(CNN) — Comedian and actor Marlon Wayans loves his son unconditionally. That may come as a surprise to some people because his son is transgender.
Wayans shared the gender identity of his son, 23-year-old Kai Wayans, recently when he revealed details of a comedy special that he plans to release about their journey to acceptance.
It hit me like a blast of fresh air in a society otherwise polluted with transphobia.
Despite the genre of Wayans’ special, the challenges trans people are facing in this moment is no laughing matter.
“Trans youth are hurting right now,” said Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of GLSEN, a national network of educators, students and local chapters fighting for inclusive education.
“They are being told by lawmakers every single day that they don’t belong,” she said. “They see it when their school bans books that reflect their experiences. They see it when talking heads get on TV and debate their right to exist. The best thing a parent can do for their child is be their advocate. I’m proud to see Marlon Wayans rising up for his son and for trans youth everywhere.”
In a raw interview last week with “The Breakfast Club” radio show, Wayans shared that as his son transitioned genders, he transitioned as a parent from “ignorance and denial to complete unconditional love and acceptance.”
Wayans said it was important for him to speak out because there are “a lot of parents out there that need that message, and I know I’m dealing with it.”
Wayans’ affirmation of his trans child is a welcome refrain from the chorus of hundreds of anti-trans bills that have been introduced or passed in the past legislative year, many aimed at stripping trans people of access to health care, sports, identity document changes or even acknowledgement of their existence in academic curriculum.
Despite whatever preconceived notions or expectations Wayans may have had for his now-grown child, he also understood that affirming his child’s identity was the predominant influence on their well-being and safety.
“If they can’t get that in the household with their father and their mother, how the f**k do I send them out into the world with that kind of confidence?” he said. “I’m just so proud of them for being them.”
Providing a safe and welcoming home for trans and LGBTQ children — or any children for that matter — is the most critical variable that informs their safety and well-being.
Family acceptance reduces the odds of suicide
Rejection by one’s family for being trans increases the odds of depression and suicide, according to a 2016 study in LGBT Health. Having an accepting family can reduce the suicide rate for LGBTQ people, according to another study out of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. According to the Trevor Project, a staggering 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.
“All young people deserve parents who love and accept them for who they truly are,” said Dr. Ronita Nath, vice president of research at the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that works to address bullying and suicide within the LGBTQ community. “Especially as we continue to witness such vitriolic anti-transgender rhetoric from politicians across the US right now, it warms my heart to see parents show unwavering support for their trans kids.”
The low number of trans young adults who feel safe at home remains stark. Fewer than 1 in 3 trans and nonbinary youth found their home to be gender-affirming, according to a 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health by the Trevor Project.
“It’s no hyperbole to say that the simple act of accepting your child for who they are can, quite literally, be lifesaving,” Nath said.
Resources such as the Trevor Project’s Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Young People and the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Families for Trans Equality can offer valuable best practices on how to support trans and nonbinary young people.
Parents of all stripes can take inspiration from Wayans. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than just loving your child and letting them be their true selves.
Take the time as a parent to support and protect your child, offered Ash Orr, a spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality. Speak up if you observe someone being disrespectful to your child because of gender identity and take the time to understand the challenges that trans people of all ages face.
“Most importantly,” Orr said, “let your child know that you love and support them, no matter what. It’s amazing for Marlon to model that for other parents out there who may not understand it yet.”
A guide for parents with transgender children
Major alert to all parents: It’s OK if you don’t understand your child or what they’re going through. Make that a learning moment to grow in your understanding and not an excuse to shut down or impose value judgments that might be more harmful than helpful.
“Marlon’s journey of going from ignorance and denial to complete unconditional love and acceptance is one that resonates with me,” said PFLAG’s board chair, Susan Thronson, the first parent of a transgender person to serve as chair of PFLAG National. “I walked that journey and PFLAG was there with education and support every step of the way. Love takes action to learn, and PFLAG is here with education and support in your community and online.”
Like Thronson, Wayans came to understand how critical it is for his son and other trans kids to be able to be their true selves.
“I want them to be free in spirit, free in thought, free to be themselves,” Wayans said. “The more you know yourself, the more you can govern yourself. The more you live your truth, the happier your existence.”
What a beautiful message for all parents.
Allison Hope is a writer whose work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate and elsewhere.
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