I am transgender (he/him pronouns), and came out to my immediate family last year. I have not come out to my extended family because – well, I don’t consider it their business! In my mind it would be like telling loosely connected acquaintances.
The issue is this: my younger brother is getting married at the end of this year. I’m very proud and want this to go perfectly. But, it’s likely that a fair number of the family will be present. I’m not part of the wedding party but by being family I am going to be alongside the main feature. I wouldn’t pretend to be [birth gender], but my physical appearance is changing and it’s unlikely that I could, anyway. (And I’m really glad that I’ll be able to look more like me in photos that will be around for years to come.)
I haven’t spoken to most of the extended family for several years. Aside from their aggressive take on their religious beliefs, they are rude about physical appearance, unkind about hobbies, and subscribe to very gross politics. There’s practically no pleasant conversation, and if I interact with them I usually find myself wanting to argue, so I Christmas with friends, avoid other family events, and no one has ever rang me up to say they missed me.
My immediate family are supportive – to an extent. I don’t want to ask my younger brother to help handle the family, because he’s got a wedding to care about. My older brother will probably be happy to defend me but I don’t want to the potential for volatile conversation (we both have a fight-first kind of attitude). My parents barely support me to my face, but have acknowledged that I’m an adult and will do my own thing. Primarily they are concerned about appearances, and worried about being judged for their parenting, and concerned about how comfortable the extended family will be.
Because it is my brother’s wedding, beyond family the people will belong to his close-knit social circle, and it’s unlikely that I’ll have a friend I can latch on to. The engagement party had a lot of people in a small space and I managed to avoid the family there. When it comes to the actual wedding, I’m not sure I’ll be able to manage the same.
I’d love some tips on coming out to people you don’t care about and don’t interact with, and coming out to people who are very set in their ways, and ideas on how to quietly inform people who are wondering where [deadnamed me] is, or shutting down unpleasant conversations in a wedding environment. I don’t want my gender to overshadow or interfere with my brother’s wedding.
Hello and thanks for your question. I think this answer will cover:
- Ways to spread the word ahead of time.
- Ways to make the event itself maximally safe and comfortable for you.
In your younger brother’s shoes, I would 100% want to be “bothered” by this if it was causing you anxiety, and there would be no way that your transition or your gender could possibly “overshadow” my wedding. If your extended family’s bigotry ruins the wedding, that’s not your fault for being who you are, and I would never, ever think that or make you responsible for it, and I would want to help if I possibly could. Also, good news, there’s something specific and concrete he could do to help you:
After the invitations go out, he and your other brother and your brother’s intended spouse could call or email or text the people they are closest to and the people who are the most likely spreaders of family news in the extended family and say, informally:
“Hello, you may not have heard this yet but [Deadname Sister] is now [Your Name/Brother]. I know it’s been a while since we’ve all been together, and I’m not quite sure how far he’s spread the word in the last year since he told us, but it’s really important to me that people don’t call him the wrong name or ask awkward questions at the wedding. This is a really happy thing for our family, and I’m trying to call up the relatives I can trust to be cool and supportive about this ahead of time so we can all relax and celebrate at the party, can you help me spread the word?“
A. Treating people like you trust them to be cool and supportive and telling them how they can show you that they’ll be cool and supportive is a good way to sort of back them into the corner of being cool and supportive.
B. As the groom, your brother use his clout as the person at the center of the event to everyone’s advantage: You in a snappy suit and your cool new name is not ruining the wedding, but someone making you uncomfortable would be ruining the wedding. “Behave yourself as a personal favor to me” may compel good behavior where, like, common human decency might not.
C. Getting the word out beforehand removes the drama of people being surprised in the moment. They’ll have a little time to react before you have to see that reaction.
D. Let your brothers absorb any “gross” “political” “religious” objections for you!
Script for asking him/them:
“[Brother], I’m really happy for you getting married and excited to be at the wedding. I don’t want to put more work on your shoulders while you’re in the middle of planning this thing, but I also don’t want that event to be some kind of ‘big reveal’ of my transition – would you be willing to spread the word to our relatives and ease the way? I don’t interact with them all that much and I haven’t yet found the right way to get the word out.”
Then, if he’s open to it, give him a rough script of what you’d like him to say and let him handle it. If both or either of your brothers are willing to do this for you, let them do this for you.
You know your brothers best, and if they aren’t up for this or you don’t think it’s a good idea, then it’s probably up to you to call your most chatty and talkative relative or relatives and/or your coolest, most liberal cousins and spread the word to the people who can spread the word.
“Hello [King/Queen Of All Family Secrets Far & Wide], how are you? I know we haven’t talked in a while, but I could really use your help with something. Don’t know if Mom/Dad told you, but last year I came out to them as transgender. I go by [Name] now, and use male gender pronouns and male presentation. I’m really excited for [Brother]’s wedding and for the chance to catch up with family I haven’t seen in a while, but I’m also a little nervous about it and I really don’t want this to be a big deal on someone else’s big day. Would you be comfortable spreading the word in the family for me, so it won’t be a surprise? I know you’re so great at staying connected with everyone, it would really help me out.”
Then you can give that person a little bit of Transness 101 as it applies to you, for example, “Please just call me [newname], I’d really rather not answer questions about medical stuff or “how did I first know” especially at a wedding, yes, coming out is hard because there’s so discrimination against trans people, but I’m happy to feel more like myself.”
You may have to answer some of their awkward & gross questions and hear some religious platitudes, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve found “I’ve prayed about it a lot and I trust that God loves me” to be a good catch-all when the moralizing comes out, and bookmarking a good 101 resources so you can say “I don’t feel comfortable talking through all that just yet/I don’t quite know how to answer that question/This is all so new to me that I don’t feel like an expert yet, but if you want to read more about it I’m happy to send you some links.” The person’s initial reaction might not be their only/forever reaction, and if you can get them on your side and make a genuine connection, they will be a) honored to be “chosen” to be in on the “secret” and b) chuffed to be recognized for the work they do keeping everyone connected to what’s going on.
If you can, connect what you want them to do to helping your parents out, too “I’ve got great friends and coworkers around me, my brothers have been great, mom and dad are doing their best to adjust and be supportive, but I think that they are nervous about what the rest of the family will think, so you’d be helping them out a lot by spreading the word, too.”
