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.
49 thoughts on “#453: Guest Post: How Do I Come Out to My Mom?”
I LOVE THIS POST AND THESE HEDGEHOGS.
I’m in something of the same position wrt living at home, etc. I really don’t expect that I’d be kicked out and I don’t think I’d get much Jesus, but after fifteen years my parents still think my sister’s sexuality is a phase and I think there’d be a lot of “but I just don’t understaaaaaaaaaaaand”. I have actually already changed my legal name to this conveniently gender-neutral shortening of what it was (main reason was to change my surname from one that only two families in the entire country have to my mother’s maiden name, which also resulted in some “I just don’t understaaaaaaaand” behind my back for a while despite explanations of privacy and being in the phone book and easily tracked down).
Honestly I have no idea if I’ll ever be in a position to do the medical stuff because of Money. But at some point, I’m probably moving to the capital. My hazy plan at this point is that once I’m there, not straight away but after I’ve settled in, I’ll come out over email. Cowardly? Yes. But I don’t think anyone reasonable would blame me. It also means I’ll be able to lay out all the information I want them to have without getting interrupted or flustered. Obviously this is a circumstance-specific option that requires you to, you know, move away from home. But I think there are some benefits if you’re even going on a short holiday or something to writing it down and letting them mull it over while you’re gone. Luckily in my case both my sisters are aware of my gender issues and very matter-of-fact about it, so it’s just my parents and brothers who don’t know (plus paternal uncle that I stay with during trips up for school).
I don’t think using email (or a letter, or any other not-in-the-moment method) to come out is cowardly at all! Like you said, it can keep you from getting flustered or sidetracked, and that counts for a lot.
You use what you’ve got to use and what makes you safe. The rest is, ultimately, beside the point.
This is not the same thing, but last time I had to have a really awkward conversation with my parents (“hi, remember that time I mentioned I suspected I was on the autistic spectrum and you told me I couldn’t be and not to label myself? I’m trying to get a diagnosis and they need to interview you as part of it. …please?”) I did it by e-mail, because then I could say everything I wanted to and structure it clearly and whatnot. I’m *bad* with verbal argument and get really easily flustered + am prone to having my opinions overwritten by others in the heat of the moment and agreeing to things I shouldn’t, so having very fraught conversations in person is not always the best of plans.
In retrospect, things would probably have gone much better if I’d done my coming out as asexual by e-mail instead of in person (which went kind of awfully on all fronts), and if I ever come out as genderqueer to my parents I’ll probably send an e-mail there too. We can talk it over in person or on the phone *after*, but I want them to have the basic facts down first.
And also, speaking as someone who has been come out *to*, it can be really helpful for the parents, etc. When my brother came out as gay, even though I am totally 100% OK with it and was from the beginning, it was still a shock just at first. You have to re-evaluate the things you thought you knew about someone you’ve been close to for decades, and it takes a minute.
Very few of us are our best selves when thrown off-balance; having a little time to sit and be with the news and adjust to the idea before meeting the person in question is something I’ve found really valuable. I suspect that this will be even more true with people who aren’t automatically down with LGBT issues – they can get through the very first stages of panic, denial, etc, without hurting the LW, and hopefully be more prepared for a proper (hopefully supportive) conversation later.
I think an email is a good choice as well. I have delivered heavy news in person and in email, and I found that I had less difficulty communicating when I was able to write it down. I’ve found it’s harder for people to explain me out of my feelings and stick up for myself. That is something I struggle with because the jerk in my head wants to make everyone happy but me, and some people recognize that and exploit it.
I came out to my mom (as gay, not trans) over email, after I had been home visiting for a school break, and I was back in my own apartment several states away.
For the years ahead of time when I contemplated coming out, I thought that the “right” way to do it was to do it in person. but you know what? email was fine. there isn’t a “right” way to do it. just do what makes you feel most comfortable and safe.
I also honestly don’t think email is a “cowardly” form of communication in general. I suppose everyone has different comfort levels with different types of interaction, but for me it can feel much more momentous and scary to put your thoughts/feelings down in written complete sentences than it can to just casually bring something up with someone in person.
This is not a true thing, this is a homophobic trope! Coming out over email is only cowardly if “giving everyone an opportunity to shout at you and tell you why you’re evil/wrong/bad/misguided/their Feelings about your sexuality/gender identity/surprise pregnancy” is a good value. Which it is not.
You don’t owe your parents an opportunity to tell you their feelings about your gender identity. You definitely don’t owe them an opportunity to be shit about it, and you don’t even owe them an opportunity to be awesome about it. If they are awesome that’s fantastic, but they can be awesome over email and if they are awesome they will understand why you chose email.
I’ve just realised Chris Miller is talking about gender identity, so for homophobic read transphobic. But it’s basically a privileged-people-matter-more trope – the idea that someone is owed information about their loved one’s lives in a particular manner or format that makes them unsafe.
Oh god, this is like me except bi instead of trans and getting ready to head overseas to teach abroad within the next year instead of coming back. Living with my parents now as well, and my fears about my mom are the same. Bonus points- she once said being bi is more disgusting then being gay, because just pick one already! Lovely.
