Due to increased visibility of transgender individuals in media, adolescents are challenging their biological sexes at younger and younger ages. What was once a personal anguish that could extend well into adulthood can now be recognized and resolved before puberty. Understandably, parenting a gender nonconforming child comes with its own set of unique challenges, perhaps the most difficult of which is determining how best to relentlessly push your failed dreams on them.
Selecting a rigid, compulsory persona for your son or daughter was once a milestone all parents could look forward to. A pink cigar meant Mommy was getting her petite ballerina or stunning pageant princess; a blue cigar had Daddy visualizing trophy cases filled to capacity by his ace shortstop. But when a child questions his or her gender, parents can no longer rely on convention to determine what kind of life their child will be manipulated into leading.
If your child comes out as genderqueer, wrap them in a big hug and assure them your love is unconditional. Leave no doubt in their mind about their intrinsic worth. Remind them they can grow up to be whatever and whoever they choose—so long as it happens to be the precise career path you tried, and spectacularly failed, to pave for yourself. Boy or girl, gay or straight, heart surgeon or Supreme Court justice, they will always be your pride and joy.
Once a child establishes themself as non-binary, they’ll wish to demonstrate for the first time who they truly are. Embolden them to experiment with their clothing and hairstyle, thus affording them tools necessary for cultivating a unique identity you can then break down and rebuild in your own warped self-image. It’s crucial that a child be allowed to look on the outside how they feel on the inside. Giving them ownership of their bodies fosters independence and makes them all the more comfortable while rehearsing the arduous dance routines you spend hours choreographing.
Encourage your child to explore their passions regardless of gender stereotypes so you can ultimately ignore those passions and insist they take up horseback riding instead. All adolescents experience short-lived interests, but motivating your child to see each through will bolster their confidence and soften the blow that you’ve already ordered their riding boots and breeches and their first lesson is on Thursday and you wish you had been lucky enough to receive horseback riding lessons when you were their age.
Tell them, point-blank, they have to be an astronaut.
It will be trying, but never let the possibility of discrimination frighten you into hindering your child’s self-expression. Cultivating one’s true gender identity can be a lifelong process, and motivating your child to embrace their authentic selves, whether that be a star quarterback or commercially successful child actor, is the first step. The pain of living a lie is far greater than that of occasional bullying, though not nearly as great as the carpal tunnel they’ll develop from three hours of daily piano practice. But one day they’ll thank you for your unwavering support, perhaps even for that forceful shove in the right direction, as they accept their Nobel Prize in Physics or third straight Wimbledon Cup.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is simply talking to your child. Kneel down, open your heart, and truly listen to what they have to say. Exemplify the kind of compassion you want them to show their own children one day: two girls and a boy, each born 18 months apart, named after your mother Lynne, grandmother Carol, and pastor Winfield respectively. Inspire them to be bold and brave and everything you’ve always lacked the basic aptitude to be.
Make them be a goddamn astronaut.
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