Charlize Theron recently posted a picture of her 7-year-old adopted daughter, Jackson, on Instagram, causing a stir as Theron rarely shares photos of her daughter. But her parenting style has garnered headlines lately as Theron realized four years ago that she was raising a transgender child.
"[My kids] were born who they are and exactly where in the world both of them get to find themselves as they grow up, and who they want to be, is not for me to decide," she explained to Daily Mail in April. "My job as a parent is to celebrate them and to love them and to make sure that they have everything they need in order to be what they want to be. And I will do everything in my power for my kids to have that right and to be protected within that."
She added that's she's determined to live a life filled with truth — for her and her children.
"I grew up in a country where people lived with half-truths and lies and whispers and nobody said anything outright, and I was raised very specifically not to be like that," she said. "I was taught by my mom that you have to speak up; you have to be able to know that, when this life is over, you'll have lived the truth you're comfortable with, and that nothing negative can come from that."
Personal Space asked New York City-based therapist Tanya Koifman, LCSW, who specializes in gender identity therapy, about Theron's parenting style, and Koifman had nothing but praise.
"It is so wonderful when celebrities such as Charlize openly not only accept, but embrace, their child for who they are. When people see celebrities embracing their transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming children, it sends the right message to the public, and it can help lead to greater visibility and acceptance, and hopefully a safer existence for transgender people," Koifman said.
She says since the rate of violent hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community (especially crimes against trans women of color) is "horrifying," visibility for the community helps lessen hate.
"Visibility makes a huge difference for the lives of trans people. The more parents who stand proudly, with unwavering support beside their trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming kids, the more it normalizes the many identities and experiences," Koifman explained.
She offers some tips for parents of kids who identify as something other than straight:
"Follow your child’s lead through the various steps of their gender journey. When they tell you who they are, believe them, and affirm them whenever you get the opportunity.
"So many children fear that they will be less lovable in their parents’ eyes, or that they have let their parents down by being who they are. This is why it is crucial (when your child comes out to you) to thank them for being so open, and sharing this very important part of who they are with you, even if you are struggling to understand it all. And of course tell your child that you love them and are there for them, even if you are just learning as you go.
"I cannot stress enough the importance of using the name and pronoun(s) that feel authentic to your child. Repeatedly using the name and/or pronouns that they were assigned at birth when they ask you to call them something different shows blatant disrespect and disregard for your child’s identity, and it can have serious repercussions for their mental health. If you make a mistake with their name and pronoun, it is best to immediately apologize, and correct yourself, using the right name/pronoun. Studies have shown that calling trans and non-binary kids/teens by their chosen names and pronouns significantly reduces their rates of depression and suicide.
"Please reach out not just for support, but for the right support. It would be very helpful to reach out to an experienced, trans-competent therapist for support while navigating this new territory. It is also very helpful for many to reach out to other parents of trans and non-binary kids through online forums, and support groups such as PFLAG.
"Do not tell your child things such as 'this is just a phase' or 'you are too young to know these kinds of things about yourself.' Children as young as 3 or 4 begin to have a sense of who they are with regard to their gender.
"Get informed and educated on the topic. As you are getting educated, try to find the courage to reject cultural norms that may contradict all of the wonderful things that you are learning about gender identity. It is not your child’s responsibility to educate you about gender identity as a whole. It is crucial that you educate yourself, and understand that there are so many varieties of and layers to gender identity.
"Unfortunately, there are some hate groups out there that pose as legitimate sources of information (re: trans kids), but they are clearly not, and they spread messages of bigotry and hate. It is important to get to know which sources are legitimate and which are not. Organizations such as PFLAG, National Center for Transgender Equality, and genderspectrum.org are a good place to start for information and resources. The LGBTQ+ center in your area may also be a resource for you.
"Ask your child what kind of support they need from you with regard to family situations, school, etc. Also, if your child needs gender-affirming clothing, accessories, help with hairstyling — please do your best to help them access these types of things.
"Being an ally is more than just supporting transgender and non-binary folks with your thoughts and feelings. It means that you are putting your support into action toward combating hate and ignorance toward the community. Even very small actions within your community can make a big difference. Speaking up and calling out transphobic behavior when you witness it is a good place to start.
"It is also important to take a close look at your choices and actions when it comes to bigger picture things such as your political affiliations. Remember, your kids, even very young children, often know and understand more than you might think they do. I do not think that you can truly be a loving/supportive parent to your transgender child while continuing to vote for and support political candidates that are clearly against the LBGTQ+ community. The best thing to do as a parent who loves and supports their trans children is go out and vote. Support trans candidates, and support people/candidates that support trans folks.
"You do not have to fully understand the complexities or ins and outs of your child’s identity before beginning to support them, which of course includes using names and pronouns that they ask to be called, regardless of whether you like the name. Get support and do your research while fully supporting your child from the very beginning. It is literally life-saving to support and affirm your trans child."
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