My plan is to come out over facebook for the super cowardly method and to limit the chance for shouting. Private convo means she will feel free to let loose, while public means she will have to deal with many pro-LGBT family members.
I just can’t wait to get out, start practicing my gender fluidity/neutrality (it feels like I only have half a wardrobe right now- all the feminine stuff. I want binders and men’s clothes to complete my genderfuck self!).
In your case it doesn’t sound like you have a timetable for freedom, so many hugs from me. I hope everyone’s advice is helpful!
Oh, coincidence… I came out to my mum as bi the week before I left Australia to go teach in the UK! It’s a pretty good strategy.
I was lucky though, I had a very supportive immediate family (Mum’s first comment was “maybe that’s why your relationships with men were so bad, if you really wanted women!” which annoyed me at the time as it missed the point of bisexual, but since I realised later I am actually a lesbian she was absolutely right). The advantage for me was avoiding the extended family, and particularly the accusation of “doing it for attention”. My role in my family was the Coper, and I’d stayed in the closet for 10 years because I was afraid of being accused of attention-seeking. Being overseas meant that most of the extended family’s comments never filtered back to me, or when they did they were so long past that I was able to brush them aside.
My grandmother’s email address gets filtered straight to the bin though, to be sure that I only deal with her when I feel like it!
I was a bit hurt more recently when my mother told me that she’d grieved after I came out, and the more so after I got engaged to a girl, and that she was nonetheless easier with me being a lesbian than with me being bisexual. The latter, she explained, was because as a bisexual woman I had the option of choosing an easier life, and it hurt her to think I was choosing the harder road. When the harder road was no longer a choice but just the way it was for me, she was able to accept it. There are a lot of things wrong with that attitude, but I love my mum and she’s doing her best, and at a 14,500km remove I at least avoided the fallout in person!
She flew to the UK for my wedding, and was the perfect mother-of-one-of-the-brides, so it’s all good in the end.
I don’t think it is cowardly to come out via email or letter or Facebook. If parents are unaccepting and in denial, telling face-to-face all but guarantees they will say all sorts of awful things that you will never be able to forget them saying…even if they eventually chill and become supportive. It also greatly increases the likelihood that you will get irretrievably interrupted before you can say all the things you need to say.
YEUP. That is exactly what happens.
I am planning a letter for round two of “No, really, this is my lifestyle and I’m living it and you will either accept it or never hear from me again” … I don’t think it’s cowardly at all.
Coming out to someone – especially family – in any way for any reason is hard as hell. Just the fact that you’re doing it makes you brave. So don’t tear yourself down for doing it in the way that works best for you.
Excellent use of hedgehogs and advice, Corporal!
LW, I’d just like to warmly second the Corporal’s suggestion to reach out (like you just did! Lovely, brave you!) There are so many people who have walked this path before, and so many who will be happy to walk with you. I would say that Worst Case Scenario with your risk assessment is (D), and since you can’t control your mother’s emotions, it might be helpful to collect the tools you would like to have around you in the Unlikely Event Of (D), including, as A. Beard said, an emotional support network, a self-care plan, a living-situation plan, the terms and conditions under which you will interact (or not) with your mother, and a way forward with your father. Then, should (D) not happen, you will be in a very Good Case Scenario. Good luck attend your path & may your Best Case Scenario make its way to you swiftly. ❤
Here are some of my thoughts. They are a bit…strong. But they come from being the facilitator of a transgender support group for 5 years and being trans myself.
1) You worry you may be kicked out of your home. That is a real possibility. Another possibility is that you aren’t kicked out, but your mom makes your living situation so horrible that you feel like you have to get out anyway. So I’d recommend starting on planning for contingencies now. You say there are no jobs in your area. Keep up the job search–look for jobs at grocery stores, coffee houses, check out temp agencies and SAT tutoring companies, anything and everything. Another things to think about, do you have friends anywhere that might put you up for a month or two while you get yourself together? Perhaps in a different city with better job opportunities? If you really fear your mother is going to make your homeless or abuse you, and you know your mother better than we do, start planning an exit strategy now. And I’d do that before your come out to her. Coming out is all very important, but safety is also very, very important. If coming out to her will make you unsafe, don’t do it until your can do so in a situation where you will be safe. I have known trans people who have indeed had to leave their family. And they were underage and got a really cheap studio apartment and found work at a grocery store. Or another underage transguy, who got a room through craigslist and made money through odd jobs and selling art. It was really hard for all those people I knew, because it is hard for minors to get jobs or apartments, but they did it because it was better for them being out of that environment than being in it. On the other hand, I know people whose parents were totally supporting and helpful and they transitioned at home with all sorts of support.