All this word-spreading is only a good idea if you think it would make you more comfortable. If you’d rather go completely low-profile the way you did at the engagement party, then fly low! If you were close to your family, they would know the important things about you, but you’re not and they are not, so, they don’t get to be mad that you didn’t call them up personally and audition your identity for them. One possible answer to “Wait, where’s [deadname]?” is “Not here!” or “Hey, I go by ____ now. Nice to see you, cousin!” or letting them wonder, forever.
I hate all this for you, my dear Letter Writer, I really do. You deserve love and a place in your family. You deserve to not have to take on all this emotional labor and risk so you can go to a party. My message to your family and all transphobic and homophobic people is basically:
Image description: David Lynch as Twin Peaks’s Gordon Cole, in a dark suit with an FBI badge and hearing aids in place, with the text “Fix your hearts or die.” He said this to the FBI colleagues of Denise when she transitioned from male to female. I want it on a t-shirt.
Now, let’s talk about the wedding itself.
Can you bring a plus one? If so, and if you don’t have a romantic partner who wants to go, I suggest bringing a good friend who is gregarious and able in social situations (that person who gets described as “Oh, ____ can have a conversation with anyone about anything!“) to be your buffer. If no “plus one” has been invited, I think it’s worth breaking wedding etiquette and asking your brother if you can bring somebody. If it’s out of the question, he’ll say ‘no.’ You’re not a jerk for asking in this situation.
If your brother doesn’t want to inform the family for you, who does he suggest you hang out with at the wedding? Can they seat you with the young & fun & liberal friend table? Was there anyone cool from the engagement party? “Brother, can you seat me with the cool kids, thanks” is a reasonable request. You’re attending to support him, but he’s the host of an event, and your safety & comfort are important.
Can you make sure to have your own transportation to and from? Sometimes just knowing that you can bail if things get upsetting can help you endure.
Can you be Chief Errand Runner and Behind The Scenes Helper? Can’t stop to talk about the state of your eternal soul or what you keep in your pants if you’re going to grab more ice!
If you can’t bring a buffer person, can you have a support system available by text? Sometimes being able to Tweet The Madness is the only thing that gets me through an awkward family moment.
Is there a safe, quiet spot (your car, the rest room, the coat room, outside) at or near the venue you can retreat to if you need a moment to yourself? Scout it out when you get there. If you need to bail at any point during the reception, bail. Your safety and peace of mind matter, too, and the groom is going to be way too busy with all the hoopla to worry if one guest left at 9:30 instead of midnight.
Gross politics are extra thick on the ground right now, and it sounds like you will be deep behind enemy lines. Decide if you’re more of a “Well, that’s a horrifying thing to say, Aunt Bea” person or a “Hrmmm these mashed potatoes are delicious and aren’t the flowers beautiful?” person, and lean into being that person. You don’t have to fight every fight right now when you’re just trying to survive. Adopt “I am here to support my brother, these people are not really important to me” as your inner mantra.
I was at a wedding deep in Tr*mp country earlier this spring and while everyone was on good, non-politics-talking behavior, seeing the super liberal Aunt-in-Law (who came out in her 40s)(and rolled up wearing these magical Doc Martens) was a deep balm to the soul. Your family is not a monolith, and while I 100% believe you about why you stay away from them, I hope someone at that party is gonna be glad to see you exactly as you are.
I know a lot of our readers have been through similar situations, so, tell us what helped you.
This is also one of those times that I’m going to ask straight, cis- commenters to hang back and read more than you post. Transgender people get harassed, discriminated against, and sometimes murdered for their identity every day in this country and I’m not sure any of our “This is exactly like the time I had to deal with an awkward situation at a wedding” stories are the most relevant here.
We’re all sending you love.
78 thoughts on “#987: “Coming out as trans to family at (or before) a family wedding.””
I agree with the Captain on letting them be the ones to ruin things if things are going to be ruined. A dropped jaw followed by, “I’m here to support people I love with the person I love,” is pretty killer. In your case, you’re supporting people you love while being a person you love. End it there. Any argument puts all of the assholery on them. “Really? You’re thinking about my genitals instead of the bride and groom? WEIRD.”
Being who you are is healthy and wonderful. Act like you expect everyone to treat you that way. Obviously they won’t, because people are weirdly concerned with what other people do with their bits and with whom. Pretending that you expect them to be reasonable puts the entire onus of being unreasonable on them.
When people do the passive aggressive “whispers” or sideways glances, think to yourself how exhausting it must be with that kind of hate within you. Have pity. Seriously- pity- for the joy and peace they deny themselves.
Please be safe.
I want to second leaning on your brother to spread the word if at all possible. I’m nonbinary and was a bride’s person for my college friend’s wedding earlier this summer. It was one of my first opportunities to show up authentically as myself and the bride and groom were really awesome about it (I got to wear a bow tie like the groom’s men!) It was also in a rural area and both the bride and groom had conservative family members. They told me they had conversations with everyone leading up to the wedding where they said something like “There will be transgender people at this wedding, there will be gay couples at this wedding, and they are there because they are all very important people to us and we want them to be a part of our special day, and we want them to be comfortable,” and basically asked these family members to either decide to be nice, or decide not to come.
It’s not the same as having to deal with all of your own extended family because chances are I’ll never see most of these people again, but it was so so nice to know that conversation had already happened so I could just focus on 1) making sure I was doing my job of taking care of the bride 2) being present at the ceremony and reception.
As to staying safe at the wedding itself (having been to a different family wedding while I was closeted and attempting to present as female to prevent from “drawing attention to myself”) if you can’t bring a plus one, having a texting friend or twitter “on call” to check in with is really helpful. You might seem “rude” to someone but (speaking from my own experience) better rude than panic attacks. And to someone who is going to be a jerk to you about your identity, you’re going to seem rude regardless of what you do, unfortunately.
I don’t mean this in a preachy way, I’m just stating it from a “mistakes I have made” perspective: wedding receptions tend to keep the alcohol flowing and if you are someone who leans on alcohol to cope in any way this would be a great time to really keep a check on that. Another thing the plus one or text friend can be helpful for. I hope none of that is necessary and that you’re able to have a great time though!
the only thing I’ve really got to add is one more phrase that might help on the day of the wedding, if someone starts in on it or asking questions you don’t want to answer “Today is about brother and [spouse] let’s just leave it at that please”
This is great.
