Healthy coping mechanisms for being a trans teen
August 16, 2012 1:34 PM   Subscribe

How to help a trans teenager feel like he has more control over his life?

I'm a Trusted Adult Friend for an amazing, thoughtful, friendly, trans teen who is active and engaged in various volunteer-based communities in our city and who openly cuts and has not-eating problems. I'll call him "Fred."

He doesn't have control over his home life and isn't moving out until he graduates next June. His parents are nice enough and raised a great kid, but they don't seem to understand his needs. They raised him as a girl and don't seem to know what to do about his cutting and eating problems. I can't tell if it's him, his parents, or some combination, but therapy isn't an option at this time. It hasn't worked out for him in the past.

I might try to arrange to talk to them at some point (we've met on multiple occasions, I could pick them out of a crowd, but I only see him when he's out in the community) but I don't really know how to go about doing that. Since Fred says he feels shut down when he tries to talk to his parents at his convenience and clams up when they try to talk to him at their convenience, I might offer to go along for a chat if that's something if they wanted it.

Fred is good about reaching out to his friends but often feels alone. That's when he cuts. He knows all about the "it gets better" message but doesn't relate to it.

Based on my experiences conversing with Fred, my thought is that perhaps it's an outlet for giving himself a sense of control over his life. It also sounds like this is his reaction to feeling lonely. I just don't know how to approach this with him. He's looking for advice and I don't have it. I know it's his problem to solve, but he's looking for solutions and I thought y'all might have some useful advice I could pass along.

I would be particularly interested in resources for trans+teen+cutting or trans+cutting or trans+eating disorder ... that is, it really sounds like the cutting and the eating disorder came about as a result of not feeling accepted as trans by his parents and a large chunk of society.

Northern California

I have read this thread:
posted by lover to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You are probably helping your friend out more than you know already, but I would not actively get between him and his parents unless he explicitly asked you, or explicitly gave you permission. Otherwise (say if his parents react negatively) he may worry about losing you as a friend as well. But it sounds like you really want to help him and maybe mediating between him and his parents would help clear the air and make them both more comfortable with each other.

The only other advice I can give is to search locally and find clubs/activities/etc. where he could meet other trans people who he can relate to, so he can sort out some of his feelings with his peers who he cannot with you (an adult.) Also, since he can't relate to the "it gets better" movement having him actually involved in a trans community may help him in actually feel included and not alone.
posted by el_yucateco at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2012

I recommend PFLAG both for your friend and for his parents.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:08 PM on August 16, 2012


Recommended Transgender and Intersex Web Sites

Family Equality Council The Family Equality Council works to ensure equality for LGBT families by building community, changing hearts and minds, and advancing social justice for all families.

Families Like Mine Site for children of GBLT parents. Excellent

FTM International Female to male transgender site. Books, news, etc.
Gender Spectrum: Excellent West Coast web site for gender variant children and their families. Owned and operated by therapist Stephanie Brill.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Inclusive of bisexual and transgender. Excellent current news site.

National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC) Leading legal and political action site. The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition works proactively to reform societal attitudes and the law to achieve equal rights for the transgendered and other gender diverse individuals.

National Transgender Law Institute Transgender legal affairs activist site. Weekly announcements of changes in state or federal law affecting trans people. Searchable database on college and employer transgender policies, hate crime laws.

PFLAG Transgender Network Support organization specifically for transgenders, their families and friends. Special Affiliate chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)

PFLAG Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Support organization for family members and friends of all GLBT individuals. Excellent support for families coming out and recognizing their gay, lesbian, or transgender children or siblings.

Straight Spouse Network International support network for current and former spouses of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender

Therapist Resource Site for North America: Lists therapists with experience dealing with transgender issues, sorted by state or province, then by city.

Trans Youth Family Allies TransYouth Family Advocates is a coalition of parents, friends and caring adults dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the medical and cultural challenges faced by children with gender variant and gender questioning identities and the families who love them..

TransFamily of Cleveland Excellent Family support site. Newsletter, couples, spouses, parents, and youth discussion elists. Hundreds of members from all over the world.
Excellent Youth Resource Sites: or

Sorry about the formatting. I am having technical issues and not in a position to properly link everything. This is a list given me be someone more in the know than I am. I am just passing it on and not really qualified to comment on most of these resources.