2) You worry your mother may no longer love you. She might not. But if your mother stops loving you because you come out to her, she doesn’t actually love you–she is loving a false image of you that she prefers to who you really are. She doesn’t actually currently know the real you, so she isn’t “loving” the real you. Becoming who you are is a risk. And many people lose all of their friends and family and community. You have to decide if dealing with your body dysphoria is more important than that risk. I always think of that quote from Harvey Fierstein’s play “Torchsong Trilogy”: “Arnold: I have taught myself to sew, cook, fix plumbing, I can even pat myself on the back when necessary, so I don’t have to ask anyone for anything. There’s nothing I need from anyone except for love and respect. And anyone who can’t give me those two things has no place in my life.” On the other hand, rather than hopeless rejection, she may, like many people, just need some adjustment time. You have had years to process your trans status, she hasn’t had any time yet. So be a bit understanding that she may need some time, too. After a bit of time, she may come around. Or she may be fine with it from the very beginning. A friend of mine grew up in a really homophobic rural conservative Jesus-y family. He feared what would happen when he came out. As it turns out his family was surprisingly fine with it–why? Because they preferred having a trans heterosexual son to a lesbian daughter. Iran punishes homosexuality with death, but has state supported gender reassignment surgery. So you never know how people’s politics will shake out. If your mother is not fine with it, you don’t need that in your life. I recommend cultivating a good strong Team You, a family of choice, and trans support group.
3) When you come out, there are two things a I think are crucial.
a) When you come out, present this as something positive and not as something negative or shameful. I do not recommend something like this: “Mom, I something terrible to tell you. I know you may be very disappointed and this has been so terrible for me, but…I’m…I’m trans!” If you ooze shame and pathology, your mother is going to pick up on that and will not want that for you. I recommend a more positive approach. When I told my mom, I said something along the lines of, “Mom, I have some great news–I’m trans and I took my first shot of testosterone today!” And then I proceeded to explain why me coming to terms with being trans was a great thing for me.
b) Inform, do not ask for permission or blessing or advise (assuming your are a legal adult). This is a mistake I see a lot of people do when they tell their parents. They come to their parents basically asking for validation, when then give the parents the idea that if they withhold validation the kid may not transition. It gives parents the idea that these is still open for debate and convincing otherwise. If you do not want your parents trying to convince you out of this, don’t present the coming out process in such a way that opens you up for that. Be firm and settled in who you are. Tell them because you want them to know you better for who you are, not because you want their validation. I mean, it is great to be validated by other people, but you are presumably doing this for you. This is about you. Be strong in your convictions and present yourself so. Don’t be hostile, but don’t open your identity up for debate.
I find that if you do these two things, parents are much more likely to accept what you’ve said.
All that said. I transitioned about 12 years ago. I have lost some things (I had some lesbian feminist friends who will no longer talk to me because I “joined the enemy”) but my family is supportive (they took a while to get used to the new pronouns, but that is normal), I found a great trans community, I have a great job teaching, I will be publishing on transgender related topics. Everything is pretty awesome. Now, I haven’t dated in 10 years, because dating as a trans person is not all that easy, but even if I never date again, I’ll still be happy. Because I no longer have gender dysphoria and I love my body. I really do. I love waking up in the morning and walking down the street. I love being in my body, I love my handlebar moustache and crazy sideburns. I love being me. And I have great friends, family, work. I do not regret for one moment my transition. But I went into the transition ready to lose everything. I didn’t lose everything. Instead I gained a lot more than I could have imagined. But even if I had lost everything external, I knew that what I would have gained internally would have been worth it. Which is how I new I was ready to transition.
You are a valuable person and your identity is your own and worthy of respect. Always know that.
Inform, do not ask for permission or blessing or advise (assuming your are a legal adult). This is a mistake I see a lot of people do when they tell their parents. They come to their parents basically asking for validation, when then give the parents the idea that if they withhold validation the kid may not transition.
I want to highlight this (and possibly draw sparkly hearts around it). It applies to so much more than just this subject. I am slowly training myself to bite my tongue every time I start asking my parents “So, what do you think of…” Because I want their validation, but–that’s not, actually, a reasonable expectation. It’s reasonable to expect them to accept my sexuality and my lifestyle are Things That Exist Whether They Like Them Or Not. It’s reasonable to expect them not to actively undermine or question them, to keep their doubts and worries to themselves. But I am an adult, and it is not their job to make me feel better about my life choices, and if I open the door by asking them what they think–well, it is reasonable for them to answer truthfully. And if I don’t like the answers, I have only myself to blame for breaching that boundary.
I want their validation. But I don’t need it. As an adult, I know my choices are right for me.
I just wanted to say that this is a wonderful comment and your last paragraph made me smile really broadly. You rock!
Yes, so much, to 3 a and b!
Parents may or may not understand you, but if they don’t sense that you are convinced and happy, they’d probably want something better for you. I have a different experience, I’ve converted when it comes to religion, but I know it has been much easier for my parents to deal with their doubts and insecurities since they can clearly see that I am situated in a life style that is right for me.
LW, this is excellent advice. When I first tried to tell my mother I was trans at 19, it was tearful and disorganized, in person, and it was when I was failing out of college and generally totally losing my shit. It did not go well. I ended up living at home for the next year and “taking back” my coming out. Ten years later, I finally came out again as I was beginning physical transition. It was not easy. But it helped that I was not living with her (your mileage may vary), so I didn’t have to worry whether she’d kick me out. The only support she could withdraw was emotional. That’s not nothing, but I had finally decided I could do without it better than I could do without living as myself.
