Today’s politicians have gone amok with their unchecked and uninformed rhetoric and have decided to turn a blind eye to the new number-one killer of children in America. They have chosen to focus on matters that don’t matter, such as my child’s gender.
Supportive families like mine are persecuted daily, and affirming physicians like me are being threatened with the worst nightmare of any physician: the loss of our license to first do no harm.
If anyone had told me that I would be here today, at a crossroads between loving and affirming my child and loving and affirming my patients, doing what I was born to do — which is to be a mom to my kids and a doctor to my patients — I would never have believed it. Yet, here we are.
Since 2021, when I took an uncharted path away from active duty medicine to focus on my journey as a #parentally, #advocate, and #coconspirator of LGBTQ+ children, their families, and my own beloved firstborn, so much has happened so fast that my head is in a permanent spin cycle.
To help mitigate some of the gross ignorance spreading around that’s threatening to rob us of any progressive thinking and knowledge, I developed my ABCDEFs for parents of LGBTQ+ youth who are struggling to understand when “supporting and affirming” their child became a criminal offense or when words like “gender,” “pronouns,” “gay,” or “new-name,” etc., became politically charged weapons of “mass child grooming.”
I ask you to read this piece with an open mind and please understand that you don’t have to agree with me for my lived experience and opinion to remain mine. Know that no amount of anti-transgender legislation can turn facts into untruths.
You must first accept yourself as a parent of your LGBTQIA child. Many parents that I coach struggle with the notion of self-acceptance. As a result, they are unable to affirm their queer youth.
Your self-acceptance begins with getting curious about your thoughts regarding your child’s gender or sexuality. When you think about parenting an LGBTQ* child, what thoughts immediately come up for you? Are they negative or positive thoughts? What feelings arise? Avoiding negative thoughts — self-blaming, shame, or guilt — is imperative to do this work.
It also entails unlearning all the untruths about the community that you have been indoctrinated with and leaning into learning the truth.
1. Believe your child when they share their truth. Too many parents think it’s a phase or a choice influenced by social media, peers, sexual assault, etc. None of these are true. Keeping it simple and believing your child is the best way to begin. Remember, your child might not fully understand what’s happening, so wanting to understand before supporting (even if it truly were a phase) is potentially dangerous because your kids might not fully understand or articulate it all yet.
2. Create safe spaces at home even before your child invites you into their queer world. This will not only encourage your child to share but will also alleviate their anxieties and stress around telling you. Studies show two peak periods of suicidal ideation in queer youth: when they first realize they are queer and when they share the news with their family due to the fear of rejection.
An affirming home could also be a safe haven for their friends. One of the parents I coach does that. To do this, start by avoiding using homophobic slurs at home or acting in hateful ways toward the queer community because your child is watching. Life outside the home can be tough enough for them already, so make your home their sanctuary.
3. Decide to accept and affirm your child as soon as possible, preferably right away! Many parents understandably want to mourn and grieve the loss of the child they expected. However, this is not a good idea, regardless of what your therapist says (coming from a mom who did that, and now I know better). In truth, grieving means you are mourning a lie that you created. You are grieving a mirage, a falsehood, a mistake. Instead, avoid making any assumptions about your child’s gender or sexuality to begin with. Also, understand that your child has probably known about this for a considerable amount of time before telling you. Asking yourself the following questions might help:
A. What or who exactly am I grieving for?
B. Why am I grieving something that was untrue to begin with?
C. How long do I plan to grieve?
D. What is the expected outcome of my grieving?
These questions will help guide you, especially since, in fairness, your child didn’t set you up for that; you did. And your child is arguably finally living authentically. So, rather than grieving, why not consider celebrating their life, their freedom, and their truth?
4. Encourage and empower your child to live their lives with joy! For instance, help your transgender child find, harness, and magnify their #transjoy! It’s a thing! Where there’s gender dysphoria, there can also be gender euphoria! So, your role as a parent-ally is to be your child’s cheerleader! Educate yourself and your child on all things LGBTQ+, and ensure that they are surrounded with as much love and affirmation as you can provide.
If necessary, feel all your feelings away from your child and seek support for the two of you. That could involve an affirming doctor, an affirming therapist, or an affirming life coach like Dr. Lulu. A queer friend or family member, a gender-diverse coworker, or other LGBTQ youth can also provide tremendous help in this regard.
There are numerous organizations that support families, such as PFLAG, HRC, Pride Families, Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, Pride Centers in your city, etc. These organizations all have local and national chapters. Your child’s school might have a Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA); encourage them to join, and if they don’t have one, consider helping them start one (like my kid did at their high school years ago). Also, ask your child’s school about their policies on LGBTQIA students, gender-neutral bathrooms, bullying, etc. and consider becoming a parent advocate.
In the end, supporting your LGBTQ+ teen is ultimately about advocacy and allyship. It’s about selflessly loving and affirming them. There are multiple ways to do so, but it starts with you accepting that this is your new life, and then you can go forth.
Uchenna Umeh is a pediatrician and can be reached at Teen Alive and on Facebook and YouTube.