Communication, Empathy and Safety

Communication is essential to proactive parenting. With this vital element comes trust—trusting your child and understanding them as their own person. The essence of understanding between parent and child is exemplified in the relationship between Heather Vinge-Hanson and her son, Jasper, who is transgender. 

After coming out to his parents three years ago, Jasper continued to explore his gender identity with the unwavering support of his parents. “I knew they would accept it and be fine, but it’s still a scary thing to do,” Jasper explains. Doubt persisted until their conversation, but upon his parents’ reaction, Jasper’s concerns quickly fled. 

“When [Jasper] told us, [he was]very to the point. . . .  [He was] just like this is what it is, and I was like, okay,” says Heather, as she describes her initial reaction as surprised but still accepting. 

“My mom just kept asking me questions,” Jasper remembers, as Heather tried to parse through Jasper’s feelings and understand him. Her questions helped Jasper put words to what he had been thinking about for months, truly exploring what gender meant to him and how to proceed. The conversation gradually became less hypothetical and more concrete. 

Heather continues, “I asked a lot of questions because I knew other people were going to, and I was a safe person for [Jasper] to answer to.” This open communication was key to Jasper’s journey with gender, and Heather understood his thought processes as well as she could. 

“I’ll never truly understand how he feels as a trans person because I’m not trans,” Heather said, but this didn’t stop her from trusting his experience and feelings as well as she possibly could. By seeking out parents of transgender children via Facebook, Heather was able to connect with other parents. Even though no two children are exactly the same, there are similarities, and through groups like the Trans Parent Alliance in Rochester, Heather was able to learn from others, including a friend who also had a transgender child. “The questions she had were very similar to mine,” Heather remarks. Reliance on community helped both Heather and Jasper through transition in different ways, as Heather connected with parents, and Jasper talked with friends or classmates who are transgender. Simply talking to each other has helped to bring Jasper closer to his parents, even though they were close pretransition. “We talked about so many things we wouldn’t have talked about.” 

Part of Heather’s quest to understand the thoughts and feelings of what it means to be transgender came from her desire to protect Jasper. As the transgender community and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole are frequently misunderstood, ignorant questions can’t be unexpected. This reality aside, Heather has tried to be a buffer for some situations and questions, especially early transition, when abrasive comments occur. It’s important to recognize that often, others “just don’t know how to ask the question,” and parents can step in and respond. By listening to a child, trusting them as a person and having open conversations, parents can support their children by surrounding them with support and empathy.::

About Author

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Claire is a senior at Mayo High School and is intrigued by the world of publication and journalism.

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