I told my dad via email first (my parents are divorced) and asked him not to say anything to her yet (this is not his strong suit). He called me up and a) tried to badger me into not taking testosterone, not having top surgery, and b) telling my mom RIGHT NOW because it was so unfair to him to ask him to keep this secret from her. What I found really helped was just to pick a script and stick to it. When he asked me to put off surgery, stop taking testosterone, consider whether maybe the stress of law school was influencing me too much, I just said “I hear your concerns, but this is what I’m doing.” I said it gently, I didn’t raise my voice, and I had to do it about 50 times before I could end the conversation without cutting him off or hanging up on him. When he asked me to tell my mom, I had to vary the script a little, but I had decided before we got on the phone that nothing he could say would make me change my mind about when it was right to tell her, and that really helped. FWIW my parents are not close at all, so this idea that he *had* to be able to talk to her was just a tool for regaining control after I knocked him off balance with my news.
Historically I’ve always felt I should be totally honest all the time. This was generally to my detriment. Being honest with my parents at various stages of my life about my uncertainty re: transition, queerness, or life plans encouraged them to try to persuade me into doing something I didn’t want because it was what they wanted, or thought was best for me. I had to realize that showing them unwavering confidence I didn’t necessarily feel was not lying, it was giving them clear messages about what I expected from them.
Yes, definitely give your parents some room to sort their stuff out. But do not give them leave to make you help them. Do understand that you will have to tough out some uncomfortable interactions, do not let them bully you into giving ground because by setting boundaries around how they talk to/about you you’re asking too much, or because most parents wouldn’t be as understanding, or whatever it is. Decide what your reasonable expectations can be based on minimum standards of respect and what you can expect of your parents and do not go below that. People can adjust to a lot of new information if they think they have no choice.
Maybe your parents will ask you to leave. Maybe they will never accept you. The fact that you plan for these contingencies does not mean you should approach this disclosure as though those outcomes are expected or okay. You are allowed to transition without being abandoned. That doesn’t mean everyone gets that outcome, but if that’s what your parents choose in the short or long term, that’s up to them.
Congratulations on your degree and on understanding yourself, LW!
I also love the hedgehogs, Corporal!
The advice here is rock-solid, and I’m glad you’re moving forward.
I know you didn’t ask about this specifically, but I suggest you get connected with advocacy groups. You may want to carefully plan how your transition and your career are going to interact. Is it likely to be better in your career to do the public transition before you get a teaching job? Would it be better to wait until you’ve got some years under your belt? If so, how does that feel for you?
This may be a non-issue where you are. I’m in the US and I think we’re very twitchy about trans* people in the education industry. Transitioning while teaching children may be considered a problem in some places; transitioning while teaching college, even, is considered a problem at some schools.
I know it’s hard to figure out how to plan this when you don’t even have a job at all and are living at home and trying to figure out this whole Mother Thing. But you don’t want to be fired for transitioning, and you probably don’t want to sue anyone over it.
In my family, having concrete plans or information can go a long way towards allaying parental fears about whatever strange thing I’m doing lately. It may not help your mom, and if you don’t have the plans you can’t offer them! But if you do, or if you’re close, you might want to pull them together and prep your defensive arguments first.
LW, I would recommend having a backup place to live in case your mom kicks you out or makes your living situation horrible. I personally didn’t come out to my parents until a week before I moved out, and the physical distance between us has made it a lot easier for me to deal with their lack of understanding—and they’re generally being polite and well-mannered, if clueless, about my transition. I would not have wanted to live with them long-term while my mother was bursting into tears every time someone called me “he”.
I also recommend that you have a Convenient Excuse To Be Elsewhere immediately after you come out to your mom. My parents tried to drag me into a 3-hour tearfest after I came out to them, but I had made (extremely convenient) plans to see a movie with a friend. “Gosh, I just can’t stay, but we can talk about this later” was an extremely useful thing to be able to say.
I want to add, really, have a safety net and be sure of it. Because for my friend it went like this.
“I’m a guy.”
“No you’re not, and if you say that again you have to leave.”
“Well I am”
And he was forbidden to come back until he stopped saying ‘stupid things’ Thankfully he had already moved in with his GF.
Then came the weekly phone calls to give up his delusion and come home. Attempts to convince him his GF and her family were lying to him, secretly hating him, stealing his mail that had checks from them in it. Telling him that his mother prayed for a girl baby and would have given up a boy, so there’s no way Jesus would punish her like that. His mother explaining that as a psychiatrist she knew for 100% sure he couldn’t be a guy because she was an expert, even if she was an addiction recovery specialist, and had nothing to do with gender/sexuality. Threats that they were being mean to his friends because he wasn’t there. That an uncle he didn’t know about had died and he could collect the money, but he had to do it in person and as a girl. Each time he didn’t give in, they told him he was dead to them and they’d never call again.
