My son was assigned female at birth (AFAB). This was based on biology and body parts alone, which in most cases identity – how one comes to view and define oneself – will line up parallel to. But not always. My son, like many people, happened to instead experience something called gender dysphoria, which is a severe sense of discord that manifests when your outside doesn’t match your inside.
Early during the process of learning and sharing about my son’s truth, someone said, “But he’s going to TELL people, right? When it comes to dating?” She made it clear that she considered immediate, full disclosure an utmost requirement. “Because I don’t think it would be right for my daughter to meet and fall in love with a boy and then find out he’s transgender.”
I don’t fault the woman for asking. It came from the innocent place of naivete—which we all succumb to upon the introduction of an unfamiliar topic—as well as care for her own child, whose heart she never wants to see broken. I understand Concerned Mom, even as I might bristle from the loaded presumptions her comments held.
But I’m getting ahead of where I want to be as I dissect this hypothetical question, so before I answer it for all of us, let’s review some terms.
– If your child identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth, they are cisgender.
– If your child identifies with the opposite gender, they are transgender.
– If they identify with something other than the two most socially recognized genders – male or female – they are non-binary.
– If they are comfortable as more than one gender, they are gender fluid.
– If they feel an absence of gender identity, they are agender.
How your child identifies is their prerogative. (See my essay “Someone Else’s Gender Identity Isn’t About You” for more on that.) Your child’s sexual orientation, which is separate from gender identity, is also their prerogative. Further, whomever your child has an eventual relationship with is… wait for it… their prerogative.
As a parent myself, I know it’s natural to imagine what your child’s future will look like. We think about the career they’ll choose, the path they’ll carve, who will join their journey, how their own family will form. But let’s get real for a moment, because the role you have in how your child’s future plays out is limited. Here’s what I mean.
You can’t control things like their health or personal interests, and where they move or who they fall in love with. This means the “what if” questions become moot pretty quickly.
But you can — and should — encourage them to think independently. To establish strong standards, and live with boundaries, and exist authentically. You should teach them to be honest and brave, to show compassion and offer acceptance. You should trust them, and teach them to trust themselves, and to be a good and kind human.
They are allowed to — and should — grow in a personalized way, build their own understanding of life, and then live that life in whatever ways are appropriate for them. Because everything beyond that is going to work itself out.
So back to Concerned Mom.
“He’s going to tell people, right?”
My son, a teenager, looks like a young man. He has short and close-cropped hair, which I cut myself at home. He wears dude clothes: striped crew-neck tees and baggy hoodies and the solid, neutral joggers we buy from the men’s department. He holds his body in a masculine way, and exhibits mannerisms likewise. His name is unmistakably male. What is there to tell?
“He’ll disclose that he’s transgender when he’s dating, won’t he?”
I’m not sure it’s his duty to send a press release about who he is and why. No one leads with that. During the online dating I’ve done, I’ve never once started a message to a man who matched with me by saying, “Hey there, I’m Janna, and I think you should know I’m cisgender.”
But at the same time, societal notions are expanding. Social norms are shifting. Go scroll through Twitter and check out how many bios include the account holder’s preferred pronouns. Note how many are proudly embellished with a pride flag emoji. If you’re not paying attention to how open and honest (and brave) people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum are, or even how many of them there are, it’s your own fault.
“It wouldn’t be right for my daughter to find out she’s in love with a transgender man.”
Let’s take a step back and remind ourselves of all that comes before falling in love.
Common ground. Friendship. Bonding. Mutual interest. Dating. Getting to know one another on a deeper level. Realizing an attraction. Physical intimacy (at varying levels and in different stages). Sharing hopes and dreams. Being vulnerable. Determining compatibility. And then, maybe, claiming love.
So can you see how unnecessary it is to worry that someone might fall in love with another before their identity or orientation is discussed at length? To get caught up in “what if”?
Maybe you can also see how presumptive and rude it is to suggest that my son would knowingly mislead someone while building a relationship, as if after proposing marriage and gifting a ring he would casually say, “Oh hey, and by the way, there’s this thing I’ve been meaning to tell you…”
Any individual who pulls that kind of stunt has some awfully big character issues which have nothing to do with their gender identity. That points us back to the role we DO play in our kids’ futures. See above. Help them become good humans.
And let me end with a few questions of my own…
What if it was your kid who broke my kid’s heart?
What if your child, in fact, chose to date someone who’s transgender?
What if your own child came to you next week, next month, next year, and said, “I’m transgender”?