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

 

One thought on “The Power of Family Support, a guest post by Dr. Sebastian Barr”

  1. I am a fan of your work and hold your mom in very high regard. Thank you for all you do for the LGBTQ+ Community. Gigi P, Charlotte

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