They tapered off to about one a year. The latest was that one of his grandparents had died and SHE needed to come home for the funeral and how much it would mean to everyone and SHE needed to do what was in HER heart (as always, stressing the wrong pronouns on their end) When he said he was, but coming as himself, it turned into an angry rant about how SHE needed to give up that “weird sex stuff” and stop being horrible to them. He hung up on them.
It had been the first time he’d ever really defied them about something. He had no idea they would be so crazy about it. I think sometimes people are hesitant about coming out because it is a big deal and their parents mean a lot to them and are wonderful and they don’t want to risk hurting their relationship. And sometimes it’s because even though they’ve named their Evil Bees and love them and send them flowers and only get stung when they truly deserve it, really, they still kind of know that the Evil Bees really don’t want them investigating that room over there.
Oh my goodness, my heart goes out to your friend. That sounds terrible. (I think if my grandmother was my mom or if I’d continued talking to her about my transition, my experience would have been similar.)
My hope is that even if the LW’s mom is entirely unreasonable, their dad, who has at least voiced support, can rein her upsetness in a bunch and at least keep the LW from being kicked out.
And maybe set a standard of conduct: “Wife, you get to believe what you believe about LW being transgender; I’m not going to try to police the inside of your head. But in this family we treat each other with basic courtesy and decency NO MATTER WHAT, which means that if we can’t talk about this without shredding our child, we need to talk about something else.”
Ahahaha on this note we just got our census forms. Question three: Are you male or female?
LW, Team You is super important, if only for this reason: when you post obliquely about the rampant cissexism of the census on Twitter, all your friends will get exactly what you mean and agree and it will be warm and fuzzy. One of mine started ranting over how they (sarcastically) don’t need to separate sex and gender on the census form for the question that males are directed to skip over how many children you’ve given birth to and offered me kitty pictures if I need them when I’m deciding whether to answer online so I don’t have to come out over the freaking census. For all that my living situation is incredibly stagnant, my life has improved significantly on finding friends that never tell me I’m overreacting and actually walk the talk about being allies, and luckily they can be easier to find because you can just be active, as yourself, on the bustling internet, and the transphobic ones will self-select away. (Sometimes also while insulting you, unfortunately.) Having that support network will help no matter how your mum reacts.
Ha! Fellow New Zealander! I was just filling mine out earlier. Yes, that question really needs improving.
Tēnā koe e hoa!
To be honest, I’m fraught this week anyway. I live in Christchurch, so….
(For international readers: Today is the anniversary of the earthquake that destroyed much of the city and killed nearly two hundred people. Since I work in post-disaster relief I never get to forget it anyway [and in fact a lot of my work has contributed to my PTSD] but it’s been right under my skin for the last few days.)
It was really freeing for me to realize that I could just allow myself to drift away from friends who weren’t really respecting me. Oh I’m sorry, after three years you can’t get my pronouns right (when everyone else in this friends group does at least 80% of the time)? I guess we’re no longer friends, and you definitely don’t have hugging privileges. Tell me “you can’t do that!!!” when I explain that my partner uses gender-neutral pronouns? I’m not going to have you cut my hair anymore, even though you make it look fantastic and have for years.
I was lucky not to lose too many people from my life, but it was really clear, especially during the first few super-awkward and painful years of my transition, who had my back and who didn’t, and the people I was closest to then remain some of my best friends today, even though I’m living clear across the country from most of them now. It really did make all the difference to have a group of fantastic friends who had my back then and continue to look out for me.
Hi LW – congrats on being awesome to yourself!
I live with my Evil Bees after a 20+ year separation. Reasons – this isn’t about me and my journey except to offer some advice you may find helpful on my experience – I transitioned 22 years ago.
1. Hold your boundaries. My mum is still seeing me as a houself/extension of herself and her dreams rather than a person – 20+ years later. Sometimes they simply refuse to cope or deal and try to make that your fault. It’s not. You don’t have to take that. Use your words and let her know it’s her issue, suggest she see someone for those issues – and it’s NOT your fault or job to make her feel better about your decisions. You aren’t her, or the barbie dreamworld she dreamed up. You are allowed to be yourself and build a life you are happy with for you. You are also allowed to refuse to go out in public with her if she gender shames or corrects you in public – intentionally using wrong pronouns, etc. “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
2. Find an activity you enjoy that will let you get out of the house and exercise away some of the stress. (Assuming you will end up still living with Evil Bees as I do currently.) I do Tae Kwon Do, but any physical activity you enjoy is awesome at whatever fitness level and mobility level you have. Walking, rolling, disc golf, whatever. Check out the local Community College, TAFE, Adult Education courses, whatever it is where you are – see if something cheap grabs you. It will give you access to new people who don’t know your past, letting you be YOU. And it’s good for you!
3. I’m not actually so keen on the whole “community” thing – but if you find it helpful go for it. It can give you access to resources and information you might not have known about – that is always a positive. As someone who isn’t interested in broadcasting my pants status to the world – I personally find it a bit tedious – but then I have been at it a lot longer than you have, and we may have different needs. So try it, but don’t feel you HAVE to hang out with people who are “like” you because they say so or put political/social pressure on you.
