CARL RIDEN: Don’t force others to be who you want

Published 6:28 pm Saturday, September 23, 2023

Carl Riden“You need to treat me like a person,” I said to my mother. Even at age seven, I wanted to be seen as myself, to be respected as an individual with ideas and tastes of my own. Her constant attempts to force me into a mold made me feel like property. I was not silently obedient. The more I resisted, the more I understood that I would never be the child she wanted. Her constant criticism, threats, and, yes, her physical violence made that abundantly clear.

This memory surfaced recently when a transgender young adult sat down to chat with me simply because they wanted someone to see THEM and call them by their name. They made it clear that this was not happening at home, where their parents refused to acknowledge their gender identity, refused to use their chosen name, and threatened to withdraw financial support if they insisted on transitioning.

This is not the first time I’ve had this conversation with a young LGBTQIA person. I have had it with representatives of every letter in that acronym. I feel the ache that comes with empathy each time. I know what it feels like to live in a house that never feels like home.

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To the parents who struggle to accept a child who is not what you imagined when you brought them into the world or adopted them into your family, I beg you to accept that you cannot make your child in your image. You cannot guarantee that they will share your values. You cannot dictate who they will love or how they will identify. You may be able to force them to act the part, but underneath they will still be their own unique self, however damaged. Meanwhile you will have destroyed their trust in you. I am 54 years old, and my heart still has a hole where a mother’s unconditional love should rest. I haven’t spoken to my mother in close to 20 years.

Be the parent with whom your child can be honest. Be the parent they feel safe with, can laugh with, can discuss difficult things with. Be a model and a guide. Help them live their best possible life. But please don’t try to force them to be the person you want them to be. The emptiness those efforts leave behind never goes away.

Dr. Carl Riden is an associate professor of sociology at Longwood University and a member of the board of directors for Farmville Pride. Carl can be reached at, and  you can learn more about Farmville Pride at,