«Contents Who are we? 2 About this booklet 3 What is trans? 4 Language 5 Key terms 6 Sexual orientations 7 Other useful ...»
A Guide for Parents and
Family Members of Trans
People in the UK
Who are we? 2
About this booklet 3
What is trans? 4
Key terms 6
Sexual orientations 7 Other useful terms or expressions 8 What happens when your loved one tells you that he or she is trans? 9 “Have I done something wrong?” 11 Gender Recognition Act 2004 12 Emotional labour 13 Versions of the past 14 Looking after siblings 15 Communicating as a whole family 17 At what point do you tell others? 18 Ways of telling people 21 New names, pronouns and looks 22 Fear for safety and well being of your trans loved one 23 Schools, colleges, universities, and the workplace 25 Gaining support 27 The trans community 28 Useful trans organisations and links 29 Professional services 31 Parent services 31 Other ways to access information about trans lives 33 Further reading 34 Who are we?
Gendered Intelligence is a company that delivers arts programmes and creative workshops to young trans people from across the UK. We facilitate workshops to trans and non-trans young people within schools, colleges and other settings in order to generate discussion and debate around gender and the ways in which it presents challenges in our everyday lives. Our professional development and trans awareness training for teachers, youth workers and other service providers of young people and their families is also key for ensuring staff can feel confident and equipped to tackle discrimination of trans people. Our aim is to promote multiple and diverse expressions of gender identities in all aspects of young people’s lives.
The Consortium of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Voluntary and Community Organisations (The Consortium) operates as a national membership body for LGBT organisations throughout the UK. Different to other national LGBT charities, the focus of the Consortium is around the development and support of LGBT groups, organisations and projects, rather than actually delivering direct services or campaigning for individual LGBT rights.
It champions the value and importance of LGBT specific organisations and groups, as well as the need for their existence.
As membership organisation, the Consortium exists to represent the needs and support requirements of those LGBT organisations, groups and projects that subscribe to a set of shared values and a vision of a “LGBT” sector. By listening and working with members the Consortium can advocate to Government and other policy makers the concerns and issues that members have with regard to funding, capacity and local engagement.
About this booklet In conjunction with the LGBT Consortium, Gendered Intelligence gathered a group of people to discuss various issues and concerns that parents and family members of trans people have. You will read quotes throughout this booklet as it hopes to relay some of what came up for us.
You may be a parent or a family member of a trans person yourself looking for information and stories that will help you. It was thought by the group that understanding what trans means is vital when coming to terms and accepting your loved one as trans. This booklet hopes to offer some basic information that we feel is important for those coming across trans for the first time or for those who have questions about their loved one’s future.
“Guidance on trans equality in post-school education” The forum on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Post-School Education. Also see http://www.gires.org.uk/assets/GIRESPrevalence-Abstract-1.pdf for a gathering of studies on the trans population feel themselves to be part of the heterosexual world and not have any affiliation to the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, regardless of their own or their partners’ gender identity.
It is often thought that there are many different terms used around trans identities, which can often be the cause of some confusion. Parents and family members of trans people may be afraid of getting it wrong, especially when they are trying to support their loved one and demonstrate that they care.
The important thing to remember is that learning new words takes time and can only be grasped through practice. This means mistakes are bound to happen, but if it does it’s important to forgive yourself and move on.
Language is often slippery and subject to change and this has both positive and negative outcomes. It is important to have the right words so that we can describe our identities, however as soon as we create categories for ourselves there are others who continue to slip between such categorisation.
For this reason trans is consciously a loose term. There are other words, such as transsexual, transgender or cross dresser, which may offer more of a description of those who feels themselves to fit within the trans spectrum. It is generally good practice to use adjectives, the words that describe us, rather than nouns who say who we are. For example, say ‘a transsexual person’, rather than ‘a transsexual’. This allows people to feel that they have the opportunity to shift and change as they go through life, rather than be fixed as one thing.
Sexual orientation People sometimes confuse gender identity with sexual orientation and as a result think that trans is another category of sexual orientation or sexuality. Trans, however, describes how you feel your gender identity to be. From that self-identification you may use another word to describe your sexual orientation or sexuality. For example, a trans man who tends to be attracted to men might describe himself as a gay trans man. A trans woman who is attracted to men might describe herself as straight or heterosexual. Those trans people who do not wish to define their sexual orientation in terms of the gender binary (male and female) may describe themselves as queer.
It is often a difficult time when your loved one tells you that he or she is trans. At first you may have felt confused or shocked, in denial about it all, or even grief stricken.
Some parents have equated their child’s transition with the loss of a son or a daughter.
