Redefining Holidays for Families with Transgender Children: Six Tips from Parents of Trans Kids

As parents of transgender children and advocates of equality for all children

and families, we collaborated to share our experiences and advice at this

joyful and yet challenging time of the year, especially for transgender

children and their families.


Susan Maasch’s Story:

When my child, Kyle, was six years old, he whispered in my ear that he

needed surgery. I was shocked. His tone was very serious. He told me he

was a boy and he needed help. Like most parents, I assumed this was

probably a phase. But a phase is not ongoing, consistent and persistent. Once

he uttered these words out loud, Kyle was determined. I finally understood.

This was ten years ago and there were almost no resources. The pediatrician

wanted to support us but did not know where to turn. We were left on our



As a very resourceful person, I found the one or two resources available in

the country. I decided to found the Trans Youth Equality Foundation so that

other parents did not have to navigate this journey alone. I have since met

many parents who wanted to support their kids and others who refused to. I

have seen tragedy as a result. I refuse to let my child lose hope. Though it

was very tough to witness my child suffering discrimination at school, at the

local park, and in our community, we also received much love and support.

As a young adult, my child has expressed that, without the acceptance he

had with family, and without medical transition, he would not be alive today.

We believe him.


We are fortunate. Holidays for our family have been very happy times. We

have a very small family and everyone was immediately accepting of our

child. While widespread acceptance might be the case for you, we know this

is not the case for many of TYEF families. Using their combined stories,

gathered over the years, we came up with some hints for making the

holidays friendly, warm and fun for everyone.


Susan Brand's Story:

Twenty-two years ago, I totally missed the signs of my young daughter’s

true gender identity. She was a girl born into a boy’s body. Jessica’s penis

was purple, bruised from repeatedly slamming the toilet lid down upon it.

When I questioned her, she matter-of-factly replied, “I don’t want it.”

Because I was a single mother, I reasoned that her behavior was simply due

to the fact that she was going through a brief phase in wanting to act and

look more like me, including having a female body. Our pediatrician agreed.

We were right about her desire for female genitalia but dead wrong about

the brief phase.


Two years ago, at age 22, Jessica underwent sexual reassignment surgery in

San Francisco. I’ve never seen her happier nor more herself.  She was a girl

all along, but couldn’t bring herself to tell me for 16 long years. Now, with

the exciting and potentially stressful holiday season approaching, we’ll share

some additional stories and suggestions for your trans child or youth from

our first-hand, school of hard knocks lessons as Moms of trans kids.


First: Preparation. If your trans child has come out to you, but not to

others, it’s best to prepare family and friends in advance of a large holiday

gathering. Remind them to use the correct pronouns—him/her or he/she or

gender neutral “they.” If you have a host relative who gathers the family for

holiday events, ask them for support with the unaccepting relative. Let them

know you will only attend if you are reassured they will respect your child.

Ask them to talk to this relative.


Be prepared for a variety of reactions from friends and relatives. Be patient

with them. This is new and often unexpected news to them. Sometimes, it

may take months or even years for friends and relatives to adjust to your

child’s new identity and to accept your child as they are. For example, Susan

Brand’s late mother, who later accepted the fact that her grandson was really

her granddaughter, reacted to our startling news with a stated conviction that

Jessica required the services of an exorcist! We understood that her

traditional approach to gender roles and her religious convictions interfered

with what was, to her, revolutionary. We told other family members and

friends individually, either by email, phone, or in person, but never “outed”

Jessica. We only told others with her permission or asked her to tell them,



Second: Clothing. Allow your trans child or youth to dress as they wish for

the holiday gatherings. If your trans boy child decides to wear short hair and

a baseball hat, so be it. If your trans girl child wants to wear a pink dress and

hair bow, enthusiastically support her. Role modeling your pride in your

child or youth and their appearance and behaviors will pave the way for

others to do the same.


Third: Respect Freedom of Choice. Collaborate on a gift list and shop together

online or in stores to make the holidays a joyful time of being oneself. Consider

gender neutral toys like puzzles, stuffed animals, board games, and books. Make a

day to go shopping and enjoy exploring with your child what they like. If they are

newly transitioned, they might be exploring their real interests and tastes at

this time. Get excited about this new journey with them. Be a good listener.

