Deciding when, how and who you disclose your child’s information to can take some planning. Most people you talk to can be divided into a few categories: friends and family you spend a lot of time with; people you’re close to but don’t see very often; acquaintances you see regularly like work colleagues and other parents from your child’s school; and medical and educational professionals. Different approaches are needed, depending on who you’re speaking to.
This information sheet offers guidance on how to have the conversation with people who are close and important to you. The influence of societal stigma against gender diverse people is often felt by parents of gender diverse children, acutely so when disclosing to people from whom they’re expecting a negative response. So along with guidance on setting expectations and boundaries, we’ve included advice on how to manage your own emotions during the conversation, and how to respond if things take a negative turn.
You can find scripts for the conversation (or email) itself in ‘Helpful Wording: Disclosing your child’s gender identity to family and friends’; the two resources were designed to be used together. For guidance on communicating with other parents, acquaintances, medical professionals, and educators, please head to the resources in our Friends, Families and Allies section and our Medical & Legal Considerations section.
Discuss with your child if and what they’re happy to disclose
Before you start writing or preparing for any conversations, check in with your child. Let them know who you’d like to talk with and why. Ask if there’s anything in particular they’d like this person to know, or anything they’d prefer to be kept private. Taking their wishes into account can help them feel more in control of their own information.
Let people know some news is coming
Let them know in advance that you have something important to discuss with them, especially those who may find the news difficult. Ask for a convenient time when you can speak with them uninterrupted or let them know a letter or email is coming which they can read in their own time.
Work out your expectations and boundaries
Spend time thinking about what you expect from the person you’re telling.
Expectations can include:
- Being kind and respectful to your child at all times
- Continuing to relate to them like the child they’ve always known and loved
- Using their preferred name and pronouns
- Avoiding insults about your child’s identity or appearance
- Not asking inappropriate or unnecessary questions
- Not discussing your child’s gender in front of them unless invited
- Keeping your child’s personal information confidential unless advised it’s OK to share
- Explaining your child’s gender diversity to their own children
- If buying gifts, choosing them to suit your child’s gender identity
- Making an effort to learn about gender diversity
Boundary setting is a way of managing offensive situations yourself rather than pre-emptively trying to control others’ behaviour with firm rules.
An overarching boundary many parents follow is to remove their child as soon as possible from any situation where they are being emotionally or physically hurt.
Some other examples of boundaries are:
|If this person…||then I will…|
|refuses to try to use my child’s new name and pronouns…||…not force my child to spend time with them until they’re ready to make that effort.|
|makes underhanded comments about my child’s appearance…||…mention how proud I am of my child living their life authentically.|
|keeps undermining my choice to support my child…||…request that we have another conversation to help them understand why my acceptance of my child is crucial.|
|’s children tease my child…||…talk with the school or with the parents to make sure it doesn’t happen again.|
|asks too many questions, which exhausts me…||…direct them to some resources they can read themselves.|
|ask me or my child inappropriate questions…||…reply clearly that this is a personal matter that’s none of their business.|
Write notes and prepare a few responses
Write out the points you want to cover in your letter or conversation.
If you’re planning to speak in person or over the phone, these notes will act as a guide as you talk or can help you structure your letter or email. They can also help get you back on track if you experience big emotions in the face of disapproval or criticism.
Draft a few responses to questions or objections you might receive. This is especially handy if you plan to talk over the phone or face-to-face. It can also be handy when sending a letter or email, as the person you’re writing to might call you straight away to discuss it.
Prepare yourself and your desired outcomes
The article ‘Becoming Out: A totally non-exhaustive, step-by-step guide to coming out’ goes into detail about the how, what, why, and when of coming out, and shares some helpful prompting questions to help you determine your desired outcomes for when you have the conversation with someone.
Decide how to share the news
Write a letter, email or SMS
Some people find that writing a letter or email can be a less confronting way to deliver this news. You can also express everything you want to say in one package. The recipient also has the space to digest and process the news in their own time and can experience their reaction in private instead of in front of you. A succinct, straightforward group email to less important people is also a convenient way to limit unwanted questions.