Agreed. Sometimes etiquette shaming people will work when common human decency won’t. Sadly.
Thats great! And I would add if they try to continue their conversation just start talking about the cake or the decoration.
“Transgender people get murdered for their identity every day in this country”: In the interest of setting the record straight, this is not true. GLAAD puts the number of trans people murdered in the U.S. in 2016 at 27: https://www.glaad.org/blog/glaad-calls-increased-and-accurate-media-coverage-transgender-murders
Thank you. 27 too many. I corrected the sentence.
To be fair…those are OUT trans people. The number is still likely to be a little higher than every two weeks.
It’s probably much harder than that for a number of reasons. Probably not quite as high as 365, no, but 27 is absolutely a lower limit, not a good estimate of the total. Trans people are often murdered without it being reported in the news, for example, and even when the death is reported, it’s very often not acknowledged that the victim was transgender. In the very article you linked, for example, it also says “This number does not include transgender people whose deaths were not reported due to misgendering in police reports, news stories, and sometimes by the victim’s family.”
So, in the interest of setting the record state, what you said is not true.
Glad to see we’re focusing on the important things.
Why did you feel the need to make this comment? Seriously, why? In a post about the everyday struggles of being trans, why did you feel the need to “set the record straight” on this particular matter?
Because accuracy is important when you’re talking about a vulnerable population with an already astronomically increased risk of suicide. To a trans person 27 a year isn’t good, for anyone it isn’t good, but it still feels a lot more survivable than 300+ and there is value in feeling like maybe the entire world doesn’t hate you.
I’m following this conversation with a lot of interest, as I’m a cis woman getting married to my trans fiancee in August. We’ve planned a pretty small event and none of the people who’ll be there are conservative or evangelical per se, so I think we have a decent chance of nothing being particularly shitty, but I do worry that one of my grandparents is going to be rude to the love of my life on her wedding day. Maybe some kind of low-key heads-up email/phone call like the one the Captain suggests LW’s brothers/sister-in-law-to-be should make would work well for us too.
Congrats on your future wedding! I hope everything goes swimmingly.
We don’t know for sure that LW’s brother is marrying a woman, though. In any case, I hope both you and the LW find a satisfactory way to handle the situation.
Hey, Tili… I had a similar but different situation at msituation. We asked a close friend to “shadow” a potentially disruptive family member to ensure nothing got out of hand. Thankfully nothing crazy happened, but just knowing someone was keeping tabs on this person allowed me to relax & enjoy my wedding day. Might this be an option for the grandparent?
Just wanted to wish you luck. 🙂
Seconding the good wishes. Also, depending on how your transition went/is going, you may find that some people just don’t recognise you, which in this situation you can use to your advantage. Hi, I’m Name, and if asked, groom’s side, no details.
I didn’t see the first of my friends to transition to male during their transition, and when I did see him, he had to reintroduce himself.
Ha, I had a very similar situation to LW (big family wedding approaching, suddenly have to come out to entire extended family ahh) and I basically adopted the Captain’s approach of coming-out delegation. My dad told a bunch of people, they told people, most of the family was covered that way…but not someone’s elderly German former nanny, who I ended up in conversation with.
ME: Hi, I’m [my parent’s names’] son!
ELDERLY GERMAN LADY: Oh, hello! I met you and your sister when you were very small, is she here?
ME: [silent alarm bells ringing] Yes, she’s just over there.
EGL: Oh, and you had another sister, didn’t you? Is she here?
ME: ……well. Actually.
She ended up being incredibly lovely about it but it was pretty awkward for a second there.
I went to a friend’s wedding not too long after transition. Unlike your case, I’m afraid, I had friends there and they were mostly queer-positive. I know there were former abortion clinic protesters there too, but they had better things to do than harass me. In fact the only comment I got was from a couple of kids who asked whether I was a boy or a girl. Their mother apologized afterwards – “kids can be hardcore” – but it was puzzlement not hostility, and that’s fine.
First of all, sending you all of the love and support in the world.
Secondly, I just want to offer some specific language that might help as you communicate the Captain’s Principle A.
“I know I can rely on you to (exhibit appropriate behavior),” and “I’m sure you can understand that I want (brother and bride)’s wedding to be a wonderful day for them, and (actions to make that happen).”Basically, open with something that obviously you will agree on, and then use that as a reason to do what you need them to do. “We both know how adorable puppies are, so make the puppies happy by treating your trans relatives with basic decency.”
Yes, 100% this! I did this when coming out to my mum’s brothers, who are middle-class liberals of the kind who very much want to be seen as 100% Accepting And Open-Minded. I wasn’t that worried about their response, but just to be on the safe side I started out my email by saying how I’m so glad I know they’re such open-minded and accepting people and I can feel so safe sharing this and etc. etc. Naked emotional manipulation but it works like a charm.
I worked at Denny’s graveyard for 20 years. You should scope out the restroom situation before the wedding.
If you have any of your extended family on Facebook, that’s sometimes a really low-key way to spread the news around. Once I came out to anyone I wanted to be out to in person, I changed things on my Facebook and announced it there, and then just assumed that the knowledge will trickle out to other people. I didn’t have a family wedding to go to, so it was less pressing to me who knew though, but I just figured I’d throw it out there.
I also think it’s totally fair to just show up as yourself (preferably seated away from the majority of the assholes” and let them be confused. Depending on how long it’s been since they’ve seen you, some of them might not even recognize you. Some who do might not bother coming to talk to you. And those who do and try to misgender/misname you are the ones at fault if they decide to pick a fight when you say “I go by ____ now, thanks! Good to see you.”
Really wishing you the best. Coming out over and over is a rough thing to go through, but I know you’ve got this!
Sort of a counterpoint-to-a-point-not-made: LW, find the approach that gives you the strength/courage to go. People differ, but I still regret allowing my fear/insecurity/”politeness” to prevent me from attending my big little sister’s wedding, some twenty years ago now. She was the first in the family I approached (even before I transitioned), and hers was the first wedding after my transition, and I thought it would be better for her and her husband and the family and all if I just quietly stayed away. Which … no. I have now attended my little brother’s and baby sister’s weddings in the years since, and was at my oldest niece’s just in June. All of these were in small-town southern Appalachia, and with a wide variety of attendees (often *very* religious ones of one brand or another). I actually ended up fielding questions from my extended family and my close family’s friends (including parents of kids I grew up with) in the receiving line at my grandmother’s funeral (also quite nearly twenty years ago now)—”And who are you?” from a woman at whose home I’d spent an enormous amount of time as a child, was a question that made it clear that my family at least wasn’t going to be proactive about informing others. I’ve a distinctive enough appearance that I was never going to be able to hide, really (too tall to lie low?).
