The holiday season is a time when those with far-flung loved ones update each other with cards and family letters, family members gather, and adults reconvene in their hometowns. Sometimes when the year has brought about a revelation of a child’s emerging gender or sexual orientation, parents wonder how best to share the news to a large group of people. They want to support their children and share this family news but may also be concerned about others’ potentially invasive questions or insensitive remarks. How can this be handled?
In the book Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children (ed. Rachel Pepper), contributor Barbara Gurr shares a letter she penned and sent to family members to let them know that her school-age child, who had been labeled a boy at birth, was coming to understand her feminine identity and transition socially. She writes,
Dear Friends and Family:
I apologize for sending you all a crazy form letter, but our family has news to share! And it’s so hard sometimes to get together that we thought we’d send a letter to those people who mean the most to us, and let you in on what’s going on with us.
The news we have is kind of hard to share, and after thinking and praying about it for a while, it seems best to send a letter for two reasons: we have to start letting people know what’s going on with us, and it might be easier for some people to get a letter they can react to honestly and privately—without worrying about hurting our feelings, or saying the “right” thing (whatever that is) or the “wrong” thing (whatever that is).
As some of you have no doubt begun to notice over the last couple of years (especially if you’ve spent time with us more recently), Thomas is presenting us with a bit of a surprise. Our son Thomas is transgender. This means that although he was born with boy parts, he’s really a she. What’s on the outside does not match what’s on the inside of him … We have no doubt that this revelation will be hard for many of you to accept, as well. That’s okay. We know you love us and want the best for us—that’s why you’re getting this letter. We want you to understand what this means so that we can all be honest with each other about our concerns and our fears.
Gurr goes on to explain her child’s transition and share stories from earlier years that led to this realization of femininity. She closes by saying that she appreciates the love and support of those around her. Gurr’s letter provides an excellent template for parents who want to address a child’s gender or sexuality and also send a message: This is our child’s identity. We are happy to answer questions, but we expect that you accept our child for who s/he is.
In the GLBT Student Support Services office, we talk to many parents whose students are attending or planning to attend IU and coming to terms with their sexuality or gender. We are always happy to chat with parents who are concerned about addressing their child’s gender or sexuality with family or community members.
Gurr’s chapter closes with the beautiful statement, “Genders and sexualities are complicated, but love doesn’t have to be.” Through questions, uncertainties, and transitions, this fact holds true. Life is complex—but love is simple.
Written by Jamie, GLBTSSS Office Supervisor