Here are some excerpts of other parents’ experiences:
“I was not particularly taken aback, but I was taken aback by my own physical reaction, because I just couldn’t stop crying. It was uncontrollable. I tried to analyse why that was the case. I think it’s wrapped up with a parental guilt. I wanted to have been able to help my child. The second thing is the realisation of the pain and confusion that my child must have gone through. But I’m very, very happy and positive for him.” (Parent) “Alex came out to me and I wasn’t paying attention. It was a pretty intimate moment. We were talking about honesty. … Alex told me that Alex was a member of the gay straight alliance and I thought that meant that Alex was gay. I thought no big deal. I didn’t quite get that it was really about the gender. With my partner, I’m accepting but I’m confused… and with family and friends how do you balance that with the interests of Alex? For us we love Alex. I’m happy to have Alex and hope to have him go through this journey and come out with what Alex is looking for.” (Parent) It takes time for parents and family members to realise that being trans does not change the person deep inside, even though he or she may begin to look somewhat differently.
“I feel it’s the same person… the person inside is exactly the same person that I’ve always loved.” (Parent) “It’s not a different being. It’s the same child.”(Parent) “Have I done something wrong?” No one really knows for sure what it is that makes someone trans. There is some scientific research that points to the brains of transsexuals to be the gender that they feel themselves to be, despite their genitalia stating otherwise. Others theories offer ideas of surges of hormones that take place in-utero during the final stages of pregnancy, switching the mind of the baby but not the body. Others feel that gender identity, including trans identities, develop and emerge through various experiences and influences living in the world.
Parents in particular might feel guilty or responsible for their loved one’s trans identity. However, in order to come to terms with a loved one’s trans status, it is important that parents do not blame themselves or think that they have done something wrong.
In our discussion group one of the young trans people
made an excellent remark:
“You wouldn’t go and see a comedian and ask why are they funny?
Or [ask] is it in their genes?” (Young Trans person) Parents often have ideas as to how their children will turn out, but more often than not things don’t quite turn out that way! Asking why someone is the way they are is indeed a big philosophical question. However simply accepting people for who they are is a necessary part of human existence.
“I had to accept that it is real. It’s so clear that our daughter wants to go down that path. The sort of unhappiness that she’s had in trying to deal with the outside world, and you observe this and you think well you wouldn’t be doing this if it was just some psychological problem that perhaps some counselling would solve.” (Parent)
Gender Recognition Act 2004
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 means that people can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate. This allows trans people to be issued a new birth certificate and to be legally recognised in their preferred gender. This includes the right to marry someone of the opposite gender, or to form a civil partnership with someone of the same gender, and to retire and receive state pension at the age appropriate to the acquired gender. A person whose birth was registered in the United Kingdom will also be able to obtain a new Birth Certificate showing his or her recognised legal gender. In order to obtain a certificate each trans person must prove that they have, or have had, gender dysphoria; that they have lived fully for the last two years in their acquired gender; and that they intend to live permanently in their acquired gender. A trans person applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate needs to be 18 years of age or older. All applications to obtain a certificate go to a Gender Recognition Panel.
For more information go to:
http://www.grp.gov.uk/formsguidanceotherguidance.htm Emotional labour When a loved one is coming to terms with their own trans identity it is not easy and this no doubt has an effect on all members of the family. A trans person might put barriers up or distance themselves from their family. It can be a particularly anxious time and trans people can be very sensitive to the smallest of comments. Emotions might run high. Also, because so little is understood about trans, family members might have questions that their trans loved ones don’t even know how to answer or respond, which may add to the difficulties. Despite all of the best intentions parents and family members of trans people can end up feeling rather helpless and lost. It can be hard seeing a loved one struggling or feeling unhappy. It is equally hard to manage your own feelings as a parent or family member when you are trying to do what’s best for your trans loved one.
“You feel responsible for them being miserable.” (Parent) Versions of the past When a loved one comes out as trans to their family, it can be particularly upsetting if the parents and family members were unaware of what he or she has been going through. It also forces people to ask questions about the past. Different people have different memories of the past and it’s difficult to locate the “truth”. Family members can feel discounted when the trans person reveals how bad their lives were and how they hated themselves.
“What was wrong with me that I didn’t see that they were so miserable?” (Parent) Some trans people decide to hide their past, but this is often due to fears that others will suddenly treat them differently if their trans status is revealed.
“My child was, at one point, ripping up photos of him[self] when he was female. I can understand why you’re doing that but if you’re doing that you are kind of destroying who you were as a child and those photos might be part of a memory that you may want later on in life. But because he didn’t want anyone else to see them, I persuaded him to put them away somewhere safe.” (Parent) Looking after siblings When there is more than one child in the family, siblings of trans people can also have struggles and questions that also need attending to.
“The sibling might feel that their whole paradigm of what their childhood was gets twisted because they [the trans person] are saying it was so different for them” (Parent) If a child is attending the same school as their trans sibling they may also experience difficulties from their peers, as well as members of staff and their safety and well being is of equal importance. This may add pressure to the sibling relationship, especially if there is blame. The important point to remember is that it is not the trans person at fault but the specific transphobic environment which needs addressing (see Schools, Colleges, Universities and the Workplace later on in this booklet).
One family who we interviewed talked to us about a series of bullying that was carried out on the sibling of a young trans person.
“There was one point when I was actually threatened with physical violence… School became a really scary place.