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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Injustice at Every Turn -- Part IV: Family Life

--by Robyn

Scarlet Letter
Our analysis shows that many transgender and gender non-conforming people experienced improvement in their family relationships after coming out. Others endured considerable challenges including rejection by partners, friends, and family members. A majority experienced both good and bad, and this didn’t differ much by race.

"Common wisdom" over the years has been that when a transperson begins transition, the first thing that happens is that she or he will be rejected by her or his family…that the road we are called to travel must be traveled alone.

57% of respondents reported being out to their family about being transgender (64%) or gender non-conforming (35%). FTMs are more likely to be out to their families (68%) than MTFs (60%). Racially, multiracial (59%) and white (57%) were most likely to have disclosed their status to their families.

Since home life does not necessarily include family members, but may instead rather include friends, roommates, etc, respondents were also asked whiter they were "out at home". 73% reported being out at home to "all" or "most", while 17% were out at home to "some" or "few". 10% reported being out to no one at home. 88% of those who had transitioned were out to everyone who they lived with at home, while 8% were out to some of the people they lived with and 4% were what we call "stealth".

38% of respondents reported being parents, compared with 64% of the general population. Being a parent is strongly related to age of transition. Those who transitioned later in life were much more likely to be parents: 82% of those who transiioned afterimage 54 were parents compared to 38% of those who transitioned between ages 25 and 44.

The author transitioned beginning at age 44 and was a parent at age 21.

My partner and I are in the process of adopting a child whom we’ve been fostering for the past two years. We’ve been engaged in a legal battle since November of 2007, when a social worker decided (primarily, we’ve been told by a number of sources, because of my transgender status) to try to remove her from our home.

American Indians (45%) had the highest rate of parenting, followed by Latino/a and white respondents, both at 40%, while Asians had the lowest rate at 18%.

Transwomen were parents (52%) considerably more often than transmen (17%), which is affected by the fact that the 44% of the transwoman sample were aged 45+, while only 11% of transmen in the sample were that age. Also, 61% of male-born crossdressers reported being parents.

Respondents were asked how many children rely on their income. 82% reported no current dependent children, 9% had one dependent child, 6% two dependent children and 3% three or more dependent children. Those with higher levels of household income and education were more likely to be responsible for children. 18% of those earning $100K+ had two or more dependent children. Black and Lanino/a respondents (11% each) were slightly more likely to report raising two or more dependent children, with American Indians and whites close behind at 10%).

45% of the sample reported that their family is as strong today as before coming out. Of course that means that for 55%, their family is not as strong. Balcks (55%) and Asians (49%) experienced higher levels of family resilience…as did, interestingly, 52% of those without a high school diploma (as opposed to 49% of those with a graduate degree).

2/5 of respondents reported that their parents or other family members chose not to speaker spend time with them due to their gender identity or expression. ON the upside, this means that 60% did not experience this sort of family rejection. Family rejection was worse for multiracial (49%), American Indian (46%) and Latino/a (44%) participants. At the low end were blacks and whites, both at 39%. Family rejection was also at a higher rate for those earning less than $10K annually (47%) and those earning between $10K and $20K annually (48%), the unemployed (47%), and those working in the underground economy (52%). The family rejection rate was highest for those who had lost a job due to bias (57%). Family rejection was higher for MTFs (45%) than FTMs (40%).

Nearly half (45%) of respondents reported that their relationship with their spouse ended due to their transgender identity or gender non-conformity, but 55% stayed in their relationship or the relationship ended for another reason. 55% of those who transitioned had their relationships end, which is not unexpected since one of what has been thought to be the basic requirements for surgery has been the termination of any marriage. I know a few people who have rejected that, but they have had to struggle with some issues because of it. Those who transitioned at a younger age were more likely to have maintained their relationships through tranition (59% for those who transitioned between 18 and 24, as compared to 36% of those who transitioned between ages 45 and 54 and 30% for those over 55).

Transwomen were more likely to experience the end of a relationship (57%) than transmen (39%), with the exception of those who transitioned under age 18. Those who were unemployed (50%) and those who had lost jobs due to bias (62%) reported higher rates of relationship disruption.

I am married, and my wife knew about my status by the time of our second date. She said she could accept me as I was. After we were married, and she was pregnant with our son, she told me I could not be who I wanted/ was. Out of a sense of commitment, I have stayed with her, and have not been able to fully express who I really am. I have considered suicide. After all, smoking and drinking are a civilized way of committing suicide.

For the majority of respondents, relationships with children remained the same (36%) or got better (much improved 10% and somewhat improved 12%). 16% reported the relationship with children to be somewhat worse and 13% reported the relationship to be much worse. another 13% said it was better in some ways, worse in others. Asian (21%), Latino/a (20%) and Black (14%) respondents had higher rates of improvement in their parenting situations than did their white counterparts (9%). Those with a lower household income (under $10K) experienced a better situation more often (15%) than those earring over $100K (11%). Unfortunately, they were also more likely to report a "much worse" situation (24%) than those with an income of $100K (7%). Respondents who worked in the underground economy reported a higher level of much improvement (17%) than the sample as a whole (10%), but also had a higher rate of "much worse" (19%, compared to 13%). Those without a high school diploma and those with only a high school diploma were least likely to report any of the "worse" options.

