How do I best support my struggling, genderfluid 13-year-old?
December 14, 2019 2:11 PM   Subscribe

My young teen has always played around with gender presentation, and now feels solid that they are genderfluid. They have never shown any desire to hide this, and lately are indicating that they want to be quite open about it (e.g. with this hoodie). They also struggle with social cues/skills and feelings of isolation and being judged, recently to the point of suicidal ideation and hospitalization. How do I support them and foster good mental health and happiness? How do I talk to them about how people, particularly other kids, might respond, so that they can go into this with fully informed choice?

More on where they currently are on this : they generally choose an androgynous look, and have been considering occasionally wearing chest binders. Their comment to me when sending the link for the hoodie: "Oh, and I'd like to express being genderfluid so I found this amazing hoodie to do so without having to explain it 10 times a day!" They have been using she/hers up to this point, but have recently decided they equally like they/theirs, which I'm using here to nudge things that direction for this question. Additionally, they believe they are probably ace.

Affecting social interactions and their perceptions: it is possible they are on the ASD spectrum and we didn't catch it for reasons of Other Things, as well as non-typical presentation if that is in fact what we are dealing with. They are being evaluated for that soon.

We are not in the deep south, but we live in an area that is a little more conservative than not, within a larger, more liberal area.

They are in intensive mental health treatment following the hospitalization, and will be receiving ongoing therapy from a queer-friendly therapist. (Is "queer" still friendly, or should I be using another term?)

Any resources for me or them would be wonderful. Thank you.

(Also, any links for comfortable chest binders would be awesome.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of good resources--for your kid and yourself-- at TransParent.
posted by Sublimity at 3:23 PM on December 14, 2019

it looks like gc2b is still the standard suggestion for binders, and they have a short helpful page about binding as a young teen.
posted by gaybobbie at 3:50 PM on December 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

gc2b binders are great, but they are TIGHT. It's an amazing result, giving a really flat chest, but be careful about sizing. I realized I'd outgrown my binder when I'd had it on for two hours and was short of breath. (They're not kidding about not wearing it more than 9 hours! I think even when it fit I had about a six-hour limit, which looking back, I was probably wearing a size too small.)

If your budget can possibly stretch to it, I can't say enough good about Rebirth Garments. They make their binders made-to-measure, and they are insanely comfortable, although I found the bind isn't quite as flat as with gc2b. I'm willing to make that trade-off cos I can wear them all day and be super happy and ride my bike and stuff. (I'm...a 34 C, to give you an idea of what needs to be flattened. I mean, I think? Sorry, it's been awhile since I bought a sized bra.) I really, really, really love my binder from them, and the maker will absolutely work with you if there are any skin sensitivity or texture issues.

Oh, finally -- double-check that the therapist is cool with asexuality both as an aspect of queerness and as, like, a thing that is real. My otherwise-amazing therapist didn't really get my ace-ness, and that was kind of hard. (Even if your kid isn't ace, they should absolutely be supported while they think and explore and stuff.)

I'm sorry I don't have exact resources beyond these; I'm genderqueer and ace, and I've found the most support in fandom (especially Good Omens), and reading and writing genderfucky and ace characters. Fandom and fanfiction can be really good but also really bad, so I don't feel totally comfortable recommending it, but it can be a path for exploration and feeling at home and meeting people like oneself.
posted by kalimac at 4:16 PM on December 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

Is "queer" still friendly, or should I be using another term?

It's complicated. Broadly speaking "queer" is fine as a term (though exercise caution when using it to refer to elders, as most people who consider it unreclaim-able are over 60). However, when looking for therapists, I would specifically try to locate people with experience with trans or genderfluid adolescents. I try very hard to only see providers who have been recommended by another trans person, but like quadruply so when it comes to therapists.

How do I talk to them about how people, particularly other kids, might respond, so that they can go into this with fully informed choice?

I am not your kid, but I would hazard they are "fully informed". It's totally okay for you to worry about your kid (get your own therapist, for that matter), but my experience is that my mother is at her least helpful when she "just wants to be sure I know [whatever]", especially when it was about my gender.
posted by hoyland at 4:18 PM on December 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

Their comment to me when sending the link for the hoodie: "Oh, and I'd like to express being genderfluid so I found this amazing hoodie to do so without having to explain it 10 times a day!"

From what I've seen the symbol used in place of a checkmark on the hoodie you linked to is typically used to represent bisexuals (which fits with the "Male, Female, Don't worry about it" text). Not that cis straight people are likely to pick up on that, but that specific shirt may not communicate what your child wants ("hey, I'm genderfluid!") to other queer people.