4. There will probably be sucktastic and hurty things said and done. Some of them may be intentional, some maybe not. It’s not the end of the world, nor will it be like that with everyone forever. You can build a new Team You – whether you decide to disclose your pants status to them or not. My general rule is – if we’re not going to be nekkid together intimately and you aren’t part of my medical team – you don’t have to know. Obviously there are times (like now) where I have self disclosed to support others – but you still don’t know who I am or where I live and vice versa. You are not alone.
5. The world sees what you project. So tell the world in your body language and self confidence that you’re your chosen gender. I go topless on beaches because all bodies are different and some men have moobs. No one has every questioned me because I am clearly a man with moobs – I send out Man Vibes. Don’t let the toilet freak you out – there are plenty of men who always use a stall and sit for everything. There are also handy inexpensive gadgets that let you enjoy the freedom of the urinal without stress – whatever works for you. (I’m assuming FtM here because you mentioned the “making me more feminine” thing.)
6. Be your own kind of man. We come in all sizes, shapes and sexualities. Testosterone does not “make you gay” – pants status and who you have pants feelings about are NOT the same thing. Puberty + menopause is a bitch combo – I won’t lie about that, but it does end. It takes a while for facial/body hair to kick in, assuming you have those genes in the first place – not all men do. Neither my brother or I have leg hair – we just don’t get it in our family. But I have a kick ass beard and he can barely grow a goatee. Your hairline might shift backwards if you have those genes – hey, you’re just more manly. So be the man YOU want to be with the genes you have and don’t worry about it – you’re perfectly normal for YOU.
7. Be well and happy and awesome.
Sorry this was a little long. 😀
I just want to address the “So try it, but don’t feel you HAVE to hang out with people who are “like” you because they say so or put political/social pressure on you.” part of this post.
I have noticed the following general trend in the transsexual community (not so much in the genderfuck community), that people often begin their transition “in a community” (however that might be interpreted). They are often looking to other trans people for advice on where to find binders/high heels in their shoe size or hormones or how to navigate the paperwork and deal with gatekeepers. Asking to figure out what to expect or to feel not isolated or to get validation. I have also often found that transsexuals, especially those who pass, often then transition out of the community after a few years after they finish their transition and just go on about their lives. Some TS folks stay “in the community”–in this case poltical or social work of some sort. Some don’t.
LW, you can do whatever you want, and you can do one thing now and something else later. I was very active in Trans stuff when I lived in LA. I regularly did sensitivity training and I did support group stuff and I was acting in trans scenes. But now I’m in Massachusetts and I’m not particularly hooked into the local trans scene. I deal with trans stuff in my research, but I’m currently dealing more with Queer (ie gay and lesbian) people and activism (and getting irritated by how many of them are not actually the trans allies they think they are), and Feminist stuff, and Racial Social Justice Stuff.
For everything there is a season. Reach out if you want to. Pull back if you want to.
I just council you against being isolated. Make sure you have a Team You that gets you, supports you, and makes you all happy, whether they are trans or not. Too many trans people commit suicide after transition because they are isolated and don’t have social support.
“but then I have been at it a lot longer than you have, and we may have different needs.”
Did you miss that part?
Or they (he? sorry, not sure which from context) felt it might need expanding on for the benefit of people who haven’t been at it a lot longer then the LW.
Put that way, it makes sense, ok. Thanks!
I was expanding not contradicting.
Just wanted to say this post and comments are really, really amazing, and I may bookmark this to come back to it later.
I’m genderqueer and sooooo not out to my parents. I’m not worried they’d disown me (and in any case I live on my own and am financially independent), but I am pretty much 100% they won’t understand and won’t believe me and have been avoiding the whole issue as a result. But at the same time not telling them is getting steadily more awkward and I’m tolerating being gendered female less and less and my dysphoria appears to be getting stronger, so I’m starting to consider trying… uh. LW, I have no advice to add, but I really hope it goes well!
Hugs if you don’t mind? I hope you figure out the best way to tell them and I’m so glad you live independently of them so if the worst comes to the worst you can just physically leave the awkwardness. Unfortunately leaving the hurt feelings is a lot harder.
I can definitely understand just putting the issue off until you feel like awkwardness forces you! I, uh, basically did that except the awkwardness forced my dad’s hand before it forced mine, oops. But I am definitely more on the genderqueer/only-vaguely-male-identified side of things; I didn’t really explain much of that nuance to my parents and did a lot of sorting out that part of my identity where they couldn’t see, because I couldn’t figure out how on earth I could explain that to them in a way they’d really understand and accept.
I think it is often easier to be able to come out to someone with something like “I am a man” than “well, I mean I’m not really a woman, I kinda sorta feel like a guy, or maybe that I’d be happier as some sort of man-shaped not-really-gendered person, uhhh, can you use these pronouns no one ever seems to be able to manage for me? Please?” (Maybe I’m projecting WAY too much of my own/my friends’ experience on you, sorry, but I do think that coming out as genderqueer or another non-binary gender can be a lot harder to explain to folks who haven’t heard of those concepts before.)
Best of luck to you in talking you your folks if/whenever you decide to do it. If you haven’t seen Genderqueer Identities before, it’s a pretty great resource hub.
