Help for parents, family, friends, and significant others trying to understand the transgendered persons they care about.

If you're coming to this page you're probably under a lot of stress. Gender is one of the biggest 'norms' in society and when you children are violating those standards you can start to ask yourself, "What's wrong with them??" Or you might even ask, "What's wrong with me???"

Please feel free to write me. I'm not a therapist but I'm happy to talk. It's kind of hard to give over-arching advice but I thought I would copy two of my letters on to a web page. I'm sure your situation isn't the same as either of these but I hope you can get something out of it.

One thing to keep in mind is that you're already doing something right! Coming to this page means you really care about helping your child. You're looking for help and you are not planning to ignore things as though they're not there. That lets me know you're a wonderful person and I hope you can see yourself, and your child, that way too.

Correspondance with the Parent of a 6-Year-Old Boyish Girl

Excerpts of Sally's Letter to Madeline

Madeline, My 6 year old daughter claims that she knows she is a girl, however, she has always insisted on dressing (boys clothes and boys colors) and wearing her hair (short and slicked back) like a boy -- she is a tall girl for her age and very agressive and with the way she looks, the boys and girls in her class thinks she is a boy. Ok, so she's a tomboy?? But now she has twice wet her pants on the playground so she doesn't have to enter a bathroom--the boys and girls laugh at her for going in the girls bathroom because they think she is a boy-- I know this may not be the forum for such a question but i don't know where else to begin -- she already sees a pschiatrist for agressive behavior but i thought your web-site was so informative and so clear -- i thought maybe you could stear me in the right direction?? does she have potential to fall in a gender identity program?? or does she just need better direction?? what can i do for her so she can better grasp who she is?? Thank you so much ------ Sally

Madeline's Response to Sally

Hi Sally,

It must be very challenging and frustrating trying to raise your daughter. I know a lot of parents can start feeling like they must have done something wrong if their child doesn't fit in or is aggressive or lots of other confusing behaviors. And that can make it feel so overwhelming when you try to make sense of it all.

It's wonderful that you have your child seeing somebody about her aggression. Aggression is a big reason children have trouble with their peers and that can be very stressful for her. You might ask her therapist how he or she is trying to help your daughter deal with whatever underlies her aggression (which might be gender issues or might be something completely different) and ask how her therapist is helping her learn to handle conflict assertively (instead of aggressively or passively). Ideally you can find a therapists for your daughter that you can feel comfortable is helping her (though remember therapy is a long-term process so you won't see immediate changes) and that your daughter feels comfortable spending time with (a therapist & your daughter need to trust one another for them to really work well together).

There are some things you can do to help your daughter become assertive rather than aggressive. That's actually to learn assertive communication skills yourself! Most people haven't been taught this formally and it can be very difficult to figure out on your own. Maybe you use an aggressive-style now by saying lots of "you statements" ... "you're a slob in your bedroom.", "why can't you be more like your brother and clear the dishes when you're told to", ... (notice how these statements are about what your child is doing wrong rather than about how you feel and what changes you would like to see ... this can leave a child feeling bad about herself.) Maybe you use a passive-style now by trying to be nice by not directly asking for changes you need. Afterall, you might be getting stressed about your daughter's tom-boyish behavior but maybe you don't feel you're right to have those feelings (but feelings are never right or wrong, they just are). The biggest difficulty with trying to hold your feelings in is that, eventually, nobody can. Some days are just going to be very stressful for you and your daughter will certainly do bad things that day (kids all do) and you'll find yourself reacting disppropiately upset when one little bad thing triggers all of your built-up frustration. And then your daughter won't really understand what she's done wrong b/c she can't imagine all the things that built up in you ... but she probably will be left feeling she's bad. I know this all too well because for years and years I always felt it was wrong for me to have my own feelings and needs and so I often acted passively. I've been learning assertiveness skills too! Anyway, there are lots of ways you can learn assertiveness skills. One way is to take a class in assertive communication with your spouse. You might able to find a class in assertive discipline of children. You might see a therapist either alone or with your partner to help you learn these sorts of life skills. One great book that I love that's *really* helped me is this one: "Messages: the Communication Skills Book" by McKay, Davis, & Fanning. One chapter is on assertive parenting and many other chapters are very relevant like the one on active listening.

It's really hard for me to say if your daughter has any gender issues. My intuition is that, if she does, they're not that extreme if she says she's a girl. You also didn't mention her going into the boys bathroom on her own. She might simply get more and more tomboyish as her peers dislike her more because of her aggression. The bathroom situation sounds really bad and I hope you'll try to work on that issue with her school. Like, you might express your concerns to her school's prinicpal and teacher (avoid blaming them or they'll get defensive & not be ready to help you). Maybe a temporary solution can be arranged like where she is allowed to go to the nurse's office (which often has a single-person bathroom?) when she needs to go to the bathroom.