If you can find a LGBTQ+ youth group for your kid to attend and meet people I think that would be a fantastic way to support them.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 4:36 PM on December 14, 2019

The best support is a welcoming, non-judgemental community. Is it possible to move to a less conservative area, or switch schools to one that is genderfluid/queer friendly? Get involved in community groups that may not have a specifically genderfluid/queer focus but who are supportive (and contain in leadership roles) people who are genderfluid/queer.
posted by saucysault at 4:55 PM on December 14, 2019

My trans son wears GC2B binders. I have to stay on him to wear them only 8 hours a day though.

If you're in the Atlanta area, I can give you some great links for LGBTQ+ friendly teen environments. Memail me.
posted by heathrowga at 5:36 PM on December 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

The single most important thing you can do is believe and support them, so kudos and keep doing that. The fact that they feel comfortable talking about this with you says a lot and I would do whatever you can to keep those lines of communication open, especially so they will let you know if they're being bullied or otherwise mistreated.

Nthing what others have said about trans-competent professionals, especially for therapy and for their pediatrician. I think the latter is especially important, since they're in puberty and that can be really tough for kids in the trans/non-binary umbrella. (Ask me about my own puberty before anyone in my life even knew you could be something besides cis!)

The other thing I'd say is help them find other kids who are trans/non-binary/questioning. No doubt they're connecting with people online, but there's really nothing like real-life friends to make you feel like less of a gender-weirdo in the bad way.

Oh actually one other thing: sex ed. Find them gender-aware teen sex ed resources because for real, the stuff for cis het teens completely does not work for the rest of us. If you have a UU church in your area and no faith-specific qualms, you may ask them if your kid can enroll in their sexuality education program, which is very progressive and, I hear, queer/trans-competent.

OK, just one more thing! The points above about gc2b being too tight are well-taken, but they are well-made and designed by AFAB trans people. Maybe try one a size or two up? I think it also depends on how big their chest is, what they wear the binder under, etc. I have a medium chest. My gc2b binders are great when I'm wearing a form-fitting T or button-down and I want to look sharp. Otherwise, I wear bras from TomboyX, which do a good job of minimizing and are more comfortable. I've also heard good things about Shapeshifters, which is also owned by a trans person and which only does custom. Definitely stay away from any of the random binders you find on Amazon.
posted by the sockening at 5:39 PM on December 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

I am not your kid, but I would hazard they are "fully informed". It's totally okay for you to worry about your kid (get your own therapist, for that matter), but my experience is that my mother is at her least helpful when she "just wants to be sure I know [whatever]", especially when it was about my gender.

This is so extremely true.
posted by the sockening at 5:40 PM on December 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

How do I talk to them about how people, particularly other kids, might respond, so that they can go into this with fully informed choice?

They know. Trust me, no matter how difficult it is for them to read social cues in the moment, they know. For as long as they have had an inkling about who they are, they will have been listening for hints, scanning their environment for information about how the world responds to people like them. This process would have started long before they came out to you. It sounds like they deduced that you were a safe person to welcome into their authentic identity. That’s wonderful. Please continue to be that island of safety for your kid. You don’t need to be the one to tell them that others might not be so kind. They already know.

A better way to approach this might be to shift your focus away from how others might harm them, and instead focus on how they are already resisting, and will continue to resist that harm. Honour their agency in responding to people’s prejudice. Help them identify safe places and people who will support them. Have their back as a parent, but also be their accomplice in their journey toward living an authentic life. Be in cahoots with them against a world that doesn’t always understand. Be their island of safety. Sometimes, the world is going to be terrible to them and your job is to be there with them through the harm and to celebrate their ongoing survival; not to figure out how they could have reshaped themselves to be more acceptable to a hostile world.

Strangely, Instagram can be a good source of information and support. Follow RainDove; they are a non-binary model and activist, and they often post screenshots of conversations where they sort of neutralise people’s hatred by responding with compassion. ThemsHealth is also a good one, for non-binary health and well-being. Maybe also read some Ivan Coyote’s non-fiction writing, especially Gender Failure and Tomboy Survival Guide.