As the Captain suggests, if you can get others (especially the gossips) to spread the word in the family for you (about you?), and can get some core people (at a wedding, parents of bride and groom) to make clear that controversy is inappropriate, that makes it easier. And a companion (invited in their own right or your plus one) also reduces the likelihood of confrontation (most of the people who would be willing to do that at a function where they are a guest are going to need equal numbers to make the ‘charge of the righteous’, and they would thus have to convince at least one other person that making a fuss at someone else’s wedding is worthwhile).
I hope you have a brilliant time and memories to carry!
I really hope it all goes ok. It’s really messed up that we have to worry about this stuff, and feel like it’s us overshadowing things rather than transphobes not being able to put their bigotry aside for a moment.
I went to my sister’s wedding a year after coming out as trans to her, and a few months into being on T. And it was terrifying, despite the fact it went completely fine in the end. In fact it actually may have contributed to my mom accepting the trans thing, as she had a load of friends and family being all “doesn’t he look HAPPIER now” at her (tbh, I’m pretty sure this was entirely them projecting their tragic trans narratives on me, but eh, if it works).
I had already come out to extended family a few months before, by letter, which I think helped. (I.e. framing it as a “here’s some big exciting news I want to share with you” rather than it being gossip). I suspect that leaving it to be revealed at the wedding would make disruptive responses much more likely, as they wouldn’t have any time to process it. It seems unlikely to me that you’d be able to just fade into the background and avoid notice, as a sibling of the groom, but you’d know better than me. In general it sounds like your extended family is a lot worse than mine, so your mileage will vary.
Strongly second the asking to bring a plus one, if possible, as having a friend there was really helpful for me. It’s awkward enough trying to mingle with strangers without also wondering if they’re going to be transphobic at you.
RE: not wanting to bother your younger brother. It’s likely that he is already worrying about this, judging by what you say about your extended family, and the way weddings have of making people worry about all possible things that could go wrong. Suggesting concrete, specific, and low effort ways he can help lower the chances of someone causing trouble and upsetting you or disrupting the wedding may actually make things less stressful for him. I think Captain Awkward’s suggested letter he can send out is a great idea.
Also, in case some of this “don’t want to interfere with the wedding” feeling is coming from things your younger brother has said: my sister was very much in the “don’t overshadow my wedding with your gender” camp at first, but went very quickly from “can you maybe delay going on T until after the wedding” to telling me how glad she was that I could be myself at her wedding and have that echoed in the photos.
Yes to the stuff about how LW’s brother is probably already worrying about this. Part of the most stressful part of wedding planning is trying to balance what you want the event to be about with making sure you’re not asking the participants for unreasonable stuff that they’ll have a harder than usual time saying no to. For all LW knows, the brother is already stressed about whether LW’s transition is going to be A Huge Thing but isn’t talking to LW about how to manage it around relatives that don’t know because he doesn’t want LW to feel like brother doesn’t support him [sorry if I’m misreading that LW is now a male pronoun user] or like Brother expects LW to make potentially long term decisions about this important thing in service of his wedding. That’s not to say that LW should in any way feel like he’s already causing brother stress, but to say that LW’s current assumption that not bringing it up with brother is the lowest stress solution for brother could be completely wrong, so that hopefully LW can feel less worried about stressing brother out by bringing it up.
Clarification because I reread this and don’t like the implication that supporting the LWs transition is probably already stressing Brother out:
If Brother is already stressed out about this, what’s stressing him out is that the way your family is crappy and makes other people’s business all about How It Looks For Them may make it even harder for him to have a conversation about a delicate subject because toxic families make it hard for everyone to talk about stuff without second guessing the conversation itself, not LW’s transition. Brother is probably stressed about a billion things related to handling an unreasonable family and working through asking for what he needs and setting boundaries around the wedding, and stress about talking to LW about how to handle the transition w/r/t unreasonable family is specific application of stress caused by unreasonable family, not stress that’s caused by LW’s transition. If Reasonable Brother is stressed by this, it’s because of everyone else, not because of LW. But acknowledging that brother is probably already stressed because of sucky other people might help LW reframe having this conversation as potentially relieving some of the stress other people are causing rather than LW causing new stress.
Yes, this, thank you.
I think Brother wants to be supportive and wants the event to not be stressful or dramatic, so, help him do that in a way that gets everyone what they need! The brother’s transition is not the stress-agent, though. Having a shitty homophobic and transphobic family is stressful.
I definitely support the idea of letting people know ahead of time so they can have their reactions both away from you and away from your brother on his big day.
A request you can make of your brother or future sibling-in-law or the wedding planner is to have name tags at the wedding. It’s a reasonable thing to want at an event where the married couple’s friends are going to be mingling with both close and extended family—no one’s going to know everyone! And it considerably reduces the odds of deadnaming plus giving you an extra bludgeon to deploy against those who mess up. Depending on how formal the event is, see if you can get write-on name tags so you can put your pronouns on there too if you want. Or wear some gorgeous pronoun jewelry. Of course it would be better if people didn’t need reminders, but someone else’s wedding is probably not the best place to hold a bunch of distant relatives and total strangers to that admittedly low standard and then get righteously wrathful when they fail to meet it.
Phrases that will be very useful when getting questions/comments that you don’t want to address:
Deflect conversation back to the inquisitor. “I’m doing great, thanks. How are you? Tell me all about what’s gone on in your life since the last time I saw you.”
Deflect to later. “I don’t want to get into that at the wedding, but feel free to drop me a note if you want to discuss it later.”
Deflect to another topic. “Have you had a chance to talk to [brotherspouse] yet? They’ve had such an interesting career!”
Excuse yourself and flee. “I’m sorry, I just got an emergency text from work, I need to go deal with this.”
I totally understand being a fight-first type and very defensive of your name and pronouns and privacy. If possible, arrange to have a friend available whom you can send vent-texts to; that reduces the odds of you decking another wedding guest. (That can be the “emergency text from work”.)
