I’ll be quick- After getting my teaching degree abroad, I’ve moved back home with my folks because I have no money, and there are no teaching jobs (or really ANY jobs) in my area at the moment. I’m also transgender. I came out to my dad about a year ago while we were travelling together, and he said he wanted me “to be the best version of myself I can” and that we’d work through it together. I haven’t told my mother yet, however… because she and I have a very different relationship, based mostly around her trying to make me more feminine.
So… how do I use my words to tell her who I really am? I’m terrified of her A, making this all about her, B, going all Jesus-y on me, or C, just refusing to accept this, which leads to D, me no longer having a place to live, or parents that love me.
I’m so scared. But I’m stuck, and can’t move on with my life until something gives way.
What can I do?
– I need to get on with my REAL life
Hi Real Life,
Corporal A. Beard here!
Since you have come out to your dad already, it may be helpful to have a talk with him first, to let him know you’re about to come out to your mom. If there are specific things you’d like him to do, like being on-board with modeling the name and/or pronouns that make you most comfortable, trying to calm your mom down if she does get really upset, or even just reiterating the supportive things he told you when you first came out to him, then this is a great time to ask. Also, if being kicked out of your house is a real concern, I’d absolutely bring it up with him before you talk to your mom; hopefully he can be your advocate in this as well if it comes down to it.
He was supportive in that initial conversation, which is a positive sign, but sometimes you won’t know how people will react to certain parts of your transition until the moment arrives. Some folks are big on Supportive Talk but have a hard time, you know, actually being supportive in concrete, asked-for ways or dealing with visible changes when they start to happen. I don’t know your dad and certainly hope you don’t get pushback from him, but it’s possible that it will happen, or that you might have to re-explain some of what you told him earlier. Or maybe since then you have talked about this a lot and he has a great understanding of the best way to be supportive, and if that’s the case, fantastic! You have a strong advocate in your home already.
Coming out to someone, especially a family member, is a big deal, and important conversations can be trying in a lot of ways – I often react by completely forgetting what I actually mean to say and fumbling around for the point. If you want to do this in person, it won’t hurt to plan the hell out of this conversation. Maybe even write a script – you don’t need to read off of it while you are standing in front of your mom but it might be helpful to write down something you can practice off of and are familiar with. I think it would also be fine to write a letter you hand her – maybe as you say “here’s something really important I’d like you to read, I’m heading to the park/a movie/a friend’s house and I’ll be back in a few hours to talk more about this with you.”
As to exactly what you tell her, I’d break it into two or three parts:
1: The basic information that you want your mom to know about your identity.
“Mom, I’m transgender, which means [whatever that means to you],” possibly with a side of “this may/may not be a surprise to you, here’s a little detail about how I came to understand this about myself” if you have a quick and easy way to sum that up and want to share it with her. However much or little of your identity as you feel safe telling her, just lay it out in the most basic way possible. Your sense of your mom’s gender-savviness may give you the clues you need to work out the details here. (My own Mean Grandma responded to my coming-out letter with “all I know about transgenderal people is those silly-looking men in dresses I see on daytime tv,” along with some other snide comments, which demonstrated that she had no idea what I had just explained to her.)
2: What you need from her.
I think there can be an extra layer of confusion among people who hear comings-out from others but still wonder “yes, but what do I do about it?” If you can give her concrete changes to make and specific ways to be supportive, this will clarify the issue and give her things to work on. Here is where you ask her for any language change you want (name/pronouns), a break from the femininity-policing, or anything else you need. This is one reason I suggest you ask your dad for these things too, beforehand; having someone at your back who is able to model proper behavior can be a real help.
3: What might change in the future.
If you have plans to change your name, start hormone treatment, make significant changes to your wardrobe, etc. and feel like you’ll want to explore some of that in the near future, especially while you’re still living with your parents, now’s the time to give your mom a brief-as-possible explanation. This may not even be part of the initial coming-out announcement, actually – depending on how things go, you might say “there are more plans and details I want to talk about later, but for now I really want you to know the most basic level” and come back to this another time. If all you know now is that you have a lot of options you’re still mulling over and you don’t have concrete plans to share with your mom right now, that’s ok too.
Overall, I think you want to keep the entire explanation as simple and direct as possible. If you have conflicted feelings about certain labels or are unsure about some steps you may or may not take… now is not the best time to get into the complicated details. There will be time for a more in-depth discussion with your mom in the future, if you feel safe opening up to her more, but I think it will make things easier on everyone if you streamline things to start out with.