Unfortunately there was a sizable minority (29%) who have been denied contact with their children. Multiracial (33%) and black (33%) respondents were more likely to encounter this, with the least likely being Asians (25%). MTFs were more likely to encounter this (34%) than FTMs (20%). Of those who had children and were in a relationship that ended, 13% reported that a court or a judge stopped or limited their relationships with their children because of their gender-variance. The other 87% either came to an agreement with their spouse outside of court or went to court and received a positive outcome in this regard. 29% of black and 20% of multiracial respondents experienced such court interference. MTFs suffered court interference at a rate of 16%, while FTMs had a rate of only 8%).

30% of respondents reported that their children have chosen not to speak to them or spend time with them because of their gender identity/expression. This happened more often for whites (31%) than any other racial group and more often by those in the lowest income group (37%) than any other economic class and by those who had earned only a high school diploma (49%) than any other educational attainment group (including those without even a high school diploma (33%).

19% of respondents reported domestic violence at the hands of a family member because of their gender identity/expression. This was race-dependent: highest ere American Indians (45%), Asians (36%), blacks (35%) and Latino/as (35%), with multiracial respondents at 31% and whites at 15%. Violence is also inversely proportional to income and educational attainment.

Over half the sample (58%) loss close friendships due to their identity or expression. Least likely to experience this were Blacks and Asians. The racial group with the highest incidence was American Indians, by far at 74%. By comparison, whites and Latino/as were at 57%.

The data was used to create a family acceptance/rejection index. 57% were considered to have faced some rejection and 43% were accepted. Those whose families accepted them had higher current family income, while 26% of those who experienced some rejection experienced homelessness (compared to 9% of those who were accepted). 19% of those who experienced family rejection had been incarcerated, as compared to 11% to those whose families were accepting. 51% of those who experienced family rejection attempted suicide, as opposed to 32% of those with accepting families. Smoking and drug and alcohol use were also at higher rates for those experiencing family rejection.

My parents threatened to disown me. ‘It was a sin,’ ‘I was sick,’ ‘I wanted to mutilate my body,’ etc. I drank fairly heavily from when I was 14 on. And I just kept drinking.

Just looking at those who experienced family rejection, there are alarming statistics among those who had experienced domestic violence at the hands of a family member. 48% had become homeless. 29% had become incarcerated. 38% ended up working in the underground economy, with 29% doing sex work for income. 5.5% became HIV+. 65% attempted suicide. 47% used drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.


  • Family members of transgender and gender non-conforming people who are coming out should educate themselves so that they can accept and continue to support their loved one and provide a place to turn to in the face of mistreatment or discrimination in wider society.

  • Those involved with the family court system should be educated about transgender and gender non-conforming people, their continuing ability to be good parents, and the destructive consequences of separating parents and children.

    • Family court judges should be educated about research showing that remaining in a strong relationship with a transgender or gender non-conforming parent is in “the best interest of the child,” and that transgender or gender non-conforming children need to be in custody of parents or guardians who accept them. Furthermore, transgender and gender non-conforming parents should not be restricted from expressing their identity or gender non-conformity during visitation.

    • Guardians Ad Litem and Court Appointed Special Advocates should be trained to understand that transgender and gender non-conforming children need to be in custody of parents or guardians who are accepting of their gender identity/expression. They also need to understand that it is in “the best interest of the child” to have contact with their transgender or gender non-conforming parent.

    • Lawyers involved in family court issues should not make arguments to limit custody or contact with children a parent is transgender or gender non-conforming.

    • Experts or professionals that the court relies on for analysis and advice who express bias against transgender or gender non-conforming children or adults should be removed from their cases.

  • Adoption and foster care agencies should similarly be educated and establish policies of nondiscrimination for potential parents based on gender identity/expression and race.

  • Social service providers should be aware of the likelihood of family rejection and domestic violence for transgender and gender non-conforming people and be prepared to be a resource or intervene as appropriate.

    • School counselors should be aware of the potential challenges transgender and gender non-conforming youth may be facing at home as well as in school, so that they can provide needed assistance.

    • Social workers should provide services friendly to transgender and gender non-conforming people as well as develop referral lists of other social service providers accessible to transgender and gender non-conforming people including homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters.

  • Counselors and therapists in private practice should be prepared to counsel individuals and families who have a transgender or gender non-conforming family member and assist these families in accepting and supporting their identity.

  • Family and marriage counselors should be able to assist spouses and partners dealing with gender identity/expression issues and what they may mean for their relationship. They should encourage understanding on the part of all parties and, if separation is warranted, they should also assist with an amicable breakup and ensure that any children continue to have relationships with their parents.

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