Good luck! I hope it all goes well!
The name tags idea is GENIUS. They are a cheap, low-effort, and helpful resource for all the guests, especially if they are the writing-on kind, so the LW is not singled out for suggesting and using them. Great idea!
What’s helped me at family functions and gatherings is adopting a “nothing to see here, moving on” attitude, and fully believing it myself. For example, a relative once tickled me while I was wearing my binder under my shirt. “It’s hard!”, he remarked, surprised, while looking at me for an explanation. “Yup!”, I answered with a smile, like there was nothing out of the ordinary. He followed my cue and all was well.
So, to adapt that to your situation, I’d just say “Hi, [relative], how are you doing?” and chat with them without saying anything about your name or pronouns. That way, they are more likely to think that you are a relative they just can’t place (which is true) and to ask for your name (“I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to remember you?”). Then you can simply say “Oh, no worries, I’m [Name]!” with a smile. With any luck, they’ll just take you at your word and maybe look you up in the family tree after the wedding if they want to know exactly which relative you are. No need to disclose “I’m [Groom]’s brother” if you don’t want to, but you can add it if you feel comfortable with the person.
People have a great ability to ignore facts in order to preserve their world view, and you can use that in your favour. If it’s easier for them to believe “Oh, I forgot a male relative’s name” than “Oh, I guess [Groom]’s sibling uses masculine pronouns now”, they’ll probably reach the first conclusion.
Ups, this was meant to be an independent comment. Sorry!
This method has worked well for me in a variety of situations too.
Assertively projecting “There is no big deal and NO problem here (unless you make one)” not only helps influenceable people follow that cue, it also helps me keep that attitude myself, and not get hooked by *their* projections into being defensive, aggressive, or otherwise reactionary in a way that doesn’t help me and that I don’t want to be.
The name tag idea is wonderful. I hope it all goes well.
In my tactical mind, the LW would do well having ‘isles’ of support. According to the letter he already counts with his brothers, but what other invitees can he count on? Any friends he can bring along, relatives or acquaintances of the groom’s who are more accepting may also help buffer any bad interactions. Even one cousin who can call out a mouthy aunt with “grandma, not the time” can make a difference.
The other thing that could help is brother ‘insisting on’ (aka, demanding) a veto to any transphobic languaje or attitude as a wedding gift. That way, if anyone starts to get a little rilled at the LW, he can just play the “hey, remember about the gift I asked for” card.
This is a really good article, but could you maybe not put a trans person’s chosen name in quotation marks? (In reference to your caption for the Twin Peaks photo)
I love so much that you quoted Gordon! Really, he said it ALL in 5 words!
(also, hey, how ’bout that episode 8… 😉
“Got a light?” or as my husband calls it, Eraserhead starring some people you remember from Twin Peaks.
I’m trans-nonbinary and only out to one person in my family, dear LW, so all I have to offer right now is solidarity; I, too, will be attending a family member’s wedding at the end of the year (a cousin, in my case, but my family’s close enough that my cousins may as well be my siblings-once-removed), wearing a suit, and maybe, if medical/insurance things go really, REALLY well, without breasts.
I’m prepared for the prospect of awkward questions (luckily, I’ve attended events in a suit before, so my family’s used to this already), but considering there will be a religiously conservative element present here, too (my uncle’s Israeli Orthodox friends and family are all flying in – oy vey!), I can see how it may go beyond awkward in a hurry.
I hope you’re able to bring a buffer or find your own with the hip liberal kids, LW. Wishing you the best!
My partner is trans nonbinary and some of their distant family members found out at their dad’s funeral, having not seen them for years before that. The two things that worked most reliably in shutting down rude or clueless comments from relatives: (1) bringing focus back to the nature of the event with a little reprimand, like, “Wow, is that really how you want to talk to a person who just lost a father? Excuse us” and (2) having me run interference.
Firstly, I’m glad I’m not the only trans person who feels that extended and distant family doesn’t really need to know, despite my mom’s “but faaaaaaamily” type reaction. I’m still trying to figure out if or when I tell my grandparents – I haven’t seen them in years but they call or send cards occasionally. Don’t want to send 80 year old grandpa into a heart attack over the phone, you know?
I’m so thankful my husband’s family – cousins, grandparents, and all – were so chill with my transition. My parents didn’t take the news well, and these days seem to be trying to ignore/forget the whole situation. My half-related issue is, rather going to a sibling’s wedding soon, we were intending on holding a vow renewal next year, in part because I was pre-transition the first time. So yeah, I’m in a similar boat of trying to figure out who I should tell, how, and when, as well as whether or not I even want most of these people at the vow renewal (it was more or less an elopement).
So, LW, I’m sorry I don’t have words of advice. Good luck!
I’m not sure how different you look at this point, but it’s entirely possible that even if you’ve had your brother or relative spread the script in advance, people who haven’t seen you in a while will still not realize that you are you.
I’ve done the under the radar thing on purpose, where people just don’t figure out who I am (though I obviously look related to my own family). I’ve also had the experience where people knew I would be attending a family event & knew I was trans, yet they did not associate “some random familiar-looking dude” with the “capital T” transgender person they were expecting. It’s a bit weird to have people you know introduce themselves to you and ask how you know the bride/groom, and it’s entirely up to you how to treat this. This is where it helps to have pre-wedding events (rehearsal dinner?) to let it play out and figure out who your allies and safe extended relatives are.
Wishing you the best!
FANTASTIC RESPONSE as ever Captain! And great additional advice/support in the comments. I hope the writer can take it all on, and practise the scripts/responses, and have a great time ❤ G
Hi Letter Writer. Internet fist bump of solidarity. Last year, I went to my sister in law’s wedding in rural South Carolina, and it was the first time since I came out that many of the extended family had seen me. (We live halfway across the country) I can recommend from personal experience the Captain’s suggestion of having someone pave the way with the news. My spouse called multiple relatives (grandparents/aunts) in the months before the wedding to have the conversation and get some of the weird details out of the way. It helped a *lot* because it took away the shock factor. I was honestly more worried about being in rural SC at the hotel, at the random Waffle House, etc. Don’t be afraid to invoke the great Southern curse of if someone says something shitty to you. “Bless your heart, what a thing to say. Isn’t this a beautiful wedding? I’m so happy for my brother.”
“Bless your heart, what a thing to say.” OK, I am British but I am stealing this.
