parenting transgender children

I’m the parent of a transgender child. It’s complicated and beautiful and emotional and painful and wonderful all at the same time. It is the easiest thing in the world to love and parent a child who is transgender. It’s not any more heroic than the everyday work of any other parent. However, it is much easier for me because my daughter and I live in a supportive community, and a state with a track record of standing up for trans people. My daughter has come across very few actively transphobic adults in her life, and she has great support from her family, siblings, teachers, friends, Girl Scout troop, soccer team, doctors and others. It’s easy because she’s a girl like any other girl. I admit I take this environment of total support for granted sometimes, especially in the current political climate.

Something I have found in my travels with the Gender Moxie Project is that even though there are differences for transgender and other gender diverse children living in progressive environments, that the most important factor in community and policy support for families is familiarity. People are more likely to rally behind children and families that they know. Even some of the most transphobic folks– from the casual adultists to the actively anti-trans “activists”– simmer down when they meet a transgender child and/or that child’s parents or caregivers. Some have been transformed into stalwart supporters of transgender people, all because they heard the stories about transgender children’s experiences and that of their families.

So, what does that mean for my academic project? Well, it means writing. Lots and lots of writing. Getting the stories of gender diverse children and their families into the textbooks and reading lists for professional trainings, graduate and undergraduate degree programs and other general texts about caring for children and families. Because in this way we normalize what we know is a normal human variation. Being transgender is normal. It is not a defect or disorder or pathology. It is a normal human variation that we have seen in every culture in every context throughout all of human history.

But back to the book: This familiarity and storytelling/sharing project is one reason why I was so pleased to be included in Brien Ashdown and Amanda Faherty’s edited volume, Parenting and Caregivers Across Cultures. You can see the entire book here, including some really nice chapter samples!

As the editors write in the volume description:

This book explores diverse parent-child relationships from around the world, drawing on connections between culture and parenting values and challenges. It identifies parenting practices within various countries’ unique historical, political, and cultural backgrounds, reframing parenting as a cultural process whose goals are to encourage culturally-specific child behaviors and outcomes. Chapters focus on parenting research in a range of countries, such as Australia, Bolivia, China, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Rwanda, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Chapters also discuss social, emotional, and physical developmental topics throughout the lifespan, including infancy, early childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, and adulthood. 

Topics featured in this book include: 

  • The link between cultural differences in academic success to parents’ academic socialization practices. 
  • The impact of culturally-specific parental engagement in positive developmental outcomes in children. 
  • Transgender children and their parents. 
  • The relationship between religious and secular values and their influence on creating polygamous teenagers. 
  • How to implement a micro-cultural lens to studying parent-child relationships during emerging adulthood. 
  • Differences and similarities in grandparenting among different cultures. 

Parents and Caregivers Across Cultures is a must-have resource for researchers, professors, graduate students as well as clinicians, professionals, and policymakers in the fields of developmental and cross-cultural psychology, parenting and family studies, social work, and related disciplines.

My contribution focuses on parents making sense of a child’s experience that lies outside of their own. In doing so, I describe parenting a gender diverse child in the unusual American cultural parenting context, one that is defined by both an historical focus on “child saving” as well as advocacy and activism. It all comes into very sharp focus in the midst of the first half of the Trump presidency, wherein parents were required to rethink many of the givens of being a “good parent” in the American cultural milieu.

Thank you to Brien and Amanda for including gender diversity in the larger discussion of parenting, children and culture and allowing my work to appear alongside so many beautiful pieces from established scholars in the field.

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