The pride I feel when I see that my children have found their tribe
A resource guide for parents of gender-diverse children.
When I was a teenager, my parents weren’t too fussed about my safety or my social life. I lived in 80s suburbia – a world where children and teens roamed the streets in groups, rode bicycles, or walked to the corner café to buy milk and bread for the household.
My sister and I were latchkey kids, more or less free to do as we pleased after school until our mom arrived from work in the evenings.
We’d spend hours outside playing with the neighbourhood kids or swimming at the local pool, without asking anyone’s permission. Friends were everywhere, but the telephone and television were consigned to a central place in the home, where our parents and older siblings decided what we could watch and eavesdropped on every call.
My children’s social life is vastly different. Friends are often made online and social engagements require extensive planning.
Parents must be contacted and screened, schedules must be consulted, transport arrangements checked, and safety is a constant worry – especially when your child not only requires protection from physical harm but the insidious dangers of an online world where name-calling and cyber bullying abound.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the fact that teens crave friendship and the sense of belonging to a tribe. So it is an incredible blessing for families like ours to find safe spaces and activities where our gender-diverse children can meet other teens like themselves.
There are various organisations across South Africa focused on advocating for and supporting the rights of children and families in the LGBTQIA+ community, providing access to therapeutic, social and other resources.
An organisation I’ve been in contact with is the wonderful Matimba in Gauteng, which provides support to trans and gender variant children, teens, and families by a team of volunteers and the families’ mutual support.
Their focus is on the safety and wellbeing of these children, and they offer education, support groups and regular meet-ups, both online and in person, aimed both at parents and children.
A highlight on the schedule is their annual Pride picnic, which is planned for October to coincide with South Africa’s Pride month. While they’re based in Gauteng, all are welcome to Matimba’s online sessions.
Their groups provide a confidential and judgment-free space where people come together to learn, to support each other when it gets difficult, and to celebrate too.
Through Matimba, I’ve also learnt about the following organisations across South Africa, which provide support and advocacy in this space:
- Matimba offers Education, Advocacy and Support for transgender and gender variant kids and teenagers: https://matimba.org.za/
- Gender Dynamix is a human rights organisation that aims to promote the rights of trans and gender non-conforming people in South Africa: www.genderdynamix.org.za
- Be True 2 Me is a non-profit organisation supporting trans gender, non-binary, intersex and gender queer individuals and those connected with them: www.betrue2me.org
- The Triangle Project is a non-profit human rights organisation offering professional services to ensure the full realisation of constitutional and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, their partners and families: www.triangle.org.za
- Iranti is a Johannesburg-based media-advocacy organisation which advocates for the rights of LGBTI+ persons: www.iranti.org.za
- SAME LOVE TOTI based in KwaZulu-Natal provide peer counselling, support group meetings, a helpline, interventions and more: https://www.pflagsouthafrica.org/
- Gender and Sexuality Alliance East London: https://m.facebook.com/people/Gender-and-Sexuality-Alliance-East-London/100086705587798/
These organisations provide a wealth of resources to support parents looking for safe spaces and connections for their children.
On a slightly more frivolous note, an activity that my children and I enjoy is attending regular Picnic and Thrift events in and around Johannesburg. Picnic and Thrift is a sustainable market and events company based in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.
They offer themed events and markets, including various Pride-related events, where anyone and everyone can get together in a safe, fun space and – as their name suggests – eat, shop, and socialise.
I found myself feeling oddly emotional at the first such event I took my children to. It was the first time after the panic of the pandemic where I saw my teens behaving as I did when I was a teen.
They were moving around in a crowd, befriending other teens, and roaming around the market stalls as I had once roamed my childhood streets.
I kept my distance, sitting on the sidelines at a coffee shop, where I could enjoy the sunshine and safety of such an accepting space. Friends were everywhere, and it was lovely to behold.