I’m in a somewhat similar situation. I’m trans, and nearly all of my extended family knows, BUT, my grandma refuses to accept it, and pretends she doesn’t know. Because nobody can contradict my grandma, if I’m around the rest of my family, then I’m [Femalename] and “she” again. It bothers me a lot how much everybody else seems to *like* referring to me as “she” and my old name. There’s a family event coming up this weekend, and my method of dealing with the awkwardness and unpleasantness is to just not go. Not worth it.
I have the same thing with my grandad. He accepts that I can live my life however I want to and even that I *need* to be who I am but… He thinks he shouldn’t have to call me by my name and pronouns.
Unfortunately my only solution has been to explain to him that I will not intentionally come to see him until and unless he is ready to call me by my name.
His refusal to donate so has caused upset at my uncle’s wedding, several birthday parties and my mum’s funeral. I wish I could give you a better solution but all I can do is make sure my grandad knows that not seeing me is a choice *he* is making. Several relatives who indulge him by referring to me by the wrong name and pronouns in his presence have also been told that *they* are choosing not to be around me.
Oof. My heart hurts for you, LW. It’s hard to add to the Captain’s great advice, but my thoughts:
a. Let your friends and allies know in advice what you’re up against. Arrange for one or more friends to be ‘on call’, that is, available to talk with you on the phone on the night or to come and pick you up if you need someone to help you bail. Or maybe they could drop by the venue… like in a parking lot or somewhere discreet nearby and you could meet them outside for a breather and a hug.
b. If you get grief from anyone, an appropriate response is: “Thanks, but my focus today is on being fully present for [bride and groom]’s wedding. It’s so amazing my little brother is all grown up and getting married!” or “Thanks, but I think the focus of today should be [names of bride and groom]. Doesn’t [bride] look radiant in that dress?” Hopefully this will force people to behave themselves, but if they insist on continuing to talk about your gender, excuse yourself and find someone cool/a restroom/call a friend.
Finally… I think it’s wonderful you don’t want to put strain on your little brother, but honestly, it’s ok to ask him for what you need to be safe and comfortable at his wedding. It’s also ok to let him know your concerns. Couples make arrangements all the time for wedding party members and guests with particular needs, from dietary requirements to a need not to be seated with difficult family members, etc. Getting his ok to specific arrangements in advance is totally fine. If your brother is supportive, it’s quite possible he’d much rather know your concerns than have you suffer in silence.
Sending best of thoughts as someone who may be in this same situation sooner than later! I’m in the process of making peace with the fact that I’m a trans girl at heart (out to exactly one person outside of anonymous-y comment threads) and one of the things that helped me fully accept those feelings was realizing that my sister, who I’m close with, is likely to become engaged soon, and I’d sooooo much rather be a bridesmaid than a … whatever the guy counterpart to bridesmaids are. Seconding/thankful for all the commenters pointing out that anyone who makes a fuss is the one “ruining” the wedding, no matter how much they might try to act like it’s your fault – especially when you’re already so thoughtful about preserving your brother’s day even as you strategize about how to protect yourself. Sounds like you’re a great brother, and I hope the brother getting married knows it. Here’s hoping he has your back, you have a blast at the wedding, and anybody who has a problem quietly stews at old folks table!
My partner is a transgender woman, and she’s had two family funerals this year (including her grandmother’s) that she sadly hasn’t felt able to attend because her extended family don’t know about her transition. I’m so glad that you’re going to the wedding and that you get to celebrate with your close family. You are important as a son and brother and you deserve to show up, be counted, and share in the joy. I’m also really glad there’s some time to spread the word (if that’s what you choose to do) so that you don’t have to deal with deciding on a coming-out strategy right on the wedding day. You rock!
• Turn everything right back around to the wedding. Isn’t it great? Doesn’t everyone look great? Isn’t it a nice chance to catch up? Doesn’t the groom look dapper? Doesn’t the bride (I’m presuming here) look beautiful? Yay weddings!
• I’m not sure if you’re a photographer-ish type person, but maybe you could take a camera (borrow a friend’s DSLR) and take some beautiful snaps of the day? I’m thinking this gives you an easy escape (‘Oops, sorry, got to go take this snap!’), and something socially appropriate to do with your hands if you get fidgety when nervous.
• I suggest wearing your wedding outfit beforehand in a low-key setting (like, at home watching Netflix) so you’re comfy and relaxed in it ahead of the day.
• If your parents start sighing about how great it is that your cisgender brother is getting married, presumably to a cisgender woman, and get a bit sigh-y or wistful in your direction, or start saying stuff to reaffirm to themselves how great their parenting is, please feel free to GTFO and head to the bar/go for a walk/take a break.
• This might be over-reaching, but is it maybe worth checking out whether there are any gender-neutral or private toilet options at the venue? I know that my partner was pretty anxious about using the women’s toilets publicly for a long while and I suspect her idea of fresh hell might be being caught in the ladies’ loos with a potentially-bigoted extended family member.
Sending you lots of love and best wishes, that you too get to enjoy this day! ❤
A couple scripting options that occurred to me while reading the post:
1. If you’re not comfortable without outright asking Groom!Brother to spread the word, you might be able to bring it up with something like “So our extended family doesn’t know about my transition yet, and I’m worried that the surprise of it might overshadow your wedding, especially since not everyone is likely to react with complete sangfroid. Do you have any thoughts/ideas/preferences how we should handle this?” [adjust that last bit for relationships and personalities, so you don’t suggest Groom!Brother gets more say in the matter than you’re okay with giving him]
2. This one is tricky and requires a convergence of circumstances, but I’m putting it out there in case it might work for you: Sometimes wedding websites have brief blurbs about the people involved. If appropriate to the circumstances and personalities involved, this could be a place to casually slip in advance notice of LW’s transition, while setting the precedent of it being no big deal. LW mentioned he isn’t in the wedding party, but sometimes they do a blurb about immediate family too. And if LW ends up being Chief Errand Runner and Behind The Scenes Helper, he could rate a “Special thanks to Groom’s brother Robb (formerly Groom’s sister Arya) for taking care of everything we didn’t see coming!” Same tone and weight used to mention that the MOH, Sansa Lannister, used to be known as Sansa Stark.
