It has been my experience that coming out to people from my past as transgender is way simpler than my parents coming out as having a kid who transitioned.
For one thing, it is pretty easy to tell I have transitioned. I am presenting as male, I have a new name, all my “sex” and “gender” indicators on social networking websites are listed as male. So anyone from my pre-transition past who is looking for me or who stumbles upon me is automatically clued in that something is going on. Sometimes I don’t even have to explain - they make assumptions and we move forward. It’s never terribly awkward even when I do mention the obvious transition because they are expecting it, I think.
For my parents and others in my life, this is not the case. People ask how “the girls” are, how “Sarah” is.
Additionally, there’s the issue of affirmation. How can my parents or sister or grandma, aunts, etc., explain to someone who knew me as Sarah that I am now Sebastian while respecting my true gender identity and affirming it. It’s not as easy as it sounds, particularly for cis allies and SOFFA who aren’t automatically aware that certain phrasing can really hurt us. Pronouns are tricky and names are, as well.
My family was recently given this challenge in a major way as they prepared our family Valentine’s Day letter (like a Christmas letter, but you know - 2 months late). We moved from our hometown 8 and a half years ago, so my parents have a lot of loose ties - friends that are still considered friends but who have no idea what’s going on in our lives. People that we were once close to and value as friends but haven’t talked to in years. Many of these people received an email from my parents back in April of 2010 as I began hormone replacement therapy. But for some, this was the first they were going to hear about my transition. And at the same time, this was a family letter, and in the past 5 years, equally important things have happened in all our lives, so the letter wasn’t going to be too focused on me. Also, hell, I have had a lot going on other than transitioning!
Here are some quotes from the letter, in hopes that it can aid other families as they write their letters, etc. (I also wanted to note that my mom borrowed a little from the letter of another trans guy’s mom. We all help each other out, don’t we?)
Sarah has had the biggest changes in the family. A very long personal journey culminated after graduation…this past May when Sarah ofﬁcially became Sebastian Barr. I wonʼt go much into the details but am happy to share more if you are interested. Any of you who watched our child grow up know “she” more often identiﬁed with males than females. Once fully aware and understanding of her transgender nature, Sarah began her senior year living as Sebastian and legally changed names, etc in May after graduation. The full transformation has been both difﬁcult and wonderful. Our family has been on the journey, as well, and probably helped several therapists buy summer homes! Sebastian is a 23 year old, handsome, grounded young man who is still planning to pursue a PhD in psychology and is a professional DJ. We are all so pleased for him that he can now be the person he has always seen himself to be, although, I suspect that few of us have any appreciation of the determination and strength required to make such a journey or of the discrimination, rejection and ignorance that our society heaps on everything it cannot understand. Sebastian […life updates…]. We continue to beneﬁt from his knowledge of music and technology and truly enjoy seeing our son so happy.
I wanted to include the people close to me in my gender journey. So I was open with close friends and immediate family almost from the beginning. I’m also in a queer place and had confidence that my friends and family would be pretty accepting.
I also needed to live and present as a man to “know” that I was trans. I needed to experiment in that to know what I needed to do next.
I can’t say what is right for you, but I do know that harboring a heavy secret without an outlet can be exhausting and emotionally dangerous. So only keep yr gender journey private for as long as is absolutely necessary.
And maybe find a couple of friends and allies who you can be honest with and say - I’ve been thinking about this. This is who/what I think I am, but I’m not sure, and I might realize something different in a bit. This is an evolving identity and I just really need to be open about it with someone - can you accept me as is, friend?
I think this is actually a valid thing to consider. First of all, it is a misconception that it is impossible to find partners if you are trans. I haven’t had much difficulty (I don’t mean that in as dick of a was as it sonds) and don’t know many trans men that have. I know trans men with straight-identified girlfriends, trans men with queer-identified girlfriends, trans men with girlfriends who had never even thought about queer issues.
Now, there are straight women who will respond negatively to trans status. I won’t sugarcoat that. And there are lesbians who aren’t going to be interested in you as yr body masculinizes because they are attracted to women. But there are lots of women (and men actually, but I’ll still to women for now since that is who you are asking about) who are attracted to you for you and either don’t give a crap about what you were born with and may or may not continue to have, or can get used to it, or actually enjoy that as a part of you.
So I think yr fears are not something you actually need to worry too much about.
That said, I think part of deciding to transition is considering the impact of transitioning on yr life and whether those sacrifices are worth it. Medically transitioning is huge. Hell, socially transitioning is huge. I thought I could approach it as “no big deal” and quickly learned that wasn’t the case. It’s going to be a big deal. And you gotta accept the bad with the good and if you really can’t, then you should consider living without transition. This is a good conversation for therapy because you can be really open about all this and if you receive counseling with someone who has experience with trans populations, they can help you understand the realities and myths of transition (i.e. dating).
