I am pleased to introduce a guest post by Erica, as a continuation of my last post. If you have not read the previous post here is the link: https://katherinespeaks2.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/loving-your-transgender-child/
Thanks, Mom, for the invitation to write a post on your blog. And thanks to you all for taking the time to read a little from my perspective. In my mom’s post, she gave a little background for you about how I identity, but I want to clarify a couple points. When I was born 33 years ago, I was assigned female. My mom named me Erica, and I was raised as a girl. I was also raised with the expectation that I was and would be heterosexual.
It was a conservative Christian home, and I really embraced my identity as a Christian. I was a leader in my youth group, I went on to a conservative Christian college, and I majored in cross-cultural ministry. Around the age of 21, I started to realize I was sometimes attracted to women. I shunned this desire and attempted to follow what I had been taught was the better way. I practiced abstinence—not only physically but in all my thoughts as well.
This method worked for a time, but my training in Biblical studies had also taught me critical thinking. Just as Peter questioned Jewish dietary laws and Martin Luther questioned Catholic indulgences, I began to question many of the assumptions that had been organizing my life. This ultimately led me to give up my restrictive outlook that only straight people could be right with God. I eventually came out as queer and later as nonbinary transgender. Many among you will disapprove of the conclusion I came to. My point here is not to convince you of anything about God’s view of homosexuality or gender identity. I feel secure on that point, and I imagine we may have different opinions. My point instead is just to give you an idea of what I was going through.
As a point of clarification, “queer” is sometimes used as an insult, but sometimes it’s a way people choose to talk about themselves. You should be careful to only use “queer” when you’ve heard someone else say it about themselves and when you are not trying to be mean. Also, “transgender” is a person assigned one gender at birth who considers themself another gender. This is typically someone assigned female at birth who considers themself male, or it is a person who was assigned male at birth who considers themself female. I am nonbinary transgender, so that means I don’t identify exclusively as one gender or another. I was assigned female at birth, but I don’t identify as female. I identify as male or gender neutral most often. I use gender neutral restrooms when they’re available or men’s rooms if they’re not. I take weekly testosterone injections. I have a deep voice. People call me sir in restaurants. But I still go by my birth name, which most people consider feminine.
Disagreement between Christian parents and their LGBTQ* children
As my mom pointed out in her post, the fundamental issue parents and children in these types of situations have to accept and learn to work around is that there is a difference of opinion about how moral/right/acceptable nontraditional sexualities and gender identities are. It may seem like a much greater concern than a mere “difference of opinion.” And that’s true. You may be concerned about the soul of your child or their ability to be happy in this world. It seems all consuming. Your attitude may be: I don’t care about being liked or playing some game of political correctness. I just want my kid to be okay.
But your desire for that will not make your child change their mind or who they are or who they have become. If you push for conversion therapy or kick them out of your house or limit contact or in other ways dramatically change how you interact with your child, you will encourage depression, anxiety, and despair—perhaps in yourself, but almost certainly in your child. You may have heard the startling statistic that gay people are twice as likely to attempt suicide than straight people, and transgender people are 40 times more likely to attempt suicide than people who are not transgender. The alienation LGBTQ* people experience is a direct cause of depression, and this alienation begins unfortunately within families.
Your hard stance may help influence your child’s immediate behavior, but they will be harmed in the process. And as you know from reading your Bibles, God does not want the half-hearted convert anyway. So even according to the logic that homosexuality is against God’s will, your actions to make your child have a “normal” gender and sexuality will not result in God being happy. You will have done the equivalent of dragging your kid across a finish line. Not only will this action not result in the race being won, but you will be damaging your relationship with your child and doing irreparable harm to them.
Coming Out: Often A Difficult Road
Coming out has been very difficult for me. “Coming out” is attempting to be open about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Everyone comes out differently, but I came out to myself first by just accepting that this was what I wanted and what I felt was right. I then came out to close friends and acquaintances, and then to colleagues and even strangers, and then to family who I knew wouldn’t be immediately supportive.
At first I had been happy after coming out. My life started to make sense, but then my relationships with some family and some friends began to change. I didn’t quite understand where I belonged, and I was very angry about the rejection I felt very sad about the losses I was experiencing. I first came out to some friends who were very accepting. Some friends and family who would later be supportive didn’t know what to think at first. My disclosures that I was queer or that I was transgender was a lot for a person to handle. I didn’t speak to some of these folks for weeks or months or years after I told them. They needed time to process things, but it still resulted in me feeling rejected, alienated, and alone. I lost a lot of friends too—some very close to me. Even thinking about it now, it’s still painful. Some family have written me off as well. It’s very difficult not to be bitter about that.
