There are 1.4 million people in the U.S. who identify as transgender, and then millions more family and friends who are coping/embracing/struggling (check one) with how this defines themselves and their families, and what it means to them.
Yet while there are millions affected, how often would you think every one of them feels like he or she is the only one on earth facing these issues? Happens all the time.
Finding a support community and navigating the unique landscape of life with a transgender parent was the impetus behind Heather Bryant’s My Trans Parent: A User Guide for When Your Parent Transitions (Jessica Kingsley Publishers). Heather, who only wished a book like this existed back in her formative years when her father was transitioning, has been at the forefront of helping people in the same situation, speaking at conferences, running workshops, and now providing this insightful and reassuring guidebook.
So what is it like having a transgender parent and how does it affect your life? “It’s a zigzag journey that’s all yours … I thought I was the only person on the whole planet with a family like mine.”
Bryant sought stories from trans families around the world, speaking with 30 children of transgender parents, along with trans parents themselves, and therapists and experts. Anecdotes from the kids are interwoven throughout the narrative. “The more we tell our stories, the more we’ll know we’re not alone,” she writes.
The author takes readers through her own experience, coming to terms with her father’s new life as Dana, how her family behaved, and how she has found like individuals with whom to share her feelings and concerns. She came to discover she was not alone.
On finding a community: “For the first time in my life, I don’t feel like a unicorn. At my first-ever meeting of the New York Chapter of COLAGE [a support and empowerment network for LGBTQ+ parents and their children], I’m in a room full of people with families like mine. I can tell my story here without feeling like anyone will give me weird looks or act like my family is a Jerry Springer sideshow … I don’t have to answer uncomfortable questions about my parent’s anatomy.”
“Community gave me the courage to share my truth, and to come out of the silence that had been the norm in my family for so many years.”
CHANGE IS AN ONGOING PROCESS
Bryant’s family initially decided to hide the truth from the outside world. In public, or around unknowing friends and acquaintances, Dana was introduced as Heather’s aunt. It was just simpler that way.
And times can get dark, as it was when Heather’s mom received a call that Dana was on the verge of swallowing a bottle of pills. Around this time, Heather writes, “In just over a year, she had become a stranger to me. The silly, doting dad who seemed to know everything had been replaced by someone who was afraid of everything.”
The book provides valuable toolboxes at the end of every segment, with a summary of action steps to help get through the journey — everything from tips on how to handle first learning about your parent’s new life, to how and when to communicate the news to others, to managing family conflict, to dealing with grief and loss.
But it’s an ongoing process, not a task that can be accomplished with a few quick pointers. Heather found she was changing as much as her father. “I started out with my mind wide open … In time, as I entered junior high, my mind closed shut … I wanted to blend in and disappear.”
Bryant is a savvy communicator. She is on a highly emotional journey of her own but expresses herself with a cool head, which evokes confidence for readers. She has opened the door to a world that is closed to most of us yet is all-consuming to the many she has enlisted to help provide clarity. While the book is intended for teens, the often-complicated feelings that the book helps address can be challenging for adult children, too.
“As our stories rise up about our families and our lives, as our parents share their stories, as we do, more people will understand this as part of the spectrum of human experience and not just an anomaly or exception.”