“If we want to have authentic relationships with our children, we have to learn to use our words.”

As the parent of a gender non-conforming child, and an Aunty/Ally to my transgender niece, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the ‘Talking About Rainbow Families’ workshop, but I knew I had to go along. We’ve been lucky as a family, with support from relatives, our school and the wider community, but there isn’t anyone else at primary school going through our parenting experiences.

We were welcomed into the kooky space in central Edinburgh, and encouraged to utilise the best-stocked snacks and drinks table I have ever seen. Volunteers buzzed around with name tags, our facilitators – Jules and Tracey – were friendly, and so was everyone there, as you would expect.

But still, we talked in detail about what a safe space meant. How this was a safe space. How, if we met the people from this workshop somewhere else, we should remember that everything said in this room remained confidential. Check in with ourselves before making a comment: would it be helpful? Was it related to our own experience? We were asked to be careful with language and labels. Despite all this, I managed to make a comment about home education that could have come across as derogatory – fortunately for me, the home educator in the room was very understanding and accepted my apology later!

Our safe space created, we were asked to provide information on the ages of children we were caregivers to (which ranged from 0-18), who we were (parents, prospective parents, and teachers, amongst others), and the sort of things we wanted to be able to talk to children about.

Once written up, our list, which included themes such as ‘Equality/Diversity’ (‘that’ll take ten minutes,’ Jules joked), ‘Resilience’ and ‘Bullying,’ stretched across two flip chart sheets.

In our first group exercise, we were asked to work with the people sitting around us and discuss the reasons for not talking to children. Reasons we wouldn’t, hadn’t, didn’t. In feedback, we filled up another whole sheet with reasons, ranging from ‘because they are not our children,’ to ‘fear of what other people might think.’

Jules challenged us all with gentle questions and statements that were nonetheless rigorous. Mind blowing. Why does a parent’s fear outweigh a child’s isolation? If we want to have authentic relationships with our children, we will have to learn how to use our words. Where there is fear, there is shame. Have we tried ‘framing everything in pride?’ Using phrases like ‘other people might not know about this stuff, yet, but you do, because our family is different. Our family is epic.’

A much-needed break gave us time to fire back into the snacks, and digest what we’d heard so far.

In the second part of the afternoon, we talked about specific resources that could be helpful. That our teenagers could attend the InfiniT Group, part of LGBT Youth Scotland, and that Mermaids meet ups were suitable for all ages. That there is an LGBT Human Library. That schools can contact LGBT Youth Scotland direct, join the LGBT Charter, or look into the TIE campaign and their assemblies, provided free of charge. That, if we wanted to leave our email addresses, we could create our own network.

For the final part of the workshop, we were put into themed groups (parents of trans/gender queer children, same sex parents, caregivers and professionals) and given the task of thinking about what difficult conversations between ourselves and our children might look like. But those questions didn’t fit in with our group’s experience, so we had a more general chat, which was fine. But the value of having that kind of talk, with other parents going through the same hopes, fears and hesitations? I left feeling as if a weight on my shoulders was now shared.

by Stella Hervey-Birrell

Stella’s first novel, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? explores mental health recovery and was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2016. Shorter works have appeared in various places including The Guardian, and The Dangerous Woman Project. She blogs at #atinylife140, tweets at @atinylife140, Instagrams as Stella_hb and can be found on Facebook.

Talking about Rainbow Families was run by the Rainbow Families Project. Jules works for LGBT Health & Wellbeing and can be contacted on 0131 523 1104 or jules@lgbthealth.org.uk.