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Don’t Forget About Us – Siblings of Transgender or Non-Binary Young People

Today we see more young people who identify as transgender and/or non-binary recognizing and disclosing gender identity to family while still living at home. This poses a challenge to parents and families as they integrate and accommodate new information about their child. Research has focused on the impact of parental acceptance or rejection and the experience and needs of parents and caregivers as they negotiate this new terrain.  Siblings, who are often the relationship of longest duration in any person’s life, have not been a primary focus of interest, although one Australian study (Parker, E., & Davis-McCabe, C. (2021)) did explore the sibling experience. A recent paper by Godwin et al(2024) is another addition to the literature.

The Study

The researchers explored the question of how cisgender siblings manage their sibling’s disclosure and acceptance both within their family and the wider community. One to one semi-structured interviews were conducted with fifteen adolescent and young adult siblings (age 13–24years) who then completed an electronic survey on an iPad. Participants were asked about family functioning and  community experiences, how they supported their sibling and the impact on them from the disclosure.

What Did They find?

Three key themes emerged which were especially relevant in the sibling and families’ process of gender affirmation. These were gender-related beliefs and knowledge, post-disclosure family dynamics, and assessing responses to their sibling.

Gender Related Beliefs and Knowledge

Siblings understanding and beliefs about gender impacted their response both through anticipating their sibling’s TN identity and expectations post-disclosure. Those who expressed stereo-typical beliefs about engendered behaviour whose siblings had matched these, for example a trans girl who had liked to play with dolls, adapted more easily to the disclosure.

Post Disclosure Family Dynamics

Being left out of family discussions about the disclosure and a wish to be more fully included in family supports, like counselling, was expressed by some of the siblings. Some wanted to be more included in and knowledgeable about family discussions related to medical care with older siblings expressing concerns about side effects and irreversible treatments.

Responses to Siblings

Worries about how a sibling would be treated by family, school and community, and the effect on their social, emotional, and physical well-being were expressed by most participants. Many also voiced concern about anti-trans stigma and discrimination with awareness of these responses expressed as protectiveness towards the sibling and concern for their own social standing.

The Relevance to Practitioners In Australia, it is common to encounter families who struggle to accept a trans child. This may be the primary reason for referral. Understanding of each person’s concerns and position will enhance family work and ensure all family members are heard and supported.


Godwin, E., Moore, LB., Sansfaçon, A. Nishman.M. Rosal.M.,Katz-Wise.S. Experiences of cisgender youth with a transgender and/or nonbinary sibling Family Process. 2024;00:1–21

Parker, E., & Davis-McCabe, C. (2021). The sibling experience: Growing up with a trans sibling. Australian Journal of Psychology, 73(2), 188–199.

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