Dear Your Teen:
A few of my daughter’s female friends have adopted male names (and she refers to them with the male pronoun “he”) and she tells me they are transgender. Should I call these transgender friends by their male names?
I’d like to take a moment up front to commend this parent, who demonstrates admirable openness and sensitivity by even asking this question in the first place. These are issues we would all be better for considering, for there will certainly be times when we encounter people whose sexual orientations or gender identities are different than ours. Asking ourselves such questions will help diminish the small ways we have of responding to other people that, while perhaps unintentional, may make them feel “less than.”
How to Talk to Transgender Friends
As to the question at hand: If it hasn’t been communicated clearly, it’s perfectly acceptable, preferable even, to ask two questions of her transgender friends:
- “Which name do you prefer to go by?”
- “Which pronouns do you prefer?”
This gives the teens the autonomy to self-identify without getting into too much detail. Questions about gender identity or sexual attraction are too invasive, and it may be that these teens haven’t figured it all out yet.
Further, questions about genitalia, plans to transition, or surgeries are completely inappropriate, just as they’d be inappropriate to ask a person whose biological gender and gender identity match up (what is known as “cisgender”). Once you know, try your hardest to respect the way your daughter’s transgender friends want to be addressed. There may be slip-ups, especially if you’ve known the child by another name for a long time, but that’s okay—apologize and move on. The effort will be noticed and appreciated.
Matthew Rouse, PhD, MSW, is a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute specializing in the assessment and treatment of ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders, as well as other disorders that may contribute to behavioral difficulties in children and adolescents.