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My son is changing gender. How do I help his family?

Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.

A reader writes: My fortysomething son split with his second wife 18 months ago because of gender-identity issues. He wants to become a woman and dresses accordingly. I think my son is courageous, but I would like advice on how our family – especially his teenaged son and preschool-aged daughter – can deal with the change. His son is at a critical phase in his life where peer pressure could be overwhelming as his father's transition becomes common knowledge. My wish, however belated, is that my son could have chosen a better time and place to deal with his gender issues.

Help prep your grandson

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For the younger one, consistency and keeping things relatively normal is probably best. Remember that kids will take cues from adults – if you give off the impression (knowingly or unknowingly) that you're not okay with this, they too will not be okay with it.

As for the teenaged son, allow for questions to come naturally, and see if your son is willing to gradually introduce his son to his new lifestyle. Help your grandson come up with a strategy so he is not caught off-guard by anyone asking him about his situation. Consult with a counsellor, or see if there are other resources available to him. There may be other people his age who have dealt with or are dealing with the same thing.

– Marina Dias, Thompson, Man.

Dad should put things on hold

I can't even imagine the chronic angst that a transgendered person must feel prior to making the decision to go ahead with gender re-assignment.

Having said that, your grandson is at a vulnerable stage in his life, and his emotional well-being must be the first consideration. It's pretty much guaranteed he would suffer tremendous social stigmatization by his peers if his father were to continue with his gender transition right now. Dad needs to postpone the process for a few years and, in the meantime, go back to dressing and looking like a man. He owes it to his son.

– Cindy Hunter, St. John's

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Find specialized help

As a psychotherapist, my advice is that the family might want to address the parent's gender transition in much the same way they would deal with any other big change. They need to talk openly about their feelings and needs, and negotiate how they will share the news with friends and the larger community. They'll likely need a trans-positive psychotherapist or support group to figure out options.

– Farzana Doctor, Toronto

The final word

The first thing your grandson will need is the knowledge that he is not alone in this situation. It will help him immensely, as Marina mentions, to talk to other teens who have gone through the same experience.

He may feel like he's losing his father. Let him know it's normal to experience a sense of loss. It's better he shares his feelings of anger and hurt with you, his support network, so he can maintain his relationship with his parent.

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It's important for you to educate educate yourself and find reputable information from organizations such as PFLAG and its transgender network, TNET. They will help you learn strategies to support your family.

I understand Cindy's sentiment, but it sounds like things have already progressed and there's no going back. As Farzana suggests, you should participate in discussions about who will find out, when and how. Your grandson is probably worried about how he's going to tell his friends, and what will happen during events such as parent-teacher night or social functions? It may be too hard for his mother to be with him when he informs people. Having you nearby would be helpful. Start with people whose reactions will be positive, then work your way out.

You can also be the hip grandma by role-playing various reactions from people and helping your grandson come up with appropriate answers. Don't assume people will always react negatively. You'd be surprised at how well-informed other teens can be.

It's important to let go of any feelings that something tragic has happened. The most important thing for kids to know is that they're still supported and loved, no matter what.

Regina-based Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie.

Next week's question

A reader writes: I volunteered at a theatre company with a friend whom I've known for more than 30 years. Last year, he had a falling out with the company over his behaviour in front of paying clients. He was asked to leave. Since then, he has had nothing to do with the company, and wanted his friends to follow suit. My husband and I have decided to continue our relationship with the company. As a result our friend won't talk to us, and has cut us completely out of his life. What should I do?

Let's hear from you

If you would like to participate, e-mail us at Questions are published anonymously, but we will include your name and community if we use your response (it will be edited).

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About the Author

In 2007, Zarqa Nawaz created the television series Little Mosque on the Prairie, which premiered to record viewership and ultimately became CBC’s highest rated sitcom. The success of her series ushered in a new era of television in Canada. More


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