My husband and I were helping to sponsor a youth group trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior where we enjoyed cliff jumping, a boat ride on the Lake, a few hikes, and breathtaking scenery. During the trip I engaged in what I thought would be a casual conversation with a woman from my church whom I don’t know well, but what I got was a bit more substantial. During our talk, she shared about her child who has chosen to live a transgender lifestyle. I was taken by surprise, but I probably shouldn’t have been. I’ve also had a family member choose this path, as well as at least one former student. While much has been written (and rightly so) about reaching out to the people who have embraced transgenderism, I haven’t seen as much addressing the suffering that their parents endure. However, while their suffering may be collateral and quiet, it is real nonetheless.
Before I dive into this topic, I readily admit that while I do have some personal experience and training in biblical counseling to draw from, I do not have a child who has embraced this lifestyle, nor do I think that all people suffer in the same ways. I do not want to paint everyone in this situation with the same brush. Rather, I hope to elevate your awareness of how these parents may be suffering and to equip you to reach out to them.
What Parents of Transgender Children May Be Feeling
I suppose that in our society today, some parents may be proud of their son or daughter for embracing what the world calls “their true self.” However, for many Christian parents who hold to a biblical worldview and have done their best to raise their children to hold the same, having a transgender son or daughter will probably lead to shame and the temptation to hide. Sadly, this may even come as a direct result of treatment they’ve received at church.
Satan may have a field day accusing and antagonizing parents of transgender children, telling them that they must have done something terribly wrong and tempting them to hide from their church family rather than embracing them. He will attack with the lie that they will be ostracized and unwelcome in their church. No one will want to associate with them. Perhaps, his whisperings even come to fruition when they do share their son or daughter’s choice with a brother or sister in Christ. The enemy may even attack with lies regarding their salvation, whispering such deceptions as, “If you were really a Christian, you never would have let this happen.” As a result, these parents may cut themselves off from the greatest support system they have.
What hope do you have to give parents buried in shame?
Alongside the temptation of hiding in shame, will come the feeling of loss, almost as if the child they knew and loved has died. That may seem like hyperbole, but believe me—it isn’t.
These parents have a lifetime of memories with the child whom they are told doesn’t exist anymore. “You never had a daughter,” they’re told. “You only ever had a son.” How do they then tell the story of bringing their newborn daughter home from the hospital? Or did they actually bring home a son? They may have been informed that every picture hanging in their house of their beautiful daughter in her pretty, lacy dresses is a lie. She was a he the whole time, and to display such pictures is offensive. And the name the expectant parents agonized over for weeks? Thrown out the window and replaced by a name chosen by this person they no longer recognize but whom they’re expected to embrace as if nothing has changed.
Maybe this isn’t the experience of every parent, but I do know that it’s the experience of some. While they may work hard to maintain a loving relationship with their child, that relationship will be different. They will be asked to view every memory of their son or daughter’s childhood through different lenses. It may just be easier not to recall them at all.
Can you offer hope to a parent who feels that they’ve lost their child?
At some point in the parents’ suffering, they’re likely to experience the feeling of hurt, betrayal, and eventually bitterness. Perhaps this will be their immediate response, or maybe it will take the passage of time to settle in. However, eventually Satan is likely to whisper the idea that they deserve better, that somehow the decision that the transgender individual is making is really an act of revenge against their parents. In response, the parents may begin to recount all that they did for and gave to their child. As a result, the relationship will likely be rocky, at least temporarily.
The transgender individual may also elect to keep their lifestyle a secret from their parents for a period of time. However, when they do “come out,” the parents may feel betrayed that they are among the last to learn of such a significant piece of their child’s life.
I’m sure the list could go on for how a parent may feel hurt or betrayed by their transgender child, or from others around them. If not dealt with, these feelings will turn to bitterness, a poisonous root that can infect all of life.
Will you offer hope to a hurting and betrayed parent?
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that nearly all parents of transgender children will (whether they admit it or not) experience some confusion about the lifestyle their son or daughter has chosen. And that’s only natural. After all, it is an aberration of God’s design for His good creation, and aberrant things puzzle us. However, beyond the confusion of just why their child feels the way they do, other questions will likely settle in as well:
- How did this happen?
- What did I do wrong?
- What did I miss?
- How could I have seen this coming?
For many parents, just as in the book of Job, the answers may never come. In fact, there may not be any answers to find.
What hope will you give to the confused parent who just wants answers?
The Hope We Have to Give
I’ve referred to your interactions with a parent of a transgender child as “counseling” because that’s what we do when someone shares their heart with us and we respond with answers or hope of some kind. Perhaps you’ll have the opportunity for counseling of a more formal kind, or maybe, like me, you’ll just find yourself talking to a hurting parent across a picnic table while on a camping trip.
Let’s begin with 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
The principle of these verses is that God comforts us in our affliction so that we may relay His comfort to others who are suffering. Perhaps this seems inapplicable to our situation. You may be thinking that since you don’t have a transgender child, you have no comfort to offer. While it’s true that you won’t have comfort to offer for that specific scenario, it’s probably not true that you’ve never experienced shame or loss or betrayal or confusion over another person’s actions.
All of the types of suffering I have mentioned are universal: experienced by all of us. And the Gospel speaks hope to each one.
In conclusion, let me give the beginning of a list of ways you can minister to the hurting parent by pointing them to biblical truth and instilling biblical hope. You may not be able to put all of these into practice immediately (or ever), but as you have opportunity and the appropriate relationship with the parent, consider the following:
- Listen. While I hope that I have given you a little insight into what a parent may be feeling, don’t assume that you know. If they’re willing to talk, be willing to listen.
- Ask questions. While the parent may be willing to talk about their child, they’ll likely be less open with how they are personally affected. Be gracious and winsome, but ask questions to bring out the heart of the parent. Probe to find pockets of hurt, betrayal, and bitterness.
- Find common ground. Remember, the God of all comfort has comforted you so that you might comfort others. Help the other person see that they’re not on an island of suffering.
- Point them to the Gospel. The Gospel readily applies to each of the categories mentioned above. Don’t just spout cliches, but help the parent recognize that the grace and mercy of God is greater than their suffering.
- Follow up. Try not to let your conversation be one-and-done. Keep reaching out, if at all possible. Let this person know that they’re loved!
- Ask questions about their child (not just their sexuality). The child isn’t dead, so don’t pretend they are.
- Pray with them. Pray for them. Bring your brother or sister before the throne of grace where they will receive mercy and find grace to help in their time of need.