The tricky thing is this: you can do your best to plan out how the coming-out process will go, but once you let that information out in the world, there’s really no way to know or control how your mom will react to it. People’s emotions are often unpredictable and messy; she might indeed make it all about her, or about Jesus. A lot of parents worry that they did something wrong when they find out that their children are trans, like they dropped us on our heads or didn’t nurture us in the exact right way. I don’t have any insight into what made me the way I am; if you have a strong belief about it you can certainly share it with her, but whatever reaction she has may just be something she has to stew in for a while before she can really come to accept what you have to say.
She’s entitled to feel whatever feelings come up during this process; to be honest, I roll my eyes at the “I must mourn my son/daughter” idea because hello, I’m right here and not dead at all, but at the same time I realize that it is a process many people go through. I don’t have to like it to understand that it happens. Parents have all sorts of hopes and expectations for their children, and even if you’re approaching this from the angle of being really happy that you’ve sorted out something important about yourself, she might fixate on the fact that specific things she may have imagined for your future might not happen, or might happen in a way she didn’t expect. Especially since you say she relates to you a lot through trying to encourage femininity, she might take your identity as a rejection of her idea of womanhood, or may mourn an imagined scenario of helping you shop for a huge fluffy wedding dress, or something else along those lines.
Ideally, though, she will do her own mourning/processing on her own time; she may have a lot of feelings surrounding your identity and your transition process, but those are hers, not yours, to manage. If she tries to suck you into being her therapist, do not go down that road with her! You really don’t want to be in the position of having to apologize to her for doing what you need to do to be happy. It might be helpful for her (and your dad) to look up a PFLAG chapter or similar support group for parents if there’s one in your area. Depending on where you live you may have luck finding a regional group as well; I found several in various parts of the US using a search for variations on “transgender parent support group.” (I am not as familiar with non-US resources, but if you are located elsewhere and want to give a general location in the comments, I can try to find something near you.)
This period of time might be really painful for you, and I’m really sorry if that turns out to be the case. It can be really hard to predict how people will react in this situation, and sometimes even folks who eventually wind up being great allies will say incredibly hurtful things at first. My dad has told me on more than one occasion that his opinion on trans and queer issues in general changed completely once he realized that “those types” were actual people with names and faces, including one of his own children. My own experience coming out to my parents was a bit of a disaster; I wanted to wait until after a big family reunion to come out to them, but at the time of the trip I had been on testosterone for five weeks, my voice had just started to change, and I was insisting that everyone call me by my now-legal name.
As you might imagine, my plans to stay under the radar during several days of Family Togetherness did not go so well! On the last day, my dad cornered me and basically badgered me until, completely unprepared and unscripted, I came out to him in the most awkward, disjointed way I can imagine. I did a poor job explaining myself to him, and I didn’t even get a chance to talk to my mom directly – he insisted on telling her himself, and I don’t even know exactly what he said to her. Things were really awkward after that! My mom called me, crying, and asked me to stop taking testosterone, and my dad’s initial research apparently just turned up porn sites, which he somehow assumed were an accurate representation of trans experiences.
Our relationship was uncomfortable and strained for a while, especially in those first few months. But several years later, while things right now are not quite perfect, they’re much better than I had initially imagined. Eventually, we came through the worst of it with a much better understanding of each other and of how we were going to relate to each other as adults. So even if you feel like it does go poorly, you may find that things improve once your mom has had a chance to process the situation, get over any feelings of loss she may have, and see how much happier and more comfortable you are as your transition progresses.
The earliest parts of my process of coming out to friends and family and starting my social and medical transition were pretty confusing and stressful. The fact that I had space to figure things out while living and spending time with supportive people made the entire process a lot easier. If you’re stuck living with your parents and the situation at home is either actively hostile or just plain awkward for a bit, it’ll be even more important to find outside sources of support.
What does your general support system look like right now? Do you have trusted friends who can offer support or, at the very least, listen with a sympathetic ear if you need to vent about your parents? I think now is a great time to look at your self-care practices and make sure you’re doing everything you can to be good to yourself.Is there an LGBTQ center in your area that offers support groups you could attend? There are a lot of great online spaces for trans folks and I don’t want to discount them, but I personally find in-person support groups to be a lot more helpful. The quality and usefulness of these groups can vary based on who’s attending and what you want to get out of them, but if there is one near you I’d give it a try to see if it’s a good fit.
I’ll also note that some queer community centers that offer support groups will also offer job placement programs; this might be worth a look as well. There’s some good content in the archives here about working through sub-optimal work and living situations; #110, #370, and #449 are a good place to start.