to answering their questions. Even if they’ve always known about who you are, they will have questions.
2. Be Honest
This can be a difficult one, especially if you think lying to them is going to protect them. There will be days that they hear things at school and have questions as a result. Openness and honesty will get you through those tough times, and it will equip them with much needed knowledge.
Being honest also means not hiding being upset when someone has directed bigoted and ignorant comments, plus death threats, towards you. If they ask you why you are upset, tell them. Showing how it also affects you will help them feel safe in those moments that it affects them, too.
Being honest also means don’t make your children keep your secrets. It’s unfair and sets up all sorts of other issues, including preparing them to keep other secrets adults ask of them that they shouldn’t keep. If you’re not out of the closet to those outside of your family, you need to figure out some sort of plan in the event your child is put in a situation where they have no choice but to somehow open that door.
3. Be Prepared
It doesn’t matter how close your relationship is with your children, there will be a day, or days, where they get hurt for the way you were born, and they will take it out on you. You know what? It’s okay and perfectly natural. I’ve yet to hear an, “I hate you!” from my boys. However, when my oldest was a 13-year-old having girl problems, he “angrily” asked, “Why can’t you be a girl?!” I put “angrily” in quotes because he wasn’t angry, but he was, you know? He was also frustrated with the situation and the fact that it was one of the few times in his life that I was beyond clueless. Just because I was born female doesn’t mean I have any idea about girls and women. I’m as clueless as the next guy, so I’m ill-equipped to give them motherly advice. It was difficult not to laugh at him. I understood his anger and frustration, even if it was half-hearted. I’ve felt it myself. I didn’t want to laugh and have him think I was being dismissive of his feelings.
As part of being prepared, you may want to let them know before the first asshat at school makes a comment about you, before they see a bigoted comment directed towards you, or the first sexual orientation or gender question stumps you, that it is okay for them to vocalize those feelings. Just like you need a safe environment to vent when people aren’t following Wheaton’s Law, they also need a safe environment.
4. Don’t Force the Conversation
You will come across moments where they are so fed up with this game, that they want to rage quit. They will shut you out. However, by going through steps one, two, and three, eventually they will, once again, hand you the other controller and ask you to join them. Just be patient and remind them you’ll be their companion when they are ready.
The game of life is difficult. Hopefully, these codes will help other LGBT parents. You don’t have to go it alone.