When I was in this coming out process, I was pretty depressed, anxious, and I felt very disconnected from friends and family. When I came out to my mom as queer, I had kept my sexual orientation a secret from her for a few years. I worried a lot about her. But I also had been very angry with her. I wished I didn’t have to worry about her. At that time, my parents were getting divorced and my mom seemed heart-broken. I was angry because I wanted to be more open about who I was discovering I was and who I wanted to be, but I felt like I had to keep quiet about it all until she wasn’t having her own problems. That wasn’t a good strategy on my part, but it was all I felt I was able to do at the time. It ultimately led to me coming out in a very unplanned way.
I was also very angry because I knew she wouldn’t understand. And she didn’t. And she doesn’t. She understands more every month and every year, but the basic sense of understanding and recognition and yes even approval that I want and that is so easy for a lot of straight children to receive from their parents has not been true for me. And my guess is it will never quite be true. My mom’s and my differences of opinion are just too great. This made me very angry then. It even made me consider ending contact with her. Things were just too painful. It’s still painful sometimes now, but I’m very glad we’ve kept communication open. We’ve fought at times, but we’ve talked and listened and learned more about what it means to care for each other. We keep working on things. Understanding increases. Patience increases. It all makes room for love and care and connection.
Conflict and Worry
When I came out as queer to my mom, I tried very hard to convince her that her opinions were wrong. And she tried to convince me mine were wrong. Your child may feel very strongly about their views. They may feel strongly that God approves of their decisions and identities. Or they may reject Christianity and God altogether. They may be unsure about God or the Bible, but they may just know they can’t pretend to be straight anymore. It will be painful to hear these things. You may feel betrayed, disappointed, and fearful. It’s okay to feel these things. It’s hard, and for that I’m sorry. Keep in mind though that it’s hard for your child too.
You should remember during this time that you could NOT have prevented this. I know my mom worries about this, and I try often to remind her it’s not true. Our environment shapes us, sure, but if you believe homosexuality is wrong, you probably shaped your child to believe the same thing. It’s not your fault they found something else to be true. If you believe so strongly in God, you will need to also trust God. Your child is an independent creature, and no amount of worry and disapproval will put you in more control of what is going to happen. Let God be God. Accept what has happened. Take the time you need. Talk to others and get support. And start to consider what’s left to you now. And there is indeed a lot left to you now.
In my relationship with my mom, when we stopped debating about our differences of opinion, our relationship improved dramatically. But another concern is avoiding certain topics. Yes, you should put aside your impulse to call into question your child’s decisions and identities. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions or that you can’t be interested in their life and who they’re dating and what their life is like on a daily basis. The answers to those questions are the stuff that create loving relationships between parents and their children. Your interest and support does not mean you approve of every decision they make. Your interest and support just means you love them and you want them to go into the world knowing they are loved.
I think whatever your views on sexuality and gender identity, you can agree that a parent is called to love their child.
A Few Tips to Think About
From where I’m standing, we worry about you but we often feel we’re unable to suggest these things, so I offer these tips for your consideration:
1. Appreciate that processing through these issues is hard on you, and take appropriate care of yourself. This means you have to reach out for help and support. Spend time with and talk to your friends. Look for resources. Ask for prayers. Attend a support group. Talk to a counselor. Read some books. Find comfort in the things you like. Make healthy decisions. Sleep enough, and take a walk every now and then. Processing all that’s happening can be hard, but you won’t be able to it if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
2. Don’t be afraid of resources that aren’t advertised as fitting in with your point of view. You can read something or attend an event and realize that some of it was helpful and some wasn’t. I’m thinking of a PFLAG meeting or an LGBTQ* event, or some blog posts or books about learning to cope with a loved one coming out to you as LGBTQ. You may not agree with everything. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something helpful there. Reading it doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned your beliefs. It just means you can be reminded you aren’t alone, and you can hear from those who’ve been where you are.
3. Consider opinions other than your own. You do not need to change your entire belief structure, but there are some small changes that we all need to make. For instance, I know someone who told his parents that he was transgender and no longer wanted to be known as Crystal and no longer wanted to be called “she” and “daughter.” Instead, he wanted to be called Aiden and “he” and “son.” His dad told him in no uncertain terms that he would always be Crystal and “she” and “daughter.” No matter what your beliefs are, you aren’t doing any good by alienating your kid. Your kid is going to resent you, stop calling you, stop visiting you, and possibly hate themselves and hate you. It may be very difficult for you, and it may take some time, but you are going to need to learn to make some changes. You don’t have to approve of their choices. You don’t have to celebrate their newfound identity. But you will have to learn what it is going to take to respect and love your child given the new circumstances.
4. Be in communication with your kid. You can talk about your feelings with your kid. If you are having a hard time or you are sad or angry, you can tell your child. But as in all relationships that are important to you, you and your child will have to talk to each other in a loving way. This means respecting each other and caring about each other’s feelings. This is the heart of relationships, isn’t it?
5. Have fun with your kid. Everything didn’t change the day they came out to you. They are still the same person they have been. But as with all people, some change is to be expected. Are you the same person you were when you were 14?
As you can see, I’ve had a hard time keeping this post short, so I better close. If you wish to contact me directly, you can at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sending love your way,