Being The Father Of A Transgender Teen
It has been about a year and a half since our daughter told us she was transgender, and it has not been an easy time. Watching your child go through something like this is incredibly hard. This is not just something that happens one day and blows over. It is a daily struggle over an extensive period of time, and it can really wear you and your family down.
In the transgender debate currently sweeping across America, everyone is focused on the trans kids, and what treatments they should or should not be allowed to have, but very few people are openly talking about the impact this is having on the families involved. No one can truly grasp the burden this places on a family, the cloud of darkness that you feel over your lives. Knowing that your child hates herself so much that she is willing to mutilate her body just to try to find happiness is a horrible thing to live with, and it affects the entire family in so many ways. It robs you of your joy.
This has forever changed my relationship with my child. I will never get to go to another Father/Daughter dance, or see my daughter in a prom dress. On the day she gets married, if I even get to walk her down the isle, I don’t know if she will want to be in a dress or a tux. Accidentally calling her by the pet name that I have used her entire life now sends her into an absolute rage, and for the rest of my life Father’s Day will be a reminder of the time four police officers showed up at our house on a suicide prevention call for our daughter.
When something like this happens, it changes your perspective. Things that used to be “important” no longer matter. That book you were reading or the Netflix series you were watching no longer holds any interest for you, at least it didn’t for me. You don’t care anything about your hobbies, or sports, or favorite pastimes any more. Even your job and career are no longer as important as they once were. Initially, most days I felt like I had been punched in the gut, and there was a constant pressure, a weight, on the tops of my shoulders and across the back of my neck. This went on for several months. I would lay awake at night for hours, and when I did drift off to sleep it would not be long before I was wide awake again.
Trusting In The Lord
Proverbs 3:5 states to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;“. I am finding this to be a very difficult thing to do. While I have faith that everything it going to be ok, sometimes it is hard to be positive. Sometimes you are just so overwhelmed, or this storm lasts for so long, that you wonder if it is ever going to end. But you will get through it. You just have to have faith and trust in the Lord.
Dads really struggle with this, often feeling alone and isolated. Moms seem to be able to find support easier, whether it is through their friends, church groups, or even support groups for parents dealing with family situations like this. But it is different for dads. We don’t want to talk about it. Some dads ignore it, refusing to believe it is really happening. Others feel like it is somehow their fault, and that they have failed their family, that they should have done something different. Some are embarrassed, or afraid of what might happen to the rest of the family when this is made public.
Every man may react differently, but one thing most all of us have in common is that we don’t want to talk about our feelings. We want to help our child, but everywhere we turn we seem to find controversy or a dead end. It beats you down. There are days that the song “Weary Traveler” by Jordan St. Cyr seems like my anthem and is already playing in my head when I wake up.
Most men do not know how to handle something like this. They want to fix a problem that they can’t fix. Whether true or imaginary, the gender dysphoria your teen is experiencing is a mental health condition that you and I have no control over. And so we feel helpless. Watching your child go through something like this is incredibly hard, and fathers really struggle with not knowing what to do or how to help.
The most important thing you can do is to love your child
So much of this movement is geared towards creating a divide between parents and their children to help lure the kids into their new “trans family”. One of the principal narratives in this transgender movement is “your parents will hate you“. The main reason our daughter was terrified to talk to us about her dysphoria is that she was sure we were going to be so angry we would kick her out of our home and throw her on the street at 14 years old.
You do not have to affirm what your child is saying
In many cases the parents feel that they have to go along with whatever their child is saying just to keep from losing them. But you do not have to agree with what your child is doing or believing, or affirm what they are saying and give in to whatever they want. You just have to show them you still love them. You can support without affirming.
Find ways to strengthen your connection
Every day does not have to be a battle. Finding ways to connect with your transgender teen and continuing to enjoy life are two of the most critical things you can do as a father. Your teen needs to know that you are still there and that you still care, no matter what. Having a father that treats them like a regular person is what they need right now, because they may not be getting it anywhere else.
I find one of the best ways to maintain our connection is to take an interest in the things that interest her. Because I am a bit of sci-fi nerd and it has rubbed off on her, we have been bonding over Star Wars. We have watched all of the old and new TV series, and have in-depth discussions around the plots, storylines, characters, our predictions, and how they all tie into the movies and greater storyline. I am also currently reading through her favorite Star Wars book series and discussing them with her.
Maybe Star Wars isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s woodworking. Get your teen to help you build something for them like a bookshelf or a shoe bench. Maybe you both like hiking, or gardening, or have a TV or book series you can go through together. Whatever it may be, you need to find ways to maintain the connection with your teen.
Plan to do things together
Take trips. Come up with a list of restaurants in different states that you want to visit. Go to a ball game or concert somewhere hours away. Go horseback riding or take archery or pottery classes. Build Lego sets. Let your teen come up with something and have the two of you do it together, even if you don’t enjoy that particular activity. The important thing is that you find something to bond over, whatever that may be. As Zig Ziglar once said, “To a child love is spelled T-I-M-E.“
I know, this is easier said than done. I was so distraught by the situation that it was hard to get past it and remember that my child still needs me (even if she won’t admit it). It isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always work, but you have to keep trying. That is your job as a father.
Your love has to shine through the lies
Eventually your actions (and love) will shine through all the lies they have been sold. You must show your teen that you love them, regardless of the situation. They have to know that you are there for them no matter what, and that Jesus loves each one of us no matter what. This is the most important thing you can do. Once your child realizes they have been lied to about you, they will begin to question the other lies they have been told.
Because when their world comes crashing down around them (and it probably will), they have to know they can still count on you.