Parenting Transgender Children

There is a family here in Colorado who has been making headlines recently because of their transgender child.  I’m not going to get into the specifics of the story (you can read more about it here) but will focus on some of the great discussion and information that has been going on surrounding the story.

Most of us don’t have a lot of experience with transgender children, either as parents, professionals, teachers or friends.  This lack of experience can make an already tricky situation even more difficult simply because of our lack of exposure.  In reaction to the above-mentioned story in Colorado, my colleague Dr. Sarah Burgamy, was asked to speak about transgender children on a local TV program.  She did an awesome job answering some basic questions on parenting children who might be – or definitely are – transgender.

A couple of her points that stuck out most to me:

How do you know if your child is transgender, or just “going through a phase?”  Many kids go through phases of exploring interests or looks more typically thought of as belonging to the opposite sex.  For example, a boy enjoying dressing up in skirts, or a little girl enjoying trains.  Dr. Burgamy explained that transgender children’s behaviors and attitudes are “insistent, persistent and consistent” over time.

How should a parent respond to their transgender child?  Parenting is a tough job any time, but can be especially challenging when our children don’t fall inside the “norm,” have unique needs or interests, or are simply different from their peers.  Dr. Burgamy offered some excellent guidelines for parents with transgender children (or any children for that matter):

  •  Minimize distress
  • Increase happiness
  • Do what you can to allow them to have happy childhoods

Check out her full interview here:


Dr. Burgamy also provided some resources for families and friends of transgender youth:

The Transgender Child:  A Handbook for Families and Professionals – by, Stephanie Brill & Rachel Pepper
Gender Born, Gender Made:  Raising Healthy Gender Non-Conforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D.

Trans Youth Family Allies – TYFA

TransACTIVE – based in Portland, OR but has some good national/international resources.


Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Psychological Health

Three days ago, President Obama certified a repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that banned homosexuals from openly serving in the US military.  While I had heard how this repeal might benefit the US Armed Forces as a whole, I wondered how it might help the men and women in uniform in particular.  I discovered that the American Psychological Association (APA) has supporting lifting the ban for quite some time.  In fact, APA has quite a history in supporting equal rights for homosexuals.  Read more about APA’s stance on homosexuality here.

I also asked a friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Sarah Burgamy to help me understand more about the psychological impact of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Dr. Burgamy is president-elect of the Colorado Psychological Association, and founder of PhoenixRise, a mental health clinic specializing in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender/gender variant identity issues.  Here’s what she had to say:

The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) is critical to the psychological health and well-being of both military members and the general population.  The repeal of DADT will lift a significant burden for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual (GLB) service members.  GLB people have always served in our armed forces; DADT placed an undue burden on them to hide a large part of their basic human identity.  Sexual orientation includes not only a person’s intimate behavior; but also emotional attraction, attachment, the ability to partner with another in a loving relationship recognized by others, one’s sense of self, and the ability to be seen as a full human being.  A significant portion of our lives is spent in relationship with others.  For GLB service members, DADT required them to deny the existence of critical relationships, prohibited their ability to obtain support openly when relationship stress was encountered, and forced them to provide a dishonest portrayal of their character through omission or denial.  The repeal of DADT provides GLB soldiers with a sense of equality for their sacrifice, hard work, and dedication to the safety and prosperity of the United States.  

Non-military families and individuals benefit from the repeal of DADT because any repeal of policies or laws which discriminate against GLB people should be regarded as a step towards a more inclusive society.  GLB people are bombarded with messages which convey a sense of rejection simply for being sexual minorities.  DADT, the Defense of Marriage Act, and marriage and civil union prohibitions in the majority of U.S. states send a collective message that GLB Americans are inferior members of our nation.  The repeal of DADT comprises one step in a long process of seeking equality.  Psychologically speaking, the costs of discrimination to emotional health and well-being are great and should be dismantled and avoided.  This repeal is an important and necessary step in  the recognition of GLB people as full members of American society.