Do my parents have to know about my true gender identity if I don’t want them to?
Nope. It is completely up to you whether, when or how you tell your parents about your gender identity.
First, for those who may not already be familiar, gender identity is our internal, core experience of our gender. People who identify as the same gender they were assigned at birth (meaning the gender they put on your birth certificate) are called cisgender. People who don’t identify as the same gender they were assigned at birth may identify as transgender or gender non-conforming/gender expansive. This could mean that they were raised as a boy but identify as a girl (for example), but it could also mean that they are non-binary, genderqueer, or outside the gender binary all together. There are a lot of different gender identities—it’s important to always call people what they want to be called.
It’s understandable to not want to tell your parents that you’re not cisgender. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to be trans or gender non-conforming, and coming out probably won’t be all good or all bad.
Only you know your unique situation, and what’s best for you.
Think about the pros and cons of telling your parents. It may be helpful to think about it as weighing the potential for relief and acceptance versus the possibility of grief and rejection. Hiding your identity and continuing to live as the gender you were assigned at birth can be painful. This can take a major toll on your mental health and overall well-being. If your parents are supportive, coming out can be a major relief. However, it also raises the potential for rejection, pain and grief. Keep in mind that it will be very difficult to hide your gender identity from your parents when you want to transition (whatever transitioning means for you), and you will need parental permission if you want to go on puberty blockers or start hormone replacement therapy before you turn 18 years old.
Whether you decide to come out to your parents or not, work on building a support network.
Is there someone else who you know will be supportive, like a good friend, teacher, or other family member? Consider coming out to them first, both to practice what you’ll say and to get additional support. See if there are any LGBTQ community centers, support groups, gender-affirming counselors, or other resources in your community. If there are not (or you’re not ready to go), find a supportive online community. Trevor Space is an online safe space for LGBTQ young people 13-24 years old run by the Trevor Project. It can be a great space to meet other young trans and gender non-conforming people. They also have a forum to talk about coming out. Remember: you are not alone. Your safety and well-being always come first.
If you do want to come out to your parents, here are some tips for how to handle it:
- There’s more to coming out than we can fit into this one blog post. The Trevor Project has a guidebook for people thinking of coming out here. The Human Rights Campaign also has a fairly comprehensive guide to coming out, which you can find here, and here are some coming out tips from the TransActive Gender Center.
- If you’re not sure how your parents feel about gender identity and identifying as transgender, look for clues. Think about the way your parents’ have reacted to news items related to gender identity. If you want, “test the waters” by bringing up a trans celebrity like Laverne Cox, Jazz Jennings, or Caitlyn Jenner. You can also mention a news item related to trans issues, or that you met someone who’s transgender.
- Think about what you want to talk about ahead of time. If you have any questions or specific things you want to discuss, write them down.
- Think about the time and place. Pick a place where you feel comfortable. Sometimes it can be easier to talk while you’re taking a walk or doing the dishes. Choose a time when your parents aren’t stressed or rushed. Writing a letter can also be a good way to come out.
- If you want, invite someone else to be there for support. There’s no shame in asking for help.
- Push back on rejection, but don’t let anger get the best of you. If your parents have trouble understanding your identity, it’s understandable that you might get upset. Instead of yelling, try gently pushing back. This can be an effective way to challenge their current beliefs without alienating them. This guide to coming out includes some common questions you may get with simple, direct answers.
- Be prepared with resources that explain gender identity. To start, consider Gender Spectrum’s page for parents, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Human Rights Campaign’s page on transgender children and youth.
If your parents are not supportive of your gender identity and your home life is not affirming, spend as much time in supportive environments as you can. Coming out to your parents can be hard work, and creating space for yourself is important for your emotional health. If you’re struggling or want some extra support, you can call the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. They can provide immediate help and connect you with the services you need.
If you live near NYC, you’ll be welcome at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. We provide completely free, confidential, nonjudgmental healthcare to young people 10-22 years old. This includes hormone replacement therapy and puberty blockers, and gender-affirming individual and family counseling. We also have support groups for trans & gender non-conforming young people, and the parents of young trans people. You can learn more about our LGBTQ+ health services here.