Parenting gender diverse children

I write as a parent of a daughter whose gender transition occurred as an adult, as a member of the Rainbow community, and as a health professional with many years of mental health experience. This information is shared with my daughter’s permission.

A gender-questioning child, of any age, poses unique challenges to their and our own sense of identity. This happens in the context of our own whānau – family, cultural, religious and social background. Our natural support networks may be incredibly helpful or pose additional challenges as we explore what this means for us and those we love.

Some people think that there are only two sexes and genders: male/female. The more you learn, the more you come to understand that there is no biological or anthropological evidence for this belief. Of course, there are some who continue to argue the point, much as there are still those who argue the earth is flat.

Of course, a parent’s fear that their gender diverse child will be hurt by rejection and discrimination by others is understandable, given that our society still has a long way to go in including all diversity. Marginalisation has led to poor health, social and economic outcomes, and we all need to do our part to reduce that risk. The good news is that with increased advocacy and visibility, things are changing, especially among younger generations.

Seeing my daughter’s own physical and mental health improve dramatically as a result of her being able to live as her true, authentic self, has been a powerful reward for being a supportive parent. As part of our shared journey, I have been privileged to meet many gender diverse people who live rich and rewarding lives. My own life is richer for these connections.

As part of this journey I found an online group of incredibly supportive and understanding parents and caregivers, who answered many questions and offered their own journeys as support and understanding.

The common themes which emerge from our discussions are:

  • Be patient and kind to yourself, your child and your whānau

  • Seek out as much valid and reliable information as you can

  • Support siblings who may need help with their own emotional responses, level of understanding and knowing ‘what to say’ to others

  • Reach out to others who understand what you might be experiencing

  • Practice ‘tough love’ and challenge or distance yourself from those who are negative and judgmental in order to protect yourself and your child/ren

  • Love your child unconditionally, and let them know that no matter what comes, you are there for them. The New Zealand 2019 survey, Counting Ourselves*, showed this can literally make a life or death difference for your child.

Looking for support and information?

Facebook support group

Portal Group - FreedHearts Aotearoa New Zealand - Parents of LGBT children

The group is for those parents who have lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or questioning children of any age and would like to find information and support in order to affirm and support their children.

OUTline 0800 Outline (688 5463)

An Auckland based confidential, free LGBTQIA+ affirming national telephone support line provided by trained peer counsellors. Online or face-to–face counselling is also available on a fee-for-service basis.

OUTLine trans and non-binary peer support service

This service is free for people aged 28 years and older who live in the wider Auckland region (Auckland, Waitematā and Counties Manukau). They work closely with Rainbow Youth who support gender-diverse people aged 27 and younger in Auckland, and people of all ages in Northland.

Rainbow Youth (09) 376 4155

Auckland based one-to-one support and referral. Check out their website to book a session or access their drop-in centre. RY offer an Auckland and Northland based trans-and-non-binary peer support service for those under 28 years.

Qtopia Kindred

A Christchurch based whānau / family face-to-face support group for parents and under 13 year olds that meets monthly. Qtopia staff also offer consultation sessions for young people and their whanau to meet together to explore issues related to sexual orientation and /or gender identity.

Gender Minorities Aotearoa

Wellington based national peer led support and advocacy organisation. Offers a wealth of online information and a drop-in centre.

Be There

A new national initiative by the Youth Sector Rainbow Collective. There are 6 key messages for whānau and support people, along with fabulous resource material.

Intersex Awareness Trust NZ

Education and advocacy with helpful links to a range of resources.

Intersex Youth Aotearoa

Run by ITANZ, it shares information, offers networking and support. Aims to improve the visibility of intersex young people and provide a safe space for connection.

Cynthia Spittal brings 30+ years of expertise in social work, counselling and leadership roles. She is currently Rainbow Partner for Emerge Aotearoa and also works as a support provider for the Ignite Platform. If you want expert advice on how to navigate all things rainbow, book a one-on-one session with Cynthia through the platform today. You can explore Ignite's individual support subscription options or ask your employer to consider employee subscriptions for your workplace. Contact to find out more.

*Veale J, Byrne J, Tan K, Guy S, Yee A, Nopera T & Bentham R (2019) Counting Ourselves: The health and wellbeing of trans and non-binary people in Aotearoa New Zealand. Transgender Health Research Lab, University of Waikato: Hamilton NZ.

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