I generally agree with you but I have been told that self harm in trans kids can also be about how alien their body feels to them -- that the brain wiring and the hardware don't match and they just cannot cope with it. I have been told that this piece of it basically is only truly solvable by getting their hardware corrected.

I don't know if that can be proven to be true or not. Most of these kids seem to have a lot of social baggage, so I am not sure it would be possible to clearly separate the two possible sources. However, Mom, I need to be a girl is a case without the self harm and other drama so common for these kids. She got a remarkable amount of support. But that doesn't prove that gender dysphoria isn't a cause of self harm, only that it doesn't necessarily have to be universally true.

I would also wonder if the not-eating is some kind of attempt to stunt their own growth and stave off maturation of the "wrong" body, to extend the window for getting a body more fully in line with their vision of themselves. Since you say the parents don't get it, I am assuming there is no hormone therapy or similar in place. Hormone therapy or hormone suppression can help well before a trans kid is ready for surgery.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:38 PM on August 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

Northern California - does Fred have any way to get to San Francisco by car or transit? Can you drive or accompany him?

San Francisco LGBT Center

References for Transgender Youth from TYRA (not San Francisco specific)

LYRIC (organization expressly serving LGBTQ young people)

I don't know that you talking to Fred's parents directly (unless he specifically asks) would be a good idea; it sounds like at best they'll blow you off and at worst try to keep Fred from hanging out with you.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:40 PM on August 16, 2012

He doesn't have control over his home life and isn't moving out until he graduates next June. His parents are nice enough and raised a great kid, but they don't seem to understand his needs. They raised him as a girl and don't seem to know what to do about his cutting and eating problems.

Is he out as trans to his parents? If so, how are they reacting? Are they at least making an effort to use the right pronoun and so on, or are they still insisting on calling him "our daughter" all the time and refusing to budge on any of it?

I can't tell if it's him, his parents, or some combination, but therapy isn't an option at this time. It hasn't worked out for him in the past.

From my own experience as a miscellaneously fucked-up teenager (and then as a miscellaneously fucked-up adult): therapy that you go to voluntarily with a therapist you choose to work with feels way different (and will probably work way better) than therapy that you go to because your parents told you that you had to.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:04 PM on August 16, 2012

I have been thinking more about the cutting. My oldest is ASD and used to beat his head on the floor as a toddler. He is now 25 and quite articulate. He has explained to me why he hurt himself intentionally as a toddler. One reason: The pain helped clear his head of thoughts he couldn't stop any other way. It was like a mental reboot of a system infected with malware.

Since Fred is not a toddler, perhaps you could discuss that idea with him and see if it hits a nerve. If so, perhaps you can brainstorm non-injurious methods to achieve the same thing.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 5:13 PM on August 16, 2012

You didn't go into detail about his eating problems, so it's possible that it could go wrong, but something you could do to give him control is teach him how to cook. This is something he can do at home for himself (hopefully) that can also go a long way towards helping him handle the complexities of living with an ED once he's in a better place. It's also just a good activity you can do either one on one or in a small group with lots of openings to talk about whatever he needs to talk about that day.
posted by Mizu at 5:59 PM on August 16, 2012

Where are you? Does he have access to other trans teens? In person or online? There are rare but shining local organisations that are beacons for trans kids, and if you want to tell us where you're located, I'm sure some of us would be happy to give you real world referrals if there are any.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:56 PM on August 16, 2012

In a much different way than it gets better, OP magazine just launched this:
posted by manicure12 at 3:20 PM on August 19, 2012

BABOYZ is billed as a Bay Area listserv but there are often events posted for other cities in Northern CA. You might try posting there for ideas/resources specific to whatever town you're in. (I'm guessing not the immediate Bay Area since there's a huge trans youth community there.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:27 PM on August 20, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses. All the perspective and resources I could find were helpful at that time. Just thought I'd let y'all know that he's doing much better. Someone I don't know called Child Protective Services and now he's going to gender therapy and his parents are taking him more seriously and he's doing much better.
posted by lover at 7:33 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the update.
posted by Michele in California at 7:15 AM on December 5, 2012

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