If your daughter remains very boyish, there are three things that might happen as she grows up. The exact chances of each are hard to say because the research on this isn't very good and most of the research has been on girlish boys instead of boyish girls. There's about a 24% chance she would grow up to be a straight women. There's about a 74% chance that she would grow up to be a lesbian women. And there's about a 2% chance that she would grow up to be a female to male transsexual (so she would want to start living as a man). The best research to date suggests there is pretty much nothing you can do to change the chances of each outcome. I know if you do go searching for it, you'll find people who can 'teach' her with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to be girlish and straight. CBT is a reasonable therapy for many things, but please be careful about putting your child in this situation for cross-gender behavior. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association both strongly oppose using "reparative therapies" like this and it's often suggested they could harm her more than they could help her. It's completely okay if you're uncomfortbale with the idea she might become a lesbian and it's something worth talking with your therapist about as she grows up. Your daughter will probably start to understand if she's a straight women, lesbian women, or transsexual during her adolescence.

I've probably written so much that there are so many things your thinking about at once. But I just wanted to say that the most important thing you can do for your daughter is something you're already doing: love her for whomever she is. I'm sure that's why you have already brought her to a therapist and why you ended up reading my web-site. And a loving parent is why everything will probably work out for her in the long run. Best wishes with helping your daughter and helping yourself!


Sally's Response to Madeline

Madeline, You are an amazing and giving person. I hope your parents are very proud of you -- you have helped me so much --- we just take one day at a time -- I don't care how my Sami turns out as long as I can just keep her comfortable getting there!! Good luck to you. ~ Sally

Sally Continues her Response

Miss Madeline, It's me again-- I just printed off your e-mail and re-read it -- I'm smiling -- Thanks again --- Sally

Correspondance with the Sister of an Early Adulthood Girlish Boy

This was actually my response on a discussion board. Unfortunately I didn't save her post and that discussion board no longer exists. But it should be clear as you read it what she was talking about.

Madeline's Response to Libuse

Hi Libuse,

I feel it's wonderful that you're so supportive and caring about your sibling. Many family members of transsexuals don't respond so kindly. That's one of the things that keep many transsexuals 'in the closet' so long, no matter how horrible we fall into depression. Sometimes transsexuals 'test the water' before telling somebody about their transsexuality. It's possible your sibling was 'dropping a hint' by leaving the information. By 27 years of age, somebody hiding transsexuality probably doesn't 'accidentally' make such a blatant mistake as this.

I can understand you and your mom's fear about his response if you approach him/her. But you also have as much to fear if you don't do anything! He/she could fall further and further into depression, he/she could feel more and more helpless and hopeless, and he/she could eventually become suicidal anyway. There's probably very little to worry about if you approach him/her carefully about it. Here's one approach you could use:

First, you should be the person to approach your sibling, not your mom. That's because you found the material at your place so he/she probably already feels ready to trust you. (Even if leaving the information was a mistake, he/she wasn't hyper-vigilant to keep his/her secret around you.) Second, try to arrange a time to discuss the issue in a completely non-threatening and loving way. You could write him/her a letter (that's best because he doesn't need to respond to you instantly). Start the letter by expressing your feelings without mentioning the particulars of this situations: you can say things like you have always loved him/her and always will no matter what. You might also say that your love and support would always be there no matter what he/she decides to do in his/her own life. Then continue the letter by just stating the facts as you see them (without any speculations ... don't say you 'know' what he/she is or anything like that). So you could say, "After you left from your visit with me I found .... " Then conclude by giving him/her a clear opening to discuss it with you; even try to set up a time and place. You might say, "If there is anything you would like to talk about I'm always here for you. If you are not ready to discuss some things about yourself, that's okay, I'm still always here if you change your mind. But would you like to get together for dinner at my place this coming Wednesday night at 6pm?"

Try to give him/her about three or four days between finding this letter and the day you ask to meet. If he 'freaks out', he'll/she'll have a few days to relax. Also, he/she is not going to feel trapped because he/she has to *actively* accept your invitation to talk by calling you or something (but don't start discussing the topic until you actually meet). Finally, your letter can also leave him/her feeling safe because you have already said you're not going to be judgmental.

This would be a very pro-active response on your part. If that's too much for you, then you might consider dropping hints that you're okay with everything, just like him/her. Buy some books like Just Evelyn's "Mom, I need to be a girl" (from this web site) or the anthology "Transforming Families." And 'accidentally' leave them lying around. Or you could print out some web pages (like mine) and 'accidentally' leave those around too. But personally, I really feel the direct, honest, open approach is probably the best solution you have. Good luck figuring things out. And thank you for showing me and everybody else here how wonderful family members can be!