Flashback to the time I was asked to shield my sister and my SILs relatives from the fact that our uncle doesn’t believe in gay marriage/is homophobic (and therefore didn’t come) as the only queer family member… my aunt (his wife) who I was very close with, avoided everything except the wedding itself and was rather conspicuous about it. Guess she forgot I’m gay (identified openly as bisexual at the time and partner of the time was male).
Wasn’t the funnest wedding but I’d prefer that to her day being ruined by discovering it.
My sibling is my best friend and was Person of Honor at my wedding. I’m not sure about your relationship with your younger brother, LW, but I would have done literally anything if it meant she could attend and be comfortable as herself. Full stop. Sending you positive thoughts. Good luck.
Great advice by the Captain.
If at the end of it, despite your best efforts, you are not getting the support/coverage you deserve, and if thoughts of the wedding fills you with dread than excitement, it is ok to not go. It really is. ((((jedi hugs))))
Big hugs to you, LW. I’m trans-nonbinary but unfortunately I’m not out to -anyone- other than my supportive Internet family, and there’s nothing about my curvy body that reads as “androgynous”. So last year when my brother got married, I was up there in a hideous bridesmaid’s dress (true facts: I had a panic attack when we went to look at dresses as a group cuz I thought we were just LOOKING and then it got sprung on me that no, actually we’re trying them on and oh we need to make a decision before we leave) and I can’t stand to look at any of the photos from the day that have me in them. However, keeping my enby status to myself was what was I needed to do. I’m still feeling through what it means to identify as non binary and I really struggle with answering questions about gender (or lack thereof) because even -I’m- not 100% what it means to me. So some may say I wasn’t 100% honest about myself, or it means I’m ashamed of who I am or whatever, but that’s not for them to decide. I did what I needed to do to have fun at my brother’s amazing wedding (Outdoors. In Nashville. In June. Oy.)
What helped me most was that amazing support Internet family I’ve carved out for myself. I Tweeted the Madness and they were there to be supportive and affirming for me. So best of luck to you, congratulations to your brother, and if you need a supportive Internet family, I’m sure you can find one here in the comments or on the forums ❤
Trans male who’s younger brother recently had a wedding here. I’m glad you wrote in to CA. I did not want to I regret it.
My brother got covenant married in a Southern Baptist church in Tennessee last week. I dressed as male but did not have a talk about my gender or nouns I would prefer instead of feminine nouns. I brought a button with my gender on it but my mom talked me out of wearing it because it would embarrass her and she thought it was unsafe.
I still have not come to my new SIL.
TLDR: doing nothing will make you feel bad afterwards, even if it makes your parents happy. 😦
*I did not write in and I regret it
Jedi hugs if you want them, that sounds hard. I hope you were able to get some self care in after!
Hugs are always welcome.
I didn’t get enough, apparently. My rant about it at my trans* group got verbally stabby.
Great job, Captain! I love how you offered so many options. I hope the LW finds some helpful tools.
LW, I am sending you tons of love and wishing you all good things! You are perfect just the way you are:)
The only thing I would add to the Cap’s excellent ideas: is there something you could do afterward that would be comforting/supportive/happy for you? So you know you’ve got a safe place to land when it’s done?
There is a t-shirt.
Yes! I found it after I wrote this and ordered one. 🙂
Another idea on the practical end: can brogroom give you a plus-one so you can bring a friend for support? (I know not every wedding can afford plus-ones but it’s something to think about.)
I’m madly in favour of having something helpful and useful to do at uncomfortable events, especially when the available company and conversation are limited and/or poor quality.
My first-ever girlfriend came to my sister’s wedding with me, back when my Differentness was fresh and uncomfortable and the family were still stumbling through it. On her own initiative and by her own choice, she spent a lot of time — almost the entire event — helping my mother with the food prep and the tables. This gave her a role to fill, with an aura of Helpful Person Is Helpful, and also meant she was generally too busy to be buttonholed. It also meant she could effectively slip “backstage” if she needed to get away from anyone.
One especially good tip: make absolutely certain you have your own transportation, and that you’re staying somewhere off-site. Not only can you get the hell away if you need to, you can volunteer to run all the errands and go pick up the ice/beer/rare spices/anything else that turns out to be needed. Or you can invent an important errand. Or just get away.
Final tip: DO NOT DRINK. You want to be certain your head is clear, especially whan all about you are clouding theirs. And you want it to be legal for you to drive away if you need to.
“Decide if you’re more of a “Well, that’s a horrifying thing to say, Aunt Bea” person or a “Hrmmm these mashed potatoes are delicious and aren’t the flowers beautiful?” person, and lean into being that person.”
You could also lean in a bit on the situational inappropriateness, if you’re up for that. Like “whoa there, that’s quite a conversation for a wedding.” – and then move the subject to mashed potatoes.
(Or the ‘I could send you some links’ the Captain mentioned earlier, if you come across goodwilled people. Because, even then, that’s quite a conversation for a wedding – probably not the time nor the place.)
Several years ago my spouse and I got married, right during the time spouse’s college-age cousin was transitioning from presenting as female to male. Cousin’s parents were supportive (as far as I can tell from a distance) and sent everyone in the extended family who was invited to the wedding an email well ahead of time. This allowed them to run interference so that cousin didn’t have to deal with any disapproval himself, and no one was surprised or throwing a hissy fit at the wedding itself. It was right in line with the Captain’s recommendation, and I’m adding it here in case the wording is helpful, with personal names/details changed (indicated within parentheses). My spouse and I made sure that Cousin was listed as his chosen name on his place card and anywhere else his name appeared, and that he was seated with family members we knew were comfortable with his transition (fortunately very easy to do as the other cousins are all cool, kind people!). We also made sure that my parents were aware since they knew about most of the members of my spouse’s family and we didn’t want them to ask questions at the wedding. Everything went well as far as I know, though I may have simply been unaware of any drama. Best wishes, OP, and may you enjoy the wedding without any stupid crap from anyone!
We’re writing to let you know that (Cousin’s birth name) is in the process of changing genders from female to male, and started getting testosterone treatments a few months ago. At some point in the near future, (Cousin) ((Cousin’s birth name’s) chosen name) plans to change his birth name and identity to male.
This is not a sudden decision – (Cousin) let (Cousin’s parents) know of his intentions over 5 years ago, and is following through on them. It has taken our immediate family several years to accept, understand, and embrace this…. and it’s still a process. Deciding to make this change was not easy for (Cousin), and the consequences of transitioning are both physically permanent and socially challenging.