I have the sneaking suspicion this – putting it off until it’s too awkward – is how it’s going to go. 😦 On the plus side, I actually live in another country from my family and only really see them two or three times a year, so the awkward doesn’t last too long. On the minus, I am actually really close to my mother and tend to tell her everything, and it’s been so frustrating when we have one of our weekly phone-call catch-up sessions and all I really want to say is “and also this week has been miserable and terrifying because my dysphoria has been spiking in ways that have never happened to me before and I spent a lot of the past few days curled up somewhere whimpering and trying not to look down” and I… can’t, not without having That Conversation. Or I talk about going to LGBT society events but I have to be carefully vague about the ones I’m attending because I’m trans* and not because I’m asexual. Or she absently refers to me as a woman and I cringe.
(The asexual coming out was also pretty fraught, it took years for my family to get used to the idea, I suspect my brother is *still* waiting for me to realise I’m just repressed and scared of men – in fact, the whole talking about LGBT stuff thing is actually part of my tactic of aggressively hurling queerness at them until it finally sticks… none of which bodes particularly well for the genderqueer front.)
And so much yes to the difficulty coming out as genderqueer, everything you say sounds pretty accurate to my experience. In my case there isn’t actually any male component to my identity at all, I identify as somewhere in between female and neutrois, and that’s a bit of a headache to try and explain to people who probably have no real knowledge of trans* identities at all! And presentation-wise I am more feminine than my mother (admittedly, this isn’t saying much) so I just see everyone thinking it’s some kind of a joke.
(There’s also a language issue – I speak German with my family as it’s our native language. Not only have I done most of my gender exploration in English, which makes coming out kind of tricky on a basic ‘lacking vocabulary for these concepts’ level, but German is far more gendered as a language than English and trying to talk about people in a gender-neutral way is very, very difficult. 😦 I don’t even have a set of German pronouns I’m comfortable with, and that’s not getting into the grammatical gender of nouns business that means you can’t even say a sentence like I’m a student” without implicitly ticking m or f. /o\ So I don’t even know what I’d want them to do re: language!)
Thanks for the link! That looks extremely helpful on a number of levels.
Ugh, I hear you on the “only reading (for me it’s only reading, for you it’s probably was du über dich selbst rausgefunden/gelernt hast, if that is what you mean by “exploration”) about this stuff in English and not knowing the German words for them” front.
Now I’m a straight cis woman so it doesn’t affect me as a person directly but I often try to explain lgbt*q issues to others and even then I get all algköjaeuirhögha! because “ich hab die Worte nicht”.
So, when talking about people whose gender I don’t know/who prefer to not be called any gender I use “Person” or “Mensch” (the last one might sound strange to you depending on where you’re from but it’s common where I live), but, as I said, that’s mostly just in a general use when talking about, well, “people whose gender I don’t know” not “my friend x who doesn’t identify as any gender at all” – in a situation like the last one I probably wouldn’t know which words to use either.
Also, it’s just a shame that the pronouns can’t be so nicely mashed as in English – “ser” would be somewhat strange and “eie” would be even stranger (at least to me).
Would it possible for you to ask your parents/family to just not refer to you with any pronoun at all? Like, always saying “Kaz hat dies und jenes gesagt” instead of “Sie/Er”? Might be a bit tedious at times but I can imagine you can get used to it. Or just make a pronoun up that you feel suits you?
Also, regarding the “nouns business”, I regularly say “Ich bin Student.” even though I’m a woman and no one seems to even realise it. I for myself have somehow accepted/decided that the male form can actually be used for both genders (which can be problematic if you see it as male being the “default”, but I don’t look at it from that view) so I just go for it – maybe that would be a solution for you too?
Good luck, LW! I don’t have a whole lot to add, but I wish you well on your journey.
Good post! A friend of mine asked me for advice on this, and I was a little stumped (I’m not great at advice, ect. I can just about muster some reflective listening, and reminding them of all the folks on Team You) . They ended up moving away from their Grim parents, and I’ve not heard if she’s come out to them yet. Hedgehogs make everything better. Exept walking barefoot. Best of Luck LW!
Oh, my friend, I wish you so much luck!
I came out to my mom in the most awkward way possible and it was a mess, so good on you for having your dad on your side and actually planning this out.
I’m genderqueer, and I was going to take the cowardly way out and just not come out to my parents- present as my assigned gender when I was at home, and be the real me the rest of the time. (I live with my parents post-college, but God willing I’ll have a job and my own apartment before super long.)
And then… in preparation for interviews and hopefully full-time work, my mom and a very feminine co-worker were going to take me shopping for clothes. I got this news on a night that I had a fellow trans friend over for dinner, and we had this entire conversation with our eyes which consisted of “Don’t do it.” “I don’t want to. Save me.” Over and over. Tragically (fortunately?) my parents are not stupid people.
So, I got called up on the carpet, of course. Not right then and there, but the next day at lunch. Mom’s a teacher and she had me bring her lunch at school and then she sat me down to ask why I didn’t want a wardrobe makeover. I think she was expecting an argument about my clothing. Instead, I found myself blurting out that I’m not a girl and I don’t like dressing as girly as they were going to make me do, and I wasn’t going to buy clothes to be polite because that’s a waste and it feels horrible.
