By Jacob Story, Mobile Crisis Response Manager
I remember sitting in my kitchen when I first read Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s order to have DHS investigate parents who were seeking gender-affirming care for their trans children. It was, roughly, the fifth snack of the day and my youngest was struggling mightily to get the remaining fruit loops on their spoon all at once to make a complete and glorious final bite. They struggled for another minute and eventually gave up splitting that last bite into a couple of average sized bites. It was innocuous and everyday and mundane, the way most of life is. As they put down their spoon, having declared snack time complete and quickly jumping up to run away, I annoyingly redirected them to clean up their bowl and put the cereal and milk away before whatever thing they were off to next.
It turns out parenting a queer child isn’t completely different from parenting any other child. Life is mostly your normal day-to-day stuff: snack times, stubbed toes, friend conflicts, and the like. But when the moments come, the ones that aren’t so mundane, they come a little heavier and stay a little longer. It did the day I read about that order from Texas and the rush of fear that came with the feeling of being under siege, and the day they shared that they cut their hair short again because school peers told them boys don’t have long hair even though they’re not a boy, and the day they stopped correcting people using the right pronouns because it wasn’t worth the effort anymore.
What I’ve learned from parenting a queer child is that a child’s sense of self is way more developed and prominent than a lot of us adults give them credit for. When these topics of identity arise they inevitably turn to questions about how people can so quickly dismiss them without thought, or conversations about when the intention isn’t to hurt but the outcome still hurts a lot. There’s a lot to unpack. A recent survey conducted by the Trevor Project found that nearly half of all LGBTQ+ youth have seriously considered suicide in the past year. The Trevor Project maintains a concise facts page about LGBTQ+ youth that helps explain some key protective factors that I would recommend checking out.
Practically, for our experience, we focused heavily on getting our youngest’s pronouns right, and yes, that came with a lot of mess-ups. My spouse and I developed strategies to gently correct each other and maintain a system of support around our own feelings of “trying to get it right” without placing that additional burden on our kid. It also meant a lot of checking in with our youngest about their comfort and plans in new spaces, making sure they understood that they get to call the shots about how they feel or how they want to be in any given situation. We’re always navigating tricky and sometimes painful family situations which has resulted in some strong boundaries and severed relationships. And yet, I don’t think there’s an easy roadmap for navigating much of this. What I’ve found most important in learning how to better parent a queer child is to listen, listen, listen. When I can focus on what my youngest is sharing with me and hear their feelings I’m better able to manage my own stuff (be it worry or shame or fear). It’s also helped me to recognize what an incredible gift I have in witnessing and learning from their growing self expression and honesty about who they are.
If you or your child are experiencing a mental health crisis, please don’t hesitate to reach out for support.
To have Mobile Crisis Response counselors dispatched to your location, call the Your Life Iowa line at 1-855-581-8111 and ask for mobile crisis.
To connect with a Crisis Helpline Services counselor, call or text 988 or chat online at 988lifeline.org/chat.