PBS used with permission
Source: PBS used with permission

I recently had the pleasure of watching Real Boy, a documentary about one transman's journey. A central feature of this film is Bennett's relationship with his family, and his mother in particular. In watching this film, I came away with some key lessons for parents that link to what research tells us leads to better outcomes for trans youth that I want to share with you here.

DO:

  1. Believe your kid. They know who they are, and trust that they are being honest with you when they are trying to help you understand.
  2. Use the name and pronouns that feel authentic to your child. Using the name and pronouns you assigned and may be more comfortable with tells your child that you don't believe or trust them to know who they are and what they need. It also disrespects core elements of their identity and causes harm repeatedly.
  3. Connect with other parents. Get involved in online discussion forums, connect at regional events for trans youth and their families, or find your local P-FLAG. Learning from others' journeys will likely help you on your own path.
  4. Love unconditionally. There are other parents in this film who model what it looks like to fully embrace and support a trans child without conditions.
  5. Show up. Be present for your kid. Be there when they need you whether they ask you to or not. As Bennett's mom says when she flies in to support him during his surgery: "I'm not for it, but I feel like I should be there..."
  6. Educate yourself. Read, watch films, attend events. Make it your job to understand the varieties of experiences within the trans community. Don't make it up to your child to educate you.

DON'T

  1. Make it about you. As a parent it should always about your child. You should never ask your child to try to support you or understand how hard this is for you. Bennett's mom talks about how hard it is for her being around her friends and talking about their children's successes and not knowing what to say about her child. This is part of her journey, but that is her work, not her child's.
  2. Minimize what your child is going through by ignoring their challenges, or calling it a phase or a choice. This shows that you don't believe your kid and you aren't ready to give your full support.
  3. Reject your child because you don't understand. As one mom in the film says, "you don't have to understand it, just love them through it."
  4. Make trans identity a source of blame or shame. Some parents wonder what they did to make their kids trans, or have said "I'd rather have a daughter who's trans than a dead son". Which is some ways is very true and pragmatic, however it equates transness as only slightly better than death. Being trans is not a bad thing or something to be embarrassed about, its just your kid becoming more comfortable with who they are. Bennett explains he's still figuring things out but, "I'm happier now, so I think that means something."

Real Boy premieres on Independent Lens Monday, June 19 at 10/9c (check local listings) on PBS. I am participating in an online discussion tonight (5/23) with the film's director that you can join in by registering here

The post film Q&A will feature:

  • Shaleece Haas, Director, Real Boy
  • Jennifer Bleyer, Sr. Editor, Psychology Today, Panel Moderator
  • Daniel Fernandez LGBTQ+ Coordinator, HiTOPS
  • Beck Gee-Cohen, Owner, BGC Consulting
  • Elizabeth Meyer, Women's and Gender Studies Affiliate Faculty, University of Colorado, Boulder

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