Should any child have to ask their parents for love? Isn’t that part of the deal?
I’m 21 years old. I grew up gender non-conforming. I also grew up with supportive and loving parents. Today, I express my gender freely and confidently and I am certain that I will be loved for it—both by myself and by others.
That is not the case for many trans people. 46% of transgender and gender non-conforming young adults have attempted suicide. That’s 10 times the national average in the USA. It’s a staggering statistic that is related to gender, economic and racial oppression. It feels hard to face.
So let’s make it really simple. When trans youth are supported by their parents, the percentage who consider suicide drops by 57%. Children who are living openly as transgender with the support of their families have positive mental health.
In support of Transgender Day of Visibility, I’ve worked with one young boy to write a message to all parents of transgender and gender non-conforming kids. I urge you to support him and share this article. If there is any time to take action to protect trans children, it is now.
To Parents, From a Trans Kid
By Caleb Lucas
My name is Caleb. I’m a 12-year-old transgender boy who lives in Arizona. I was assigned female at birth but I started transitioning to male a little over a year ago because in my mind, heart, and soul I’m a boy and I always have been. I’m also currently a foster child, so I’ve lived with a lot of different parents. Some have been accepting, some have not, and others claimed to be accepting but didn’t truly understand what being transgender is all about.
I want parents to understand how important it is for transgender and gender non-conforming kids to feel loved unconditionally and accepted for who they are. Being transgender is not just a phase or mindset that kids will eventually grow out of. It’s not something that can be changed. That means if you don’t accept them, your judgment will stay with them for the rest of their life.
I don’t know why some parents aren’t accepting, I just know how it makes kids feel.
Living with my birth parents made me feel extremely depressed and even suicidal. They didn’t accept me. They made me wear girl’s clothes and no matter how hard I tried to explain how uncomfortable I was, they didn’t believe me. They didn’t even try to understand what I was going through and that was so hard. I hated myself. I couldn’t even look in the mirror without feeling sick to my stomach because the dysphoria was so bad that I didn’t want to live with it anymore. I was eight years old.
When I first went into foster care, I moved in with an amazing family. When I was with them, I finally felt like someone understood what I was going through for the first time in my life. They helped me get into therapy, to understand what being transgender actually was, and they helped me start my transition. They made a huge difference in my life and for the first time in a long time, I was happy.
I wish my parents and all of my foster parents were like my first foster parents. They made me feel like I was actually worth something. They made me feel like whether or not I was happy actually mattered to them. They allowed me to be a boy both on the outside and the inside and that was the best feeling in the world.
But lots of parents aren’t like that. It hurts me and it hurts my friends.
“I’ve heard my mom talk about when she found out she was pregnant she didn’t care if I was a boy or a girl, and now that I’m a boy it’s like the end of the world to her. Every time I say my name or try and get her to use the right pronouns, she gets mad. The one time my mom used my name I just started to cry I was so happy. When they tell me I’m lying about who I am, it really isn’t easy to hear. Parents are supposed to be there for you no matter what.” — Morgan, age 13
“It took my mom three and a half years to understand I really am transgender. During that time she was denying it and calling me ‘confused.’ It makes me upset that my dad says he has one son instead of two.” — Mihael, age 21
“I’ve felt suicidal so many times because how they treat me. All I want is to be a girl and they don’t understand that, they just keep calling me a freak or fag. I wish my parents would just love me for who I am.” — Savannah, age 16
“I have told my parents I was trans and their response was that I was lying. It hurt a lot to know they didn’t accept me, for the first time in my life I finally figured it out and I was happy but they didn’t accept me.” — Terrance, age 19
“I wish they would be more accepting and not get angry when I try to open up to them.” — Steven, age 21
“I’m scared of being myself and them punishing me in some way because I’m trans, so I don’t feel safe to be myself. I wish they would support me and help me find and become myself a bit more everyday.” — Lucca, age 16
“Look at how much you’ve hurt me and how strong I’ve had to be to save my own life! You didn’t ‘save your daughter’ by forcing me to be a girl; you never had an older daughter. Instead you almost lost your son.” — Tobias, age 16
Parents, please listen to what your kids have to say. Love them, accept them, and be there for them no matter what. You may not understand what they are trying to tell you at first, but keep listening and never give up. Your love and acceptance means more to them than you will ever know.
Finding out that your child is transgender or gender non-conforming might be a confronting experience. Previous certainties evaporate. Statistics of suicide and fears of discrimination weigh on your heart. Unanswerable questions multiply.
You might feel alone in this, but there are many parents who are challenging societal norms in order to love their children. You are the best protection your child is ever going to get.
“My advice to parents is let your children be true to their heart. Don’t stress about it. If you love your children for who they are inside and out you will be a part of their life forever, no matter what path they choose to follow. After all, isn’t that what parenting is all about?” — Dawn, grandmother of an 8-year-old transgender girl
“To me, loving a child who is different, a target and seen as vulnerable is my role as a father and decent human being. I want to love him, not change him.” — Matt, father of a 9-year-old gender non-conforming son
“This journey isn’t about whether you accept your child or not, it’s about lifting them high enough to have the strength to keep moving. It’s our job as parents to stand behind our children, to make them believe in themselves, and that is exactly what I am doing. She makes me a better parent and opens my eyes wider with every passing day.” — Sherri, mother of a 12-year-old transgender girl
“Being his parent has, in fact, made me very proud, partly because he is naturally quiet and shy. His desire to be true to himself is so strong, he overcomes his shy nature to be authentic. Now our boy is our boy, our pretty boy, but we don’t think twice if he wears lipstick or the fluffy pink jacket. If anything, we smile. We see him shining, expressive and completely himself. How could we want anything else?” — Naomi, mother of a 10-year-old gender non-conforming son
Caleb and I wrote this together to observe and honor Trans Day of Visibility. I’m glad you read it, but don’t stop here. Transgender children need more than visibility.
Start small and get bigger. Read more. Ask questions. Love someone. Challenge homophobic and transphobic discrimination. Support local advocacy groups. Help make schools safer. Connect with activists around the world. Pressure governments to better protect trans people.
Together we can provide trans youth with more support and community. Collectively we believe many things, but I think we all believe in a world that doesn’t let children die by suicide just because of who they are. That world starts with us. It starts now.