Good luck buddy
Hey, I’m glad you wrote in!
I think first of all, you have to stop making assumptions about how yr coming out as trans will be based on how she handled yr coming out as being attracted to women.
For parents, having a daughter that is a lesbian and a child that is transgender are two very separate things. And I think they wrap their head around them very differently, from my experience and others I have read about.
That said, there are some commonalities. The “blaming yr town” bit is really common. Parents search for an explanation that identifies a source which can be removed. Saying it is the fault of yr town or environment means that it’s not you, it’s not permanent, you can change. I would expect this as an immediate reaction to both types of coming out.
And I say immediate, because when you come out as trans, it is likely that yr parents will say a lot of things they either don’t really mean or that they’ll change their mind about in the near to not-too-distant future. Imagine it from yr mother’s point of view. She has this child she loves and is proud of that she thinks of as her daughter. In our society whether yr child is yr son or yr daughter actually dictates a lot of things about their future and how you think about their future. She may have pictured you in a wedding dress. Or being a pioneer for women in the sciences, etc., etc. She may have had her heart set on you delivering babies, on you being a “mother.” She may love the idea of having brunch with you and yr daughter in the future. Etc. Etc. Our world is gendered. And her image of you not only physically but also of yr path in life is somewhat specific to you being female.
And now you’ve taken it away from her. Not deliberately, but that is in some ways what you are doing by saying that you are really male and plan to live yr life accordingly. So now she’s flailing. She doesn’t want to let go of this image of you. She doesn’t want to let go of the idea of you being her daughter. And in this initial panic, that can honestly last a while, and the mourning that follows, she may do whatever she can to try to keep her daughter. So this may be finding blame. It may be setting ultimatums. It may be saying really hurtful and hateful things about you and about trans men.
My parents, for example, suggested that I had befriended many trans men who had put this idea in my head as the answer to what was actually a different problem. They also initially suggested that if I were not in such an accepting place and it was “harder” to be trans, I would drop it sort of. They no longer hold these opinions. At all.
I would not be surprised if the issue of yr town comes up again. I think it is important (at least it was important for my family) that yr mother gets to say all these things she is feeling in the moment and gets to know that you are listening. You don’t need to acknowledge any validity to her statements, but let her know that you are hearing them and considering them and that you are at least acknowledging her feelings as valid and okay. This is hard. But it is important.
Strangely, when I came out to my mother she made a lighthearted remark along the lines of “you aren’t going to tell me you’re trans now” or something like that. I’m not sure if she even remembers it, but I always did.
I think that many parents pick up on elements of our trans and/or male identities and don’t acknowledge them as such. It is hard to know if yr mother’s “Do you want to be a boy?” was genuine curiosity, a search for another explanation to yr attraction to women, an offer of help, or a defense mechanism to distance that possibility and create more denial…
I am happy to hear that yr town is like that for you. Where I lived was very important when I was first coming out and I felt similarly about it. And it may take yr mother a while to see the good parts of it and not blame it.
But try to understand where she is coming from. Try to educate her about being trans and about yr feelings and identity/identities. Be patient with her and try to keep the dialogue open.
And who knows, maybe she’ll surprise you. And if she doesn’t, and if she doesn’t even ever totally come around (which sometimes is the case for parents of trans people), you have a community that supports you. And you will be happier being open about yourself and letting her see you as yourself than you would be hiding it from her. I think, at least.
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
I recently found my old copy of Invisible Man. It was my favorite book in high school. I wrote my college essay on it. This paragraph was underlined in my book. It’s funny, because I think this was my favorite quote before I really even had the courage to follow the advice it imparts. It was probably 4 years after I underlined this that I really started asking myself the questions that I only I could answer.
I feel like I can’t quite answer this question without more information. Where are you in yr transition? How did you come out to her? Do you have another parent or adult figure in both of yr lives that is using the correct name?
The fact that you use the word refuses makes me think that she likely does not understand the importance and even necessity of her affirming yr gender identity.
Without knowing yr whole story, my advice is to write her a really honest letter that is not accusatory but just explains how it feels when she misgenders you. Explain why her using the right name and pronouns is important. Explain it on every level. As thoroughly as possible. Acknowledge that it may be difficult for her. Tell her you wish it wasn’t, but that it is still something you desperately need, as her child.
Write her multiple letters if you need to. If the root of it is that she doesn’t want to affirm yr gender no matter how much you “think” you need it, because she does not think you are trans, then you have more to discuss.
But for now, perhaps she just needs to be told how she is hurting you. She might not even know