Safety and authenticity
Authenticity and safety often go hand in hand within the home. In this small environment, you as a parent may be able to provide an affirming place without compromising safety. However, children constantly receive messages about gender from social environments outside the home and these messages (e.g. binary and segregated washrooms and recreation activities) can cause distress when they are internalized. While a safe home environment can foster emotional wellbeing and help children cope with gender-related stress, challenges around authenticity and safety often emerge in settings such as at extended family gatherings, schools, places of worship and community spaces.
Safety concerns may arise about teasing, harassment, rejection, exclusion and violence. The physical and emotional risks can be significant. Parents are faced with tough choices about how to support their child’s authentic gender self while keeping them as safe as possible.
Here are some ways to help to transform the environments that your child regularly engages in:
- Listen. Listen to what your child is telling you through their words and actions. For younger children, observing how they act out their experiences and feelings through imaginary play may help you understand how they are experiencing the world, what supports are working and what supports are needed.
- Prepare. Prepare your child for the world that is and for the world that will be. Make sure your child knows that there is nothing wrong with them, that it is others in the world who have issues with gender. Work for change, to create the kind of world that your child deserves to live in.
- Advocate. Your child deserves to safely access education and recreation services just like any other child. Advocacy may be needed in several settings, such as school, sports teams and summer camps. Parents are often the primary advocates, but children and youth can learn to be strong self-advocates as well. Professionals can also be enlisted as advocates. They can write letters documenting what supports your child needs, attend school meetings, provide staff trainings and help you prepare to advocate for your child.
- Plan for safety. Make sure your child can reach you or another support person if they are feeling unsafe.
- Require respect. For example, ask that all family members use your child’s correct name and pronouns.