Upcoming Local TransFamilies Meetings for Parents and Caregivers:

Santa Cruz Meeting:
Saturday December 7, 3-5 pm
The Education Room of Calvary Episcopal Church
532 Center St, Santa Cruz, CA
Calvary Episcopal Church is an affirming church that welcomes people of all genders. TransFamilies does not have an affiliation with the church, beyond renting space for our meetings.

Watsonville Meeting:
Saturday, November 16th 3:00-5:00 pm
46A Brennan St, Watsonville, CA

If you have questions or concerns that need immediate attention before the next meeting,
call us at 831-205-0078 or email:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Transition through the Grief that Affects Families When A Child is Transgender

What supportive parents look like - you and me!
(Ben pictured in center, white shirt.)
At our last support group meeting we were fortunate to have Ben Geilhufe speak with our group about dealing with the grief associated with the changes that come from learning your child is transgender. 

This has nothing to do with acceptance or transitioning, but really from getting your head around all the preconceived ideas that are generated by years of culture telling us how boys and girls "should" be.

Ben puts on a workshop at the Gender Spectrum Conference every year about Working with Grief to Create Space for the Joy of Change. His talk is always well-attended and it leads me to believe that a lot of us are dealing with grief. Ben talked about the different stages of grief and how parents of transgender children might experience it. The stages he talked about where Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and lastly Acceptance - you might remember these as the Five Stages of Grief described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. [See Ben's Worksheet: Four Tasks of Grief.]

It's a loss, just the same.

While we don’t have a child who has died - thankfully we still have our child with us - but we still have feelings that are similar to grief. It's hard to put into words what we feel, but we know it feels like a loss. We grieve all the gender-based dreams we had for our child (which in itself is interesting to realize how many things we anticipate happening one day are tied up with gender).

For us, we thought we had a daughter. And even though my child was diagnosed at age seven with Gender Dysphoria, it took us until he was 11 to finally move past our denial and accept what was right in front of us. I had to let go of my dreams of her wearing my wedding dress on her wedding day. My husband had to let go of the idea of walking her down the aisle. It is those kinds of fantasies that we grieve.

It affects more than parents; it affects the whole extended family.

Also there is the relationship that we have with our children. For me, I'd no longer have a little girl I thought would one day be my best buddy - someone who'd get her nails done with me or share lunch and some boy talk. I also grieved the loss of my fantasy that my oldest daughter and my youngest daughter becoming friends like I am with my sister.

 There was also a change in the family structure as our "little girl" started living as a boy which affected my two other kids and my parents. I grieved the loss of my family's structure - but again, that wasn't really real, it was a fantasy of who I thought I family would evolve. Grieving the loss of these dreams is healthy and a much needed experience we parents of transgender kids need to go through.

But here's the good news: once we go through the grief process, we can start accepting our child for who they really are.

Now when I look at my son - who is so male and kick ass - I laugh to myself about the thought of us ever getting our nails done together. Not only have I accepted him, I love him unconditionally. My son is courageous, strong, funny, kind and so caring. When I see him watching a movie, texting friends, eating food, or speaking about being trans, I can truly find joy his unique gifts. He is the joy of my life.

Grieving isn't over until it's over.

Once you have gone through the stages and get to acceptance, you might think your good to go. It doesn’t always happen that way - at least it didn't for me. There have been a few times when I catch myself - I might see a picture of him before he was two or something similarly sentimental - and I get a little teary-eyed. I acknowledge it, take a moment and it passes, and they moments are fewer and fewer as my life is filled with what is and what will be.

Having a transgender child has changed our family. He has led us with strength and courage to a much better place. We are better human beings for his transition. We have learned how to truly love unconditionally, to have patience and understanding, to learn about other people who are not the same as us and to give compassion freely to others.

We'd like to hear your stories. Please leave a comment on the blog!


  1. The experience of Ben's grief workshop brought new awareness for me around how I responded to learning my child is transgender in 2008. Back then, I did a magnificent job of jumping to instant acceptance. And to that end, somewhere in my heart, I held a mistaken belief that to acknowledge the importance of or to grieve the subtle and not-so-subtle losses in my life resulting from supporting my child's transition would mean I was not truly accepting of my child. The grief workshop helped me identify those losses and give myself permission to grieve now and for as long as I need. Ben pointed out that the stages of grieving are not necessarily experienced in any particular order. Healing is rarely a straight line process. We can experience stages in different orders, and will often return to different grief stages time and time again based on triggers in our lives. The most important thing I learned is that full acceptance of my losses (perceived or real) in terms of grieving is not a condition for full acceptance of my child. Some of what I lost and grieve stemming from my daughter's transitioning will take time and my willingness to grieve which is a little easier said than done. The heart is expansive. I can be experiencing the pain of letting go many of life's previous aspects while simultaneously fully celebrating my daughter for who she is in the present. The small group interaction and discussions were heartwarming and stirring. I judge I could attend this workshop several times in support of my new found grieving process.

  2. I'm in the grieving process just now and feel so lost..

    1. the grieving process is different for many parents. I know for me it was pretty quick but then a few years later it came back. It is a process that we must face. We just need to find the support for each other while supporting and loving our kids.

  3. This is very comforting... I am new to Transgender, as I have a Transgender Son who is starting to have surgeries, and I am sad and angry...

    1. I understand the anger and the sadness. Feel your feelings and try and find support. You are not alone as their are many parents who are going through what you are.

  4. I'm shocked at how painful this is. I've never cried so much. I love my child as much as ever. Why is this so hard?

    1. This is a hard subject no matter how supportive we are as parents. All we can do is love our children and support them and find support for ourselves.

  5. I've never cried so much in my life. And I love my young adult child as much as ever. Why is this so hard?

  6. Linstpaul, you are grieving what you thought you had a son or a daughter. I think all of us parents go through the grief and it's different for everyone. Feel the pain but know that your child is still the same person and always support them. We are always here or you.

  7. Thank you for this article. It has helped so much. It helps to know that even though you support your child 100% and are glad we finally get to see them for who they really are, it's still normal to feel significant loss and grief.