What happens if only one parent supports the transition?

There are sometimes situations where there is a disagreement amongst parents or carers between those who support the transition or gender expression of a trans or gender diverse child, and those that don’t. This can be difficult for a family to manage. Disagreements on how to best support the child, what to do and what kind of support to seek can put strain on couples or complicate relationships with ex-partners. The disagreements may come after breakdown, be a factor in it, or an issue within an ongoing relationship. Parental support and acceptance are key to the wellbeing and mental health of young trans and gender diverse people.*

Most of the parents we talked to were in agreement with the other parent about how to support their trans or gender diverse child. We also spoke to Elijah, who said he and his wife were in agreement not to affirm their child’s gender expression. But agreeing on how to support their child wasn’t the case for everyone. Both Georgina and Ross talked about how their ex-partners were against their children transitioning and the impact this disagreement had on the young people.

Parents’ disagreements with one another could have many impacts. It could affect the relationship between the parents and current- or ex-partners. Georgina and Ross also spoke about how their ex-partner’s lack of support for their child’s transition negatively impacted relationship between the child and the unsupportive parent. Parental disagreements can lead to delays and impact on the care that the young person receives, which can be distressing for the young person affected. For couples that are together, disagreements can limit the ability of parents to seek support for themselves and their child.

Impact on relationships

For those people we spoke to who were no longer in a relationship with the other parent, like Georgina and Ross, disagreements about their child’s gender expression could add to existing tensions. Georgina gave an example where her trust in her ex-partner was strongly questioned.

Georgina says her son does not talk to his father about his gender identity.

Ross’s ex-partner and mother of his son was against the transition and this caused friction in his son’s relationship with his mother.

Disagreeing about what is the right thing to do can also lead to delays with things such as official name change for the child. Georgina spoke about how she was not able to change her son’s name. She said: ‘I havent done his Deed Poll yet. And the reason is partly because my ex-husband is in, lets put inverted commas, ‘no rush’, which I think means don’t do it yet or otherwise Ill be cross.’

Impact on healthcare

Parental disagreements can impact the healthcare the young person receives. Ross talked about how his ex-partner’s opposition to hormone blockers during the early GIDS appointments meant that his son went through unwanted puberty. Georgina described her ex-partner as a ‘stumbling block with the doctors’ and also worried about how his attitude might impact future care for her son. She worried that the GIDS might prioritise her son’s relationship with his father over his desire for medical intervention such as hormone blockers.

Georgina was concerned that her ex-partner would be a barrier to future medical interventions for her trans son.

Ross thought that mum’s opposition to hormone blockers meant that his child missed out on hormone blockers.

Managing family relations and supporting the young person simultaneously can be challenging for parents and carers. You can read what sources of support were there for the people we spoke. See also Parents’ and carers’ experiences of family and friends’ responses to their child’s gender identity.

* See for example:
Puckett, J. A., Matsuno, E., Dyar, C., Mustanski, B., & Newcomb, M. E. (2019). Mental health and resilience in transgender individuals: What type of support makes a difference? Journal of Family Psychology 33(8).
Simons, L., Schrager, S. M., Clark, L. F., Belzer, M., & Olson, J. (2013). Parental support and mental health among transgender adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(6).