Parenting Trans Kids
This applies to any kid who’s not quite fitting in. Or, really, to ANY kid.
In the parents’ support group I run on Facebook, someone posted that her son’s Birthday party is today — and only one RSVP. She is heartbroken. She says the parents are afraid it’ll turn their kids gay.
I wanted to share some ideas on how to potentially avoid such an outcome.
There are four main factors governing the attendance of a kid’s Birthday party.
1. The classmates
2. The parents
3. Logistics and communication
4. Actual scheduling conflicts
Each of these creates a challenge — a challenge that can be overcome.
These will be the guests, of course. The trick is to get them excited about the event.
If your child is any kind of outsider (trans, gay, autistic, the ‘new kid,’ from an immigrant family, from a different ethnicity or religion, etc.) we can start with the assumption that many kids might NOT be drawn to your child. Kids are trying to normalize, to fit in. Different is scary. Don’t take this personally. And you might want to consider sharing this notion with your child, so that they don’t take it personally either.
Your kid is not the only outsider though. Other kids are experiencing this awkwardness, this not fitting in. Encourage your child to reach out to these kids. Befriend them. Become an ally for them. (All of this will be easier if your child is an extrovert. It will make the process a bit easier for them. If your child is shy, or an introvert, then addressing the second motivation will probably be easier.) By befriending the outcasts, your child will find one or two friends easily enough. The good news is that, with these friends, your child will have playmates. The bad news is, they will all still be somewhat in the fringes. Which brings us to the second motivation.
The second motivation is the event itself. Some events are exciting enough that personalities matter less, liking or disliking a particular classmate matters less.
When my daughter was eight, she was really into Panda bears. I organized a bowling outing with a Panda theme. I painted all the girls’ faces with black and white face paint and took them to the bowling alley. When my son was eleven I took his Birthday group to Sky High to jump on trampolines. Other ideas are go-karts, putting golf, skateboarding lessons, mani-pedis. Ask your child for ideas! And of course, ask Google. The internet is full of fun party ideas for all ages.
The parents will be driven by different motivations than the kids. Politeness and social graces will drive them toward acceptance. Prejudice and fear will drive them toward rejection. So, the game consists of pushing up the social graces, pushing down the prejudice and fear.
In terms of your trans kid, their fear will most likely not be about the child — it will be about you. The common narrative is that this is something the parents are pushing on the kids. The parents will probably be suspicious of you. Your job is to make yourself visible, and visibly “normal.” Now, I’m not saying that you need to reject any aspect of your kid’s gender identity, or compromise your integrity. What I’m saying is, lead with the things that are relatable, easy to digest, easy to accept.
One great example I keep thinking about is Ellen Degeneres. Once she came out, Ellen put together a comedy special. And did she speak about her Queer struggle? No. She made jokes about shampoo. She was relatable, likable, adorable.
So my advice is to shake hands, smile, focus on common ground. If someone wants to debate you on trans kids and their rights, you might want to shrug it off with something like, “you know, we’re all just doing the best we can for our kids.” Don’t try and convince people of gender theory. Don’t try to fight their ideology. Focus on the bake sale. Compliment Sharon’s earrings. Make small talk with Susan. Tell Jody her kid is amazing. Volunteer. Participate. And resist the temptation to argue. Just shrug off debates and arguments with “I understand that you might have a different worldview than I do. I think it might be best not to debate controversial subjects.”
Even with the most popular of children, it’s hard to get RSVPs to a Birthday party. Kids forget. Kids lose invitations. Parents are busy, overworked, distracted. The best of intentions sometimes results in a fail. It helps to think strategically and plan ahead.
- Get contact info for the parents. Phone numbers, email addresses.
- Follow up with text messages, phone calls or emails
Even before organizing the Birthday event, consult with a few parents for a suitable date. Ask them if the third weekend of the month is best, or perhaps the second weekend. Get them involved, make them feel consulted. Ask for their help — such details build a bond. Once you have a date chosen and you’ve secured the venue, print out invitations and send them out with enough notice (three weeks?)
Make sure to follow up with the parents, afterwards. Thank you notes, thank you calls. Acknowledge and celebrate the parents who helped, the kids who showed up, the presents received. Make everyone feel like this is a collaborative win for all involved. Tell them how much this has meant for your kid.
Now, in terms of your kid and their expectations, it helps if you have three scenarios: A successful party with a decent turnout, a small gathering with just two or three staunch friends, or a family outing. (Depending on the communication protocols you have with your child, you might want to discuss these with them directly.)
Should your efforts bear fruit, you’ll have a dozen or so children show up, and your Plan A will pan out. But you should have Plan B ready — just your child and a couple of staunch friends. If this is the situation, be prepared to roll with it as if this was exactly the best outcome.
And if no one turns out at all, you should be prepared for this. Address any disappointment your kid might express, but don’t show any disappointment of your own. Just tell your kid, now you can just relax, not worry about a big party, and just celebrate family style. Your kid’s favorite restaurant, your kid’s favorite hangout. Board games and pizza at home? Lasertag? Make it all about your kid.
If you really want to have a solid backup plan, be ready to take your child to see the movie they’ve been talking about, or a sports game they’re into, or a play. Or a drive to see the sunset. Or the aquarium. Something that will stay a magical memory. Something that will make the party an irrelevant detail.
And at the end of the day, as you tuck your kid into bed, have one final gift ready. Something meaningful. Something affirming and empowering, and memorable.
Most of all, remember that none of this is about you. This is about your kid and their memories. Keep your own emotions in check — don’t let anything you do or say convey to the child that there’s anything wrong with them. Explain to your child that people get scared of different. That every person tries really hard to be “normal,” and the truth is that no one is. Everyone is weird in some way. Everyone is special and different.