This could have gone over worse: I still live with my parents and we’re okay. Mom pretends this conversation never happened. She pretends not to believe me, but in between assuring me I’m definitely a girl and reminding me that trans* people are “twisted, and I mean that in the nicest way possible” she kept asking things like, “how is this going to affect your life?” “What are you going to do about your dad?”
So, I figure you’re doing all the right stuff by having a plan. Having a parent on your side helps, too- all I’ve got is a well-meaning and slightly confused brother. He’s nice about it, but he’s not in a position to stand up for me.
Apologies if I’m rambling, and I’m pretty sure I am, but thanks for letting me get this all off my chest. Good luck to you, LW!
Oh my goodness, I can’t decide if your mom’s “they’re twisted, in the nicest way possible” is making me laugh uncomfortably or cringe in terror. I’m kind of doing both right now.
It sounds like even though she’s not being intentionally hostile to you, she doesn’t really know how to handle what you said and is making things pretty uncomfortable for you. I hope you can get a job and have your own place soon so you can feel relaxed at home without worry about anyone trying to convince you that you’re a woman. I’m sending you encouraging thoughts on all fronts!
It was kind of a horrible thing to say, but I think it’s mostly that she has no idea how to process my coming-out. She worked last year with my friend from that story, and was pretty sure he was trans. He didn’t come out to her until more recently, but she spent months telling me how awesome he was and how we ought to be friends. (She was right, on both counts, of course) So I’m hoping it’s just that she’s having trouble figuring me out…
Thanks for the thoughts 🙂
Same. It’d be a great line to describe yourself, particularly on a BDSM site, or as a company slogan for eco-friendly sex gear; but in this context? 😦
I don’t have any advice to add to the above, but I do want to share this excellent radio story about transitioning and coming out: Finding Miles. http://transom.org/?p=9445 (If links in comments aren’t OK, it should be easily searchable by googling “finding miles transom”.)
Absolutely fantastic advice. It is very important to come from a kind place, a place of love. If your parents feel that you are approaching them with a combative or defensive stance, they’ll respond in kind.
Part of growing up is learning that your parents can be your friends, not just authority figures. Another part is remembering to respect boundaries because no matter how old you are, your parents are still your parents; most of them don’t like to be overly involved in/informed about your social life.
This is very sound advice, as usual, both in the answer and in the comments.
I would like to say that it is very important not to apologise in any way for being who you are, nor to place yourself in a position where your mother will have a chance of thinking she is allowed to guilt-trip you. You are who you are, there is no need to feel sorry about this. You are still her child, and I presume (because of your worries over her reaction) that you love her and want to continue being her child even through the problems you may come to face.
I’ve also found out through personal experience that it works best not to make the thing into a huge problem. For example, I had to come out to my new workgroup at university this summer, because I am very much in between genders. I did so very matter-of-factly, and the result was that, after the initial ‘oh gods what do we call him’ phase which always occurs, people were very chill about it. Sure, there will be mistakes with pronouns. Sure, there will be awkward situations. But if you present yourself very matter-of-factly by saying ‘this is something that is part of me, and if you don’t like it, that is too bad for you’ you will achieve two things.
One, you will appear self-confident, as though you know what you are doing, which sets many people at ease. At the moment when you come out to them, people will feel very confused and unsteady. I agree with the advice that you should not become a psychiatrist for your mother, but to show yourself as a steady and confident person might give her some peace of mind. When I came out to my mother, she was worried that I was going to be discriminated against and that I was going to suffer hardships in my working and private life because of who I am. I showed her through my words and deeds that I am confident in who I am, and this put her mind at ease. Remember, mothers worry about the happiness and wellbeing of their children. This is natural. It will help you immensely if you put that instinct at ease by telling (and showing) her that you know what you are doing and that you will not be unhappy.
But there were two things you could achieve through this strategy. Two is making yourself approachable. If you are very matter of fact and add that you will listen to your mother’s questions and answer them if you can/want to, you will not only appear confident, but also show her that there is a place for her in this process. You acknowledge that this is also hard for her, without making it about her. As stated before, being her psychiatrist is not your job, but if she’s worried about, say, the effect of testosterone on the human body, perhaps it is an idea to answer those questions yourself. She will know that you are well-informed and willing to tell her about what’s happening to you. However, do not under any circumstances answer any questions like ‘but I raised you like such a fine lady, why are you doing this?’ or any kind of guilt or angry or spiteful question. Those emotions are entirely her problem. But curiosity is not a sin, and if sincere should be encouraged, from my point of view.
The very best of luck with telling your mother (if you haven’t already) and remember, there are a lot of people who’ve been where you are now and are always willing to help you if/when things get hard. Also, I’m very sorry if I have said the same as people above me. It is not my intention to copy. I am giving you the view I’ve held for a very long time, and wishing you the best of luck with everything.
Now that you mention it, I *do* feel like a hedgehog in a shoe. Closets suck.
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