How to Begin a Conversation With Your Children
I think my children should know about my cross-dressing. How do I go about telling them? What should I tell them?
The first rule of thumb is, “share – don’t scare!”
When you tell someone about your gender identity issues and cross-dressing, (for those who are married with children) the first question they will ask is, “How does your wife feel about it?” Next will be, “How are your children handling it?”
You will very seldom be asked, “How are you handling it?” People are keenly interested in your family, not so much about you. If your wife and children are “OK” with your cross-dressing then most others will be as well. Even if your family is just barely “OK” with it, most of those who would try and counsel you away from your activities will back off a bit.
It is important to create a context in which your wife and children feel comfortable with your gender identity exploration.
Children are mostly interested in themselves. They want to know that Dad will be there for them no matter what. Chances are your children have never heard the term, “transgender” or if they have, do not know what it means. They have heard the term, “cross-dresser” but that usually brings up images of a funny-looking hairy man dressed in a poodle skirt (more clown-like), or those we see on the Jerry Springer show. Either way, their response to a blunt declaration will most likely be taken in a negative context.
What you need to do first is provide a positive clear context. The information given should be age appropriate and should relate to how they feel. Use words that they can relate to and understand. Talk about your feelings. Ask how they feel now and share how you felt at their age. Above all, do not dress in front of them until the context is set. Halloween can be a fun event to take advantage of. The idea of a costume is readily understandable.
A child is able to absorb information within an environment in which they feel safe and secure. Any conversation about cross-dressing or gender identity must begin with them and end with them. This is not about you.
Gender polarity . . . negative female images . . . laughable transgendered “role models” . . . unfocused fear of the unknown, are all ingrained in our culture. To remove all these obstacles may seem like a daunting task. But it is not impossible to remove at least some of these barriers, or at least redefine them.
Educating your children will take some time. It could take a few months to prepare them to hear your information. Please be patient. Here are some tips:
1. If you currently use phrases like, “Don’t throw like a girl,” or “Stop acting like a sissy,” stop using them immediately. This creates a negative image of women, and your professed desire to be more like a woman will be viewed as negative as well.
2. Don’t use sexist language in your speech. Avoid terms like fireman, or policeman. Use instead the term “person” to help expand the way in which they view gender and gender roles.
3. Discuss the gender spectrum with them. (When you talk to them, get at their eye level. Look them in the eye and talk with confidence. Body language is very important. Try to be comfortable. Don’t rush. You may even want to begin after dinner, and while you are eating desert.)
Explain that on one end of the spectrum is the male. On the other end is the female. Use this basic sort of spectrum:
Male 100% . . . . . 50% (balanced) 50% . . . . 100% Female.
Tell them that all of us have both genders in us. Very few people are 100% anything. Ask them if they know anybody who is either 100% male, of 100% female. This will open up a discussion as to what defines a woman and a man. Let them tell you what the differences are. Children are usually very aware of gender roles. Use their information to help define these gender roles. If you get stuck on this, ask them if they know anybody at school who is “all boy” or “all girl.” Then ask them where they would fit on the gender spectrum. Your son may feel compelled to say that he is 100% boy, or your daughter 100% girl. If you think this will happen, tell him first that you are somewhere in the middle. They will want to follow your lead somewhat. (Even if you at this time in your life feel that you are 100% female, you should not say this.) Go back in time and try to relate to them at their current age level.
Tell them how you felt when you were their age. Let them know that you often preferred to play with the girls rather than the boys. If you are honest with yourself, I’m sure you will be somewhere between 40% and 60% one or the other. If your child insists on saying they are 100%, try and redefine the terms for them.
The point of this exercise is to “relate” to your children, not to show them how different you are. After you redefine your terms, let them reevaluate themselves. Do not “tell” them what you think, but let them tell you. After they have settled on their place on the spectrum, then tell them where you think you fit. Do not go into a lengthy explanation as to why. Just let the information sit out there. If they have questions, keep the answers about yourself brief.