Be ready that your recipient may respond immediately, either positively or negatively, or may not respond at all. If you haven’t received a response in a timeframe you’d expect is reasonable of them, a gentle follow-up text or phone call can be appropriate, something like “I’m hoping you’ve had a chance to read my email by now. If you have, please know that I understand the news might be shocking. I appreciate that you may need time to process it all. Please know that I’m here to talk to whenever you’re ready, however you’re feeling.”
Prepare to talk in person or on the phone
Delivering the news in a conversation means that the person you’re talking to will be able to respond right then. This can be challenging, constructive or both! When talking directly you need to prepare yourself for a range of emotions. There might be nerves and fear of rejection. Take some time remembering your own reaction when you found out or realised that your child is gender diverse. You are likely to feel protective of your child and may feel defensive. Or you might have positive anticipation that the news will be taken well.
Get ready with some mindfulness techniques to stay calm throughout. Breathe deeply to calm your body and mind, and stay conscious of your body and emotions. If you find yourself getting upset, request a quick break to gather yourself. Decide on an exit strategy if you think the news might not be received well and mention it at the start of the chat if that might be helpful. If the conversation becomes too uncomfortable, asking to end it and speak again in the future, will sound reasonable.
What to say in your letter, email or phone call
We have some helpful templates available to help you deliver your news. You can use our resource ‘Helpful Wording: Disclosing your child’s gender identity to family and friends‘ as a guide, or copy the bits you like and tailor your script. Below, we’ve gone into a little bit more information on how to have the first and follow-up conversations with people you care about.
Talk clearly about your child’s gender identity
Using plain language, clearly state that your child does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. They are gender diverse/trans etc, and are now identifying as a girl/boy/non-binary young person. They have requested that we please use their preferred name (X) and she/her/ he/him/they/them pronouns.
Clarify what gender diversity is (and isn’t)
Having a read through our ‘Understanding gender and gender diversity’ resource sheet will give you a good basis of understanding, from which you can explain your child’s situation.
Gender diversity is:
- A natural aspect of human diversity
- Something that has existed for thousands of years
- A diversity that has always been accepted by many cultures globally
Gender diversity is not:
- A mental illness or disorder
- A choice
- A phase or something that can be forced out of someone
- Your child trying to be accepted by their peers
- Your fault or a result of “bad parenting”
- The same as being gay – it’s not even linked to sexuality
Let them know you support your child
We hope that by this stage you have learned enough about gender diversity in young people to understand that supporting them is critical to their wellbeing. Whether you have wholeheartedly accepted your child’s gender identity yourself or not, let the person you’re talking to know that you’re committed to supporting your child.
Parents of children who are living openly often report that their children are happier and more grounded than before their transition. If this is the same for you and your child, this is something to share.
People you talk to about your child will naturally follow your lead, so role model positivity and you may just find it being mirrored back. The more you speak about your child with positive language and confidence, the more people’s fears will ease. Be proud of your child! They have been hugely courageous in coming forward about who they really are. In the face of your calm and assured position, the person you’re talking with will hopefully come to terms with the news easily and realise there’s no reason to panic.
Avoid downplaying the situation
The desire to help others feel comfortable is natural but remember that it’s your job to take care of your child, not protect the feelings or personal beliefs of other adults.
They might try to downplay the situation, for example, “Oh, she’s just being a tomboy”, or “Lots of boys like to dress up. He’ll grow out of it when he gets older”. Avoid agreeing just to keep the peace. Instead, respond with a positive statement like, “I’m so proud of my child for living life as their true self.”
If they object to what you are saying, hold your ground. Remind them that they don’t spend as much time with your child as you do – you know your child deeply.
Acknowledge the risks…
When people first hear that a loved one is gender diverse, their minds can race to the negatives: Discrimination, stigma, abuse, rejection, ridicule…and research does evidence these experiences.
For example, In the Trans Pathways study:
- 89% of gender diverse young people reported having experienced peer rejection
- 74% had been bullied
- 68.9% had experienced discrimination
- 78.9% had issues at school, university or TAFE
The result of all this is that:
- 74.6% had been diagnosed with depression
- 72.2% had been diagnosed with anxiety.