When we meet at (Spouse and Quil2006’s) upcoming wedding, we ask that you find it in your hearts to accept (Cousin) for who he is, as his own person in our extended family. If you cannot do so, for whatever reason, we ask that you at least be polite in your encounters with (Cousin, cousin’s sibling, and cousin’s parents.)
Our focus is on celebrating Spouse and Quill2006’s wedding, and we hope that yours will be as well.
Thanks in advance for your understanding.
This script sounds awesome, thanks for sharing! I hope the LW finds it useful and I’m glad that your spouse’s cousin had so many cool people supporting him 🙂
LW, I want to tell you (belated) congrats on coming out to your immediate family and on your transition. Those things are both a big deal and you are amazing. If you’re comfortable with it, it absolutely is the role of the supportive cis people in your life to try to shield you from bigotry and misgendering as much as possible, and take on the bullshit task of trying to argue your obnoxious relatives around so you don’t have to. I can see both sides of it; the only family member I ever came out to is now deceased, and I may suspect that person told another relative but I don’t know for sure, and I honestly don’t know which I would prefer. However you decide to go about navigating this wedding, I wish you the best, and I hope your relatives turn out to be cooler about it than you’re expecting. If I knew you I would totally volunteer to be your plus-one deflective friend.
I understand. My family is… well to quote my therapist, one of the most dysfunctional ones she has ever seen. It took me a while but I realized some things. I have to like them to care about what they say. I don’t like any of them. If they aren’t paying my rent, sleeping with me, or cleaning my house, why should I care? But this took work. I didn’t go to my half sister’s funeral because first I was there for her when she was a live up until the day she died. I need what I needed to do for her and for me and that was take care of her while she lived. Dead she didn’t care. And they didn’t need me going off on my half brother who is very much a bigot. I’ve reached a stage where I will not tolerate his BS any more and he didn’t need to find out I’m transgender by me getting mad and telling him that he ran out of sisters when she died. I don’t need to tell him. He’s out of my life.
If you go, leave yourself escape routes. Ask what you can do to help. I’m sure your brother and his future mate will have plenty of stuff you could help with. It’s a sure way to avoid talking when you can say “I have to go do this. I told my brother I would.” At the niece’s wedding I ran the video camera so I was there to the end and after all the crazy relations left, we had a wonderful time [and I put down the camera]. Leave yourself an out. Even if you don’t smoke a fast “Sorry, I need to go out and have a cig. I’ll talk to you when I get back.” [and just forget to talk to them.] Leave yourself an out. Lie to get the out if you need to. And keep busy. And remember this too shall pass.
I’m a man of trans experience who just got married. My immediate family is very very conservative Christian as well as conservative Republican, and while they did come to the wedding, there was a whole lot of discussion ahead of time about how they could come and not “lie” (you know, by using the masculine pronoun when referring to my childhood or something like that). I highly recommend having escape routes and trusting in people who know you and the potential situation ahead of time.
In my case, since I’m very private, I didn’t want my spouse’s family to find out information I thought was unnecessary for them to know–which made for some nerves at the event (would my parents slip in pronouns? decide to object?). I emailed friends ahead of time who know me, advised them of the situation, and asked them to be aware of the situation. My spouse checked in with me a lot during things, and while there were some non-transgender related stressful moments related to politics, the wedding turned out great, and I didn’t have to use any escapes or call in for major conversational diversion.
Hope this positive story is encouraging.
These sorts of social situations can be so awful as a trans person that my tactic has been to simply avoid them entirely for the past half decade. It’s been only slightly less miserable than going and putting up with the awkward would have been. I wish something better for you, LW, and I think the Captain’s advice will help you get there.
I am also a fight-first type, as I’ve found there’s a lot of power in being the one willing to make a scene, instead of quietly putting up with people “politely” invalidating my identity (as if that’s something you can ever do politely). But at a wedding there’s a lot of pressure to make nice with people you otherwise wouldn’t give the time of day to, so my advice is: translate the fight-first instinct into aggressive politeness. As in, call out the rudeness, in a polite sort of way. “Wow, what an awkward thing to bring up at a wedding. This day should be about brother and brother’s spouse, don’t you think?” + launch into a story about how they met. Or, “Oh, I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk politics at a wedding” + change the subject. Weaponize your smile. Be so cheerful it’s almost hostile. (And, if you’re me, retire somewhere private where you can shake uncontrollably for a few minutes now and then, but I have social anxiety I have to make space for, so ymmv.)
This is what works for me. If something else works for you, do that. Most importantly, I just have to say that if anybody, ANYBODY, implies that your existence in space is somehow an embarrassment to them or to the family, feel free to mentally write that person off for the rest of your awesome-and-free-of-jerks life. Somehow these sorts of events always bring out the “but can’t you just change everything about yourself so we never have to explain anything to anybody?” sorts of family members, and I think everyone could use a reminder that they are not worth your time.
My husband’s aunt is transgender and I’d verified before the wedding the she would be attending as she. I pulled my mom aside – the person most likely to have an issue and to say something about it – and I explained in no uncertain terms that she was to be polite and respectful, reguardeless of her opinions. When we found out that husband’s uncle would be attending at the last minute, I did ask that uncle be informed so there wouldn’t be awkwardness for anyone. When told that his brother was now a she, the response was, “Huh, l can see that,” so no drama. But! If there had been a less supportive reaction, we had time to put out the fear of bride and groomzilla into him. I didn’t want uncle to be a vocal WTF?! if he got surprised. That wouldn’t have been cool for him or for aunt.
I second letting people know ahead of time what’s up either you or brother) so if they have a less than supportive reaction, they can have it at home and not at the wedding. Same for bringing a friend or date. Having someone specifically on team you can be a huge help.
Do you have to stay the whole time, or can you cut out after the cake?
And seriously – fuck your family if they can’t be supportive. Love yourself and be safe.
Excellent article, excellent commentary. Just came to say that I’m going to try to figure out a way to work “your eternal soul or what you keep in your pants” into casual conversation at some point. 😛
I wholeheartedly agree with the make them awkward advice! That will be the easiest way to make people stop being terrible and a wedding is a unique place to be able to do so. I am sorry your family is so terrible, LW. Man. I am dreading my older sisters wedding so much for the same reason.
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