Ensure that you inform family and friends about gender-appropriate or

gender-neutral gifts. When purchasing a gift for a gender non-conforming child,

ask them or their parents what they want.  Check out Amazon Wish List online

and tell the child to add items they would like. Tell them you will choose

from the list and surprise them. Be aware that sometimes surprises that

you choose without your child’s input may backfire.


When Jessica was two, we attended a preschool Christmas Breakfast,

culminating with a visit from Santa and gifts for children. While

little girls opened their voluptuous Barbie dolls, I was smug in the

knowledge that I’d chosen the perfect gift for Jessica—a bright red fire truck

with macho little firemen, a three-foot expanding ladder, and a real siren. To

my confusion, when Jessica tore off the wrapping paper of her boy’s gift, her

reaction was loud wailing and hiding under the table for 20 minutes. Nothing

would calm her down. “I wanted a Barbie!” were her only words. She

sobbed inconsolably during the whole ride home.


Fourth: Beware of Safety. Be mindful of the physical safety of the toys

your trans child buys or receives. For her seventh birthday, Jessica’s aunt

bought her a toy carpentry kit, complete with a miniature sharp-toothed saw.

Years later, Jessica revealed to me that she tried to saw off her offending

parts. My walking down the stairs and proximity to her brought a timely halt

to her near castration. 14 years later, Jessica’s acceptance as the girl she is

and her sexual reassignment surgery brought her the sought-after release and

the freedom she craved.


Fifth: Start New Holiday Traditions. Make sure that holidays feel safe and

comfortable for your trans child. If things don’t work out well in your

“coming out” efforts, make sure your trans child knows that, although you are

frustrated and sad, you are looking forward to creating new holiday

traditions. Plan together to design these new traditions. Celebrate change,

love, acceptance and strength. Make it magic, and look forward to the

new. Remember your chosen family and friends and invite them to join you.


Sixth: Reach Out. Join trans groups or others who are like-minded in

holiday celebrations. Look into your local and/or regional LGBT or

transgender support organizations for holiday gatherings. Building

community is a great way to show your child that we redefine family by

looking within our community as well.



Choose the best plan that will make the holiday fun and comfortable for you

and your trans child. For us, this gender journey has been challenging, but

also beautiful. We have learned a lot about differences, respect, love, and

ally-ship. We have learned about giving back to the community by helping

other kids and families. We want everyone to know that we are just as in

love with our children as you are with yours. We are so thankful for everyone

who has stood with us and continues to support us. At this holiday season,

we express gratitude to you, our families and friends, and especially to our

beloved trans children. You are among our lives' richest treasures.


Susan Maasch / Director

Trans Youth Equality Foundation

facebook: trans youth equality foundation


Susan Trostle Brand, D.Ed. / Professor of Education and Social Justice

University of Rhode Island

Consultant and Advocate, Trans Youth Equality Foundation


Susan Maasch is the founder and Executive Director of the national non-profit Trans

Youth Equality Foundation. She is a presenter at national conferences for transgender

rights, an advocate for transgender youth and their families, and the director of the

popular summer and fall camps for transgender children called TYEF Camp. Susan

has educated people on transgender youth issues for the past ten years, and this year alone served

almost 2,000 individuals. Susan is the author of articles and chapters addressing the trans youth

population, and is also often interviewed by the press about important issues relating to the well

being of transgender youth. She is also the proud mother of a transgender young man who is

thriving at college and loves life.


Susan Trostle Brand, D. Ed.

Susan Trostle Brand is the proud mother of a 24-year-old trans daughter, Jessica. She is a

professor of Education and Social Justice at the University of Rhode Island and, along

with her daughter, Jessica, frequently presents at regional and international conferences

and universities on transgender issues. Jessica and Susan are featured in an upcoming

documentary entitled “What I’m Made Of,” scheduled for release in 2017. At URI, Dr.

Brand teaches Education and Social Justice “Grand Challenge” courses and serves on the

President’s Diversity Task Force Panel, the President’s Commission on LGBT and the

LGBT Faculty Fellows Group. Dr. Brand is also the author and co-author of several

articles, textbook chapters, and books addressing underserved populations and is writing a textbook

on social justice. Dr. Brand specializes in literature suitable for young trans children

and youth. She serves as an LGBT advisor for school districts in Rhode Island. 

In her free time, Dr. Brand spends quality time with her three young daughters and

three misbehaved cats.