Underworks makes a range called Magicotton which offers moderate compression with a softer, more breathable fabric. If your kid isn’t bothered by wearing something that feels a bit like a bra, the Sports and Binding Bra could be a good option. I wear them to compress my very large chest, and while they’re not exactly comfy, they allow a lot more freedom of movement than most binder brands, which especially important for a kid who’s still growing. If they don’t want to feel like they’re wearing a bra, or just prefer a longer garment, there is a ”men’s” Magicotton range too.

Thanks for having your kid’s back. You sound like a really great parent.
posted by embrangled at 6:02 PM on December 14, 2019 [9 favorites]

Hopefully there is a GSA group at their school ( If there isn't, perhaps they are interested in starting one. Also hopefully there is a PFLAG group local to you. Meeting other parents at a PFLAG group is a great way to learn about local resources & finding community. When you say "How do I talk to them about how people, particularly other kids, might respond, so that they can go into this with fully informed choice?" my reaction is, teach them that it's OK to be who they are and what other people think and say is the other people's problem, not your child's. Truly, if they know they have your support at home, it's easier to step out into the scary world and to deflect those people that don't get it. One of the best things I did as a parent was go to some of the transgender conferences, for example, the yearly Trans Wellness Conference in Philadelphia, PA. Being surrounded by successful happy transgender people and hearing their life stories gave me great hope for my child's future (as well as lots of useful information).
posted by molasses at 6:03 PM on December 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was going to suggest Rebirth Garments too; I don’t wear binders but I know the person who makes those and I know they are very sensitive to individual needs about comfort and mobility and also have a lot of experience with and care about younger folks.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 12:33 AM on December 15, 2019

I haven't bought a binder in approximately a decade, so the options recommended here (besides Underworks) didn't exist. T-Kingdom used to be held to be more comfortable than Underworks, but wore out faster. Les Loveboat (who seems to have badly executed a site redesign, or I'm blocking some important Javascript, because the site looks pretty sketchy; I have ordered from them) is the other Taiwanese source, with a range pretty similar to T-Kingdom. People don't talk about them much any more, but I mention them because they have a whole bunch of closure styles and being able to adjust compression during the day with velcro is kind of handy.

The Taiwanese brands work better for smaller people, but there's a decent chance your kid is a smaller person. Return shipping is likely costly, so I wouldn't experiment with these unless you can afford to say "Well that isn't going to work" and donate the binder. (It's pretty common for places that run (transmasculine) support groups to be able to get binders to a new home if there's not something formal and google-able where you are. That's also a potential option for trying things on (or getting a binder if you don't have resources), but in my experience, someone grabs binders that come in pretty fast.)
posted by hoyland at 4:10 AM on December 15, 2019

Hey, I'm going through a very similar experience with my 14-yo.

Biologically female, came out as non-binary a couple years ago. Wears a binder usually. Prefers them/they. Has been in counseling (with a queer-friendly counselor) and we're told they have "dark thoughts" but not necessarily suicidal thoughts. We live in Austin, TX, so while it's a conservative state the city itself is fairly progressive.

This is the age where kids really start forming their identity, and my kid has decided they are GAY GAY GAY and they express that at every opportunity. Mostly by making gay/straight puns constantly, but also by talking about gay authors, activists, and artists. For a math/statistics class this year they polled the student population on what the most common homophobic slurs are and made charts/graphs for their big presentation on it. They are the lead in the school musical (huge theater nerd). Kids come up regularly and ask them about their genitalia and they handle it in an amazingly mature manner and then do their best to educate (though we've told them it's not their job).

My kid is tall and lanky, and I'm not sure what brand binder they wear (I'm at work, they're at school), but I can ask and post back here, or feel free to Me-mail me if you want. My kid told us they're gay when they were 9 or 10 and that was easy to accept, but wrapping my head around having a non-binary kid was a lot harder. The kid marched in Austin's pride parade this year and I was scared to death that violence would break out, but everything went perfectly smooth and they were really happy they did it (and their group happened to be in front of the local police department's pride group, so I felt a little better about it).

I'm not really worried about shielding the kid from the more conservative members of our extended family (my wife and I can handle that; actually the kid can fend for themselves when it's just words). I am worried about physical violence because the kid's a target. They have really good de-escalation skills, and I think they can defuse a situation before it gets out of hand, but I would feel better if they expressed an interest in the self defense classes I've suggested.

They also have a pretty strong presence on Tumblr and Instagram, and I'm totally off limits with what they view/post. I figure that's a space they need that I'm not a part of, and I trust that they can make safe decisions when it comes to that.

If you have anything specific you want to ask or just want to chat somehow, feel free to drop me a line.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:36 AM on December 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

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