- 79.7% of participants had harmed themselves
- 48.1% had attempted suicide
…but be clear on the importance of affirming your child
These statistics are terrifying, but there’s great news. Multiple research studies have concluded definitively that support from parents and other family members can have a hugely protective impact on a young person’s mental health. In fact, when parents accept and affirm their child’s gender identity, the child’s mental health and self-esteem can be almost as good as their cisgender (i.e. not gender diverse) peers.
In Trans Pathways, the 65.8% of gender diverse participants who reported a lack of family support also had higher rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts, harming themselves, risky behaviours, and other mental health diagnoses such as anxiety and depression than those who did not experience a lack of family support.
Discuss what will and won’t change about your child
It can be helpful to point out that your child’s gender identity doesn’t change who they are, apart from potentially making them happier and healthier. This is still the same child they have known and loved. Remind the person that your child is much more than just their gender; that they’re still a regular child who’s obsessed with video games/soccer/dancing etc, they’re still fighting with their sibling, still struggling with maths but doing well at English etc.
You can also talk about positive changes you’ve noticed, like improvements in mood, attitude, making new friends, or that your relationship with them has become stronger since they’ve come out to you.
Be explicit about your expectations and boundaries
When you were in the planning stage, you thought about some of the things you expect from this person. During the conversation, or in your letter or email, be explicit in relaying these expectations, and request they try their best to adhere to them whatever they may feel.
Encourage them to continue relating to your child as before
Sometimes people will want to know how they’re supposed to act around your child now, or what they’re supposed to say to them. Encourage your loved one to relate to your child the same as they always have:
- Engaging in general conversation and talking about their interests
- Asking how things are going at school and offering support if it’s requested
- Letting your child know their door is open should they ever want to talk
- Being affectionate, kind and caring
Your loved one could also consider:
- Telling your child that they find the news a little hard to get used to, but they love them so they are trying their best to understand
- Apologising if they slip up with your child’s new name and pronouns
- Finding ways to demonstrate their ongoing love and respect for your child
- Avoiding being overly protective and trusting your child to live their life
Encourage them to do their own research
A gentle way to wrap up the conversation is to recommend resources for their own research. Direct them to the Transforming Families website, or have some of our resources printed and ready to give to them. We’ve also listed some suitable resources for family and friends below. Often, parents of gender diverse kids find themselves in the position of “accidental advocate” or “educator” about all things gender diversity, which can become burdensome. Explain where they can find credible information, or peer support, to help them become another loving and supportive adult in your child’s life.
Give resources to family and friends who are close to your child, or who have children of their own, to help them understand what your child needs. Our information sheets ‘Understanding gender & gender diversity‘ and ‘How to talk to young children about gender‘ are good resources to start with.
Give them time
Just as you needed time when your child first came out to you, so will the person you’re telling now. After the conversation is over, or they’ve read your letter or email, ask them if they’d prefer you leave them alone to process their thoughts, or if they’d like your support and guidance to get used to the news, or if they’d simply prefer you check in with them every now and again to ask how they’re feeling.
Be patient as they adjust to the news. Be open and answer their questions honestly, always staying firmly in support of your child.
Check in with your child
Your child may want to know how the conversation went. Keep in mind that if your child becomes aware that someone dear to them is not supportive, it could damage your child’s relationship with them. Soften your retelling of any negative conversations and say that this person is having a hard time understanding things right now, but that you’ll keep talking with them about it.
Ask your child how they are feeling now this person has been told and work out together what you’ll do next. You may also want to ask your child if this person has since been in contact with them and whether it was a positive experience for them.
Telling important people that your child is gender diverse can bring up many big emotions. Advocating for your child can be stressful if family or friends are not supportive of their gender identity. The fear of rejection, ridicule or loss of family connections can cause significant anxiety.
Preparing carefully is key. Checking with your child what they are ready for people to know, plus a few notes written ahead of time can help you structure your conversation, letter or email. Know what your expectations and boundaries are and be ready to take a break if things become confrontational.
Approach these conversations with patience and compassion, but be firm with being heard. Be armed with basic information about gender diversity and the benefits of supporting your child. Encourage them to support your child and continue relating to them the way they always have. Afterwards, follow up with them to see how they’re going with the news.