So, the holidays are coming, and there are some issues which I am pretty well obligated to deal with, but have not yet (being a weenie, largely), here’s a list of facts:
– I am transgender
– I have started hormone therapy (testosterone), my voice has dropped noticeably, I should probably shave, and an awful lot of people in the community call me by a different name, and he/his pronouns
– I am closeted to one rather conservative maternal vulcan uncle
– I am closeted to both my maternal and paternal grandmothers.
– I am known to be transgender to my other uncle, and his wife and children
– both grandmas live within a kilometre of me
– I am 24
My maternal grandma is essentially the matriarch of the family. It is considered unspeakably rude to point out when she is wrong. She doesn’t know. I’ve tried to tell her, she lives very close and I see her at least once a week, but she’s very conservative, likes being in denial about things she doesn’t like, and is starting to develop Alzheimer’s. Either she ‘forgot’ or she forgot. So, how do I tell all of these people? How do I deal with this at the holidays? Should I just shave, put on drag, and count on everyone around me to ignore the obvious? Being trans is an obligate coming-out, so I know I can’t put this off forever. If not this year, I have to deal with it next year, and short of moving overseas, I don’t know how I’d avoid that.
– A Transponder
It’s profoundly not fair that you feel like you need to do all this work in order to live safely and happily in your body in the world and in your family, so try to remind yourself that you have nothing to apologize for and that not rushing out to explain your body to people so far doesn’t make you “a weenie.”
If you’re not ready, then you’re not ready, and you know what to do. If you are ready to be around your family in a more masculine presentation, one strategy is to come as you are and let people draw their own conclusions. Another strategy is to write a letter or email* to the people who matter most to you, to lay the groundwork. Include things like:
- “If you didn’t already know, I’m transgender, and I’ve started hormone therapy, so when you see me next I will look and sound more masculine. It might be jarring if you haven’t seen me in a while, so I wanted to give you a heads’ up.”
- “Coming out and moving toward a more masculine body & presentation feels really good right now, and I feel like what I’ve been sharing with everyone through this process counts as very good news.”
- “My preferred name is _____ and I’d like it if you called me that and used he/his pronouns from now on.”
- “Here are some websites/articles/books that can tell you more about this if you want to know more.”
- It might be helpful to have your family members spread the word for you, right? But you might not want them to talk about it and prefer to do it yourself. Whichever you want, tell people about that in the letter. “I’ve told x, y, and z so far, and I’d prefer to keep it just among us for now.” or “One way you can help is to spread this news far and wide among the family.”
- “What I need from you now is what I’ve always needed: Love. I’m really looking forward to seeing you and hearing about (new thing in your life).”
Another strategy is to find someone in the family – like the aunt & uncle who know already, and their kids – to both deliver the news ahead of time for you to other relatives AND to be your buddies at gatherings, and to help remind people of their manners with “__________ is ______’s name, not ______.” “Enough questions right now, let’s eat!” Ask them to help you create a little bubble of safety around yourself.
Put in exit and self-care strategies if things do get icky. Hopefully you won’t need them, but knowing that one of your party buddies will jump in to talk to Conservative Vulcan Uncle and another one get you out of there can relieve some anxiety. Have a friend or two at the ready for a phone call or texting if you need some words of comfort and also have a safe, comforting place you can go. It sounds like you have some LGBTQ-community friends around you, and they will be a great sounding board/mutual support & admiration society for you right about now.
This lovely guest post from Lt. Trans* (who suggested the letter first strategy to me) about coming out to parents might give you some helpful framing:
“Relationship essence can be boiled down to three qualities: presence, support, and approval. I think we often seek approval first, or even second, but the reality is it almost always comes last, if it all. With my parents, I learned I didn’t need their approval to have a relationship with them: we can still learn to accept each others’ presence and support.”
This past guest post about coming out as queer to consersative relatives who make offensive jokes might also be helpful, too. It has notes about safety and also about honestly telling your family about your worries in coming out to them. You see your one Grandma all the time and you’ve told her, so on one level, she knows already, even if she’s not ready to acknowledge it. You’ve done your job and you don’t have to make her understand or feel a certain way about it, and in the meantime, you have each other’s presence and support. If Alzheimer’s/Dementia are in bloom, she’s gonna need gentle correcting about lots of things, so “Call me _________, Grandma!” will become just one of them.
I hope these are very happy holidays for you.
IF you have had the experience of coming out about being transgender or queer to relatives (or, if this is something you are personally planning to do/wrestling with), we want to hear from you in the comments! The LW would benefit from knowing that he is not alone and knowing about what has worked for other people.
If you have not personally had this experience, please refrain from offering your opinions or recommendations at this time. I obviously can’t see you or know for sure or check those credentials, so we’re on the honor system to prioritize non-cis, non-straight input today. FYI, this includes well-wishes! I’ve deleted some comments even though they were sweetly meant – it’s actually more important to this discussion to respect the ‘no cis/straight comments please’ than it is to add your voice, even if it is expressing good cheer. FYI, I’m opening two more Holiday Open threads for general chitchat this week, and the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com are available to you.