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Responding to a Transgender-Identified Family Member

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How should we respond to a family member who had sex reassignment surgery and now identifies as transgender?

My sister-in-law now looks like a man, dresses like one, and goes by a masculine name. There’s a family gathering coming up that my wife and I want to attend, but I’m worried about how the influence of transgenderism will affect our children.

 


ANSWER:

This is a delicate situation. You have good reason to be concerned about the potential impact on your kids, especially in view of our country’s changing attitudes toward sexuality. As a parent, you do have a responsibility to carefully consider who or what influences your children, and you’re wise to take that seriously.

At the same time, we think it would be good to keep up a positive influence and a solid Christian witness with your sister-in-law and the rest of your extended family. After all, she’s still a person created in God’s image and an object of His unfailing love.

How to love without compromising your values

As Christians living in a secular world, we always have to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. In the parenting context, this means figuring out how to protect your children physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually — while still keeping an open heart and showing Christ’s love to those who don’t necessarily share your convictions. How?

Remind yourselves of this important biblical truth: We are all sinners. There’s a good chance that you have other relatives who don’t believe as you do or who don’t measure up to Christian standards of behavior. Maybe someone in the family drinks too much. Or another can’t control his tongue. Or a loved one lives with her boyfriend. In each of these circumstances, the individual is not acting in obedience to God’s Word, and you have to decide how to respond to that choice.

If you’re still on speaking terms with your sister-in-law, consider calling her to discuss your concerns about the family reunion. Stay away from language that might come across as judgmental or condemning. Instead, try turning the focus on yourself. Talk honestly about your Christian values. Share your concerns as parents.

Tell your sister-in-law that you’re looking forward to seeing her, but make it clear that you feel like you’re between a rock and a hard place. It might be helpful to say something like, We care about you and sincerely want to continue our relationship with you. But at the same time, we’re still helping our children form their sexual values, and the path you’re taking makes that more complicated.

How to talk to your kids about a transgender-identified family member

In the meantime, prepare your kids to interact with your sister-in-law by having direct, age-appropriate discussions about sexuality at home. If they have questions, don’t be afraid to give them straightforward answers.

The best way to counteract negative outside influences is to model healthy attitudes toward sex in your own lives. When it comes to sex-related issues, you are the best and most effective teachers your children have.

Show them by your own example what it means for a husband and wife to cooperate and live together in harmony and peace. Kiss, hug, and openly demonstrate your affection for one another. Celebrate the differences between male and female by helping your boys and girls develop healthy masculine and feminine traits.

Then, when summer rolls around, you can head off to the big family gathering confident that you’ve done your homework. In this way, it’s possible that everybody there might benefit from your presence.

If you need help talking with your kids, we have two articles that may be especially helpful as you prepare: Male and Female He Created Them and Talking to Your Children About Transgender Issues.

How to handle names and pronouns

The question of whether to use a name or pronouns different from your sister-in-law’s biological sex is difficult. While Scripture doesn’t address this issue directly, there are certain principles to consider.

The most important one? Our primary obligation as Christians is to love God and love others — in that order.

In this case, loving God requires recognizing and affirming His good work in creating your sister-in-law distinctly and uniquely female. Nothing she has done or will do changes that. It’s also important for you to preserve your connection with your sister-in-law as much as you can.

With those two thoughts in mind, we see the issues of names and pronouns somewhat differently.

A name, even if decidedly masculine, does not deny a factual reality. It is simply that person’s chosen name.

So the decision of whether to use a person’s opposite-sex name should take into account various factors, including your moral convictions on the matter as well as your relationship with that individual. For example, asking a parent who named and raised their child to go along with an opposite-sex name is significantly different from asking a workmate or casual acquaintance to do the same.

On the other hand, using a wrong pronoun seems more straightforward. It is asking a person to state something that does not align with reality and so is untrue.

With your sister-in-law, then, it might be best to try to avoid the pronoun. Just use her name, even if it becomes highly repetitive. If she insists that you refer to her by male pronouns, you can respectfully let her know that your conscience won’t let you. Then be diligent in prayer and leave the outcome in God’s hands.

Find support for yourselves

Would you like to talk more about your question? Our licensed or pastoral counselors would welcome the chance to hear your story and chat with you in more detail. Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. They can also suggest referrals to qualified counselors and Christian therapists in your area.

 

Resources

If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Understanding the Myths of Gender Identity and Transgenderism

Transgender Resources

The Journey Back to My True Identity

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