Feel free, however, to discuss the information about them in length and end the sessions with positive affirmations about what they have told you. For them to admit this to you, is not unlike your coming out to them. This is risky for them and you need to affirm your acceptance of them. Make this about them first, and about you last.
As time goes on, try to bring up this idea of the gender spectrum as it relates to others. Talk about those you see on TV or around town. Say something like, “Now he is 100% boy.” -or- “I would guess that they are 50-50.” Make a game of it.
Continue the dialog. Children are mostly interested in how things will affect them. Ask them how they feel about themselves. Are they doing well in school? How are their friends treating them? Do they feel like they fit in? Share how you felt in school and some of the problems you had. Tell them a story about your past. Tell it from the perspective of someone who is their age. Talk mostly about your feelings. Ask them if they ever feel this way. Children know that feelings are neither wrong or right.
Look for opportunities to affirm those in untypical gender roles. Women in typically men’s roles. Men in typically women’s roles. Dignify the typical role of women as much as you can. Tell them about women you respect and why.
Be their friend. Let them in on your life. Tell them what you are doing and why you are interested in it.
Do this for several months. The objective is to try to “uncondition” them to what our society has been training them.
Dress up for Halloween, or a costume party of some sort. Have FUN with it. Let them help you. Talk about how fun this is, and that you enjoy being someone different. Ask who they would like to be, if they could be someone else. Take advantage of this holiday, it is a real gift.
Talk about how much you enjoyed your time during Halloween. Tell them that you sometimes have other opportunities to dress up and go out, and that it is a lot of fun. Keep it positive and light-hearted. No details should be given.
Ask them if they have any “other identities” that they use. What is the name that they use when they are online? They may hesitate, but let them answer. Most children have some sort of name that they use when playing online games, or that they use as a password, or as an email name. Ask them why they use that name. Share your fem-name with them and tell them that you use it while you are online, just like they use their name. Don’t be afraid of this. Make it age specific in terms of how you relate this to them. It can be as simple as, “I use a fem name so that no one will know my real name. I like the fem name because it gives me a chance to relate to people.
Let them get used to these ideas. Let them become commonplace. Hint at the fact that you have been working on your female persona, and you are getting much better at it. You will have to show them someday. Wear some gender neutral clothing around the house if you can. DO NOT WEAR YOUR WIFE’S CLOTHING! Children will think that is weird.
Involve them in your gender exploration, in a non-threatening manner. If you are honest with them, there is a greater chance that they will be more honest with you when they have issues of their own to share.
Don’t give too much information all at once. Remember, they are only interested in how it affects them. Keep it light-hearted and short. Children may give you support, but do not come to them looking for it, nor should you solicit it.
Avoid unwanted discovery. It is best to inform rather than be discovered. Having a child “find” pictures or emails is rarely ever good. It is best to show them information and explain it in a non-threatening way.
Don’t be selfish. Children need to feel safe. Make sure that they know they are loved.
Remind them about confidences. It is important, within a family, to feel safe and so some of the things we tell each other are just for the family to know. Do not use the word “secret”, it carries with it the idea of shame. However, if they do tell their friends, usually this will be a positive thing, because your children will present it in a positive light.
Never panic. When someone learns of your T-nature, just smile and share with enthusiasm your freedom and interest.
Don’t shock. Gathering the family together for a general announcement is fatal 99% of the time. Having “Bernie” disappear for two hours only to come back as “Bernice” is a terrible way to confront your loved ones with this important news. It is lazy and selfish. If you wish to do this, Jerry Springer will be glad to book you.
Don’t wait to begin. Even if you do not plan on telling your children directly, making them aware of gender issues is a positive step. Begin giving them information now and reinforce that information when you can. If they end up “finding out” information on your CDing by accident, they will have a good framework established in which to understand and process it.
Above all, don’t forget to pray! It will get your mind in the right head-space while connecting you to a resource that is powerful.