5 Things I Want You To Know As the Mother of a Black Transgender Child
When our son came out as trans, we knew we’d be better equipped to advocate for him if we understood trans identity, terminology, and rights.
Our son was 13 years old when he came out as transgender. It was the summer after his 8th grade year. I’ll never forget that night in our hotel room, when he first spoke to us about his new understanding of himself and let us know he was not a girl but a boy. He informed us of his name and explained that his pronouns are he/him. We always knew we didn’t have the typical feminine-presenting child, but the possibility of him being trans hadn’t been on our radar. This made it official.
For us, rejection was never on the table. My husband and I truly believe our children are perfectly made gifts from above. Nothing about this announcement changed that acceptance. But we did need to race to catch up our own understanding of trans identity. We immersed ourselves in educational books, podcasts, Youtube channels, and anything we could get our hands on to better understand our child and this moment. We knew we’d be better equipped to advocate for our son—especially within the school system, where Black youth already face bias—if we were armed with deeper knowledge of trans identity, history, terminology, and rights.
That was four years ago. Our son is now 17 and an accomplished senior in high school who is talented, smart, and applying for colleges. Being a young Black person in this country is challenging, and being Black and trans raises that difficulty. According to the UCLA Williams Institute of Law, there are currently 1.6 million people over 13 who identify as trans in the U.S. Youth make up 300,000 of those individuals, and Black trans youth 1.4%. We’ve witnessed the importance of visibility in creating a broader understanding and acceptance in the larger society as well as in Black communities. One of the most impactful families, for us, has been Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union’s; these high-profile parents speak out and proudly pose with their trans daughter Zaya Wade. But we need more than one or two celebrities speaking up and supporting our Black trans youth. It truly takes a village. We need you.
I want to share five ways we can create a safer world for our Black trans youth.
You don’t have to understand to be supportive and respectful.
Imagine if I asked you to explain how black holes or the ever-expanding universe work. Chances are, you couldn’t. But these things don’t stop existing just because you don’t understand them. From my perspective, the same is true for respecting the queer community. We don’t have to understand queer identity to be respectful and support our youth or to understand Black queer youth need us.
The 2021 National School Climate Survey by Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that transgender students, in general, experienced the most hostile school climates compared to their peers, with trans boys reporting more negative experiences than nonbinary youth and trans girls. Those who persevere had significantly lower GPAs, were more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety, and were less likely to plan on continuing their education.
But Black and other LGBTQIA+ students of color are maligned on multiple fronts. GLSEN’s 2021 survey notes, “LGBTQ+ students of color commonly experienced both racist and anti-LGBTQ+ victimization at school, and were more likely to experience multiple forms of victimization than White LGBTQ+ students.” The survey also acknowledges Black LGBTQIA+ students are likely underrepresented in research.
Black communities need to double down to support Black youth.
“It’s crucial that we speak to our youth about gender identity. So it’s okay to be a little sweaty. Consider it normal and proceed nevertheless.”
Every child should feel safe and respected in our schools and go on to fulfill their dreams.
If you are unsure of someone’s pronouns, ask and adapt.
I’ve witnessed too many comments claiming “annoyance” over the need to ask for trans and nonbinary youth’s pronouns. Some are even upset once corrected. However, I can’t think of one cisgender man or woman who wouldn’t expect the same if misgendered. It’s normal to want to be represented and mentioned correctly. But in a world where assumptions are often wrong, it’s best to ask. If you are ever in doubt, ask. “What are your pronouns?” And offer yours as well to not put the spotlight solely on gender nonconforming people.
You don’t need to be an expert overnight. But once you know better, do better.
Understand that guilting and shaming others to make them conform is abusive and never acceptable.
Many people resort to belittling, guilting, and shaming others when confronted with something new or different out of frustration. We say things like, “Why do you have to dress like that, act like that, or be like that?” or “Why can’t you just be normal like other boys or girls?” What’s often missed is that we place our rights, beliefs, and experience above others’ when we expect others to change because we’re uncomfortable. The person on the receiving end is left to process that harm in the aftermath of the guilt and shame.
This shaming can have real consequences on LGBTQIA+ youth’s self-esteem, mental health, and ability to thrive. A study by the Trevor Project, a crisis and prevention charity for LGBTQIA+ youth, showed that one in three Black trans youth has tried to take their life in the last year. It also found that Black transgender and nonbinary youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide as their cisgender Black LGBTQIA+ peers.
Our children’s mental health is too important for us to stand by as this happens. We must speak up against the pressure to conform.
You won’t always be comfortable—but keep going.
Many adults feel uncomfortable and uneasy when speaking to children about LGBTQIA+ identity or any gender expression that deviates from the expected binary. They may worry that the feelings of discomfort mean that what they are explaining is wrong. Instead, they can view their discomfort as similar to the feelings they would have approaching the “sex talk” with their kids. Just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
It’s crucial that we speak to our youth about gender identity. So it’s okay to be a little sweaty. Consider it normal and proceed nevertheless.
Vote on the side of equality and justice for all.
Trans rights are human rights. No more is that a clear mandate than in Black communities where the right to vote and live freely without harm finds itself on the ballot all too often. The trans community needs our diligence in voting for freedom for all people.
We can create a safer world for our Black trans youth, one conscious choice at a time.