When a loved one makes the decision to change their gender representation permanently, it can be devastating for other family members. The change requires parents, spouses, children, and siblings of the transitioning individual to re-evaluate their family’s sense of identity. This is exceptionally difficult for some families, when transitioning often meant losing one’s family. Today, that stigma is changing with LGBTQ organizations such as: PFLAG, who support families in transition by uniting them with friends and allies in similar situations. PFLAG is the nation’s largest family and ally organization, with over 350 chapters and 200,000 members helping each other across the U.S.
The majority of families do not know the best way to respond when their loved one tells them of their intention to begin transitioning from one sex to another. The families’ initial shock and resistance to the idea of transsexualism is an understandable normal reaction. Often families try to persuade their loved one to delay the transition. This can be very harmful, because the transgender individual has most likely reached a point of crisis before alerting family members. Their loved one is already aware of the pain that the situation may cause the family and is sympathetic to the deep sorrow that his or her parents, spouse, children and siblings may feel. Family members need to be aware that the transitioning individual is driven by their overwhelming need to live as the gender they identify themselves as. Gender dysphoria is a biological condition in which a person feels strongly that they are not the gender they physically appear to be. People often confuse gender dysphoria as homosexuality; however, an internal sense of gender is not the same as sexual orientation. This lack of information and understanding is why for some families transitioning may feel like an unnatural evolution that disassociates their entire family.
Unacceptance and the lack of understanding severely inhibit communication within the family, resulting in the family being unable to maintain a healthy relationship through the process. It is vital for each member of the family to reach out to other families for support, understanding, and acceptance so they can move through their family’s transition in a positive way. In an interview with The Boston Globe, Melissa MacNish, a licensed mental health counselor with the Greater Boston PFLAG , said “The support groups are a form of self-care for these parents and a crucial step for them coming to understand their kids.”
The transgender individual will need to rely on the family’s acceptance, understanding, support, and most of unconditional love. PFLAG enables family members to share their experiences, understand their own situations better and work together on finding ways to help their loved ones and themselves. Some of these families who attend the workshops enjoy the opportunity to share their feelings with people who understand what they are going through, for them it is reassuring that they are not alone. Those who attend come away with the understanding that gender dysphoria is a natural biological variation in development, not a mental disorder. Family members also eventually come to realize that no one is to blame.
This article was written by Laurell Morse, a writer for dusk magazine.