The Power of Family Support, a guest post by Dr. Sebastian Barr

Family acceptance and support are two of the biggest factors in trans and LGBQ+ individuals’ wellbeing. I know this truth at both a personal level and through my work as a psychologist with a focus on trans and nonbinary mental health; and this is one of the primary reasons I pursued an opportunity to be a part of PFLAG Charlotte. 

As a transgender man with family and a spouse who see me as I am and embrace me as a son, grandson, brother, nephew, and husband, I know firsthand the power of family support. Growing up in the late 80s and 90s, my family didn’t know about transgender people and the best language we had for who I was was the word tomboy. My tomboyhood was embraced and affirmed. I was able to pick my own clothes, wear my hair short, have friends of all genders, pursue interests beyond what was stereotypically feminine, etc. – I got to live as me, and because of this, I was able to develop a confidence and comfort within myself. In my early 20s when I came out as a transgender man and transitioned, I drew strength from that childhood confidence and comfort. I also drew strength from the support of my friends, sister, parents, and extended family. I know that it was not simple for the people who cared about me to understand what I was experiencing and needing. I am forever grateful to the support systems in my family’s life (including other parents of trans people) who helped educate them and gave them space to process their challenges, so they could learn to show up for and affirm me. Being able to be myself and have my identity validated in my most significant relationships was critical in my development and my stability. 

Indeed, research on mental health in the trans community demonstrates that family support is key to our healthy development. Typically when we talk about trans and nonbinary mental health, we hear about what can go wrong or what can be hard. Many are aware of the very scary and tragic statistics about high rates of suicidality and psychological distress in the trans community, but it’s important to understand that so much of this suffering can be prevented when trans and nonbinary people are supported in their gender identities and expressions. The Trevor Project just released their most recent study of LGBTQ youth mental health and found that young people who felt that their gender was affirmed at home were significantly less likely to consider suicide than those with non-affirming homes. Again and again, studies and stories show that trans people who report high levels of family acceptance are actually likely to lead happy and fulfilled lives. For example, in one study, 70% of trans teens and young adults who had very supportive parents reported very good or excellent mental health. (Only 15% of trans teens and young adults with somewhat or not at all supportive parents did.) There were similar trends: The majority of trans teens and young adults with very supportive parents were satisfied with life and had high self-esteem, while only a very small number of youth with unsupportive parents reported these measures of wellbeing. This is all to say that the research shows that to be invested in the happiness and health of trans people, we need to also be invested in facilitating family support.

Every trans person deserves the support and affirmation I was able to receive – every LGBQ+ person deserves this, and far more people would be flourishing and thriving if more families were able to be accepting. I’m so grateful for PFLAG National and PFLAG Charlotte’s meaningful contributions to a future in which gender and sexuality diversity are understood, affirmed, and celebrated.

[1] The Trevor Project. (2021). National survey on LGBTQ youth mental health. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021

[11] Trans PULSE Project. (2012). Impacts of strong parental support for trans youth: A report prepared for children’s aid society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services. https://transpulseproject.ca/research/impacts-of-strong-parental-support-for-trans-youth/

Photo Credit: Dino Rowan

 

Supporting my Transgender Loved One, a guest post by Annabelle Pardo

My journey began four years ago when our smart, introverted child, took on an unrecognizable attitude. My child had recently turned 15, so my husband and I assumed that she was simply showing the “symptoms” of adolescence.  Nevertheless, we were still very worried and wanted to help our child.

We had noticed shifts — more isolated, even sad.  We observed changes in how she presented herself to the world —  a short hair cut, more masculine attire.  We began to wonder if perhaps our child was lesbian and didn’t know how to tell us.

One night, not knowing what else to do, my husband simply asked our child if she identified as lesbian, and she said yes.  Now that our child was out, we thought the behavior would improve, but the depression got worse.

We were scared, and we didn’t understand.  We found a therapist who told us after several sessions that our child had something to share with us when they were ready.  It wasn’t long before our child left us a letter under our bedroom door.

The letter said that, after much thought and analysis, our child was ready to accept that he identified not as a girl, but rather as a boy. At first, I was shocked.  I kept asking him if he was sure. Then I remembered that my child was never easily influenced and had always known what he wanted. I knew that he had done the research, and that he had no doubt about who he was.

As my husband and I supported our child with his transition, we worried a lot about bullying from classmates and the community in general. We also were not sure how to explain the transition to my mother. Would he find acceptance and support in our Hispanic community, at school, and within our family?

Our worries brought us to PFLAG Charlotte, a nonprofit organization that supports families, allies and LGBTQ individuals. We found understanding and advice in the peer support groups offered by PFLAG Charlotte. They helped us find affirming healthcare providers for transgender individuals. They even offered Spanish-language publications for my mother. As someone who plays a prominent role in my child’s life, it was important that she have her own resources.

PFLAG Charlotte guided us through the most complicated period of our lives. I am committed to giving back to the organization, and we are working to increase PFLAG resources for communities of color in Charlotte.

My son has overcome enormous challenges in order to be true to who he is: a happy, brilliant 18 year old who earned a full scholarship to an excellent university.

I didn’t end up having the daughter I anticipated, but I have a son who is full of all the traits I’ve admired since he was a child. PFLAG envisions a world where diversity is celebrated and all people are respected, valued and affirmed – inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. With the help of PFLAG Charlotte, I believe this vision will come true.