Short Answers/Chat Today!

Hello! If you’d like a short question answered today, submit it on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday) or as a comment on the Patreon post before noon Chicago time today and I’ll get to as many as I can between noon and 1pm.

Comments open up after all the answers are posted.

So much ground covered today! Here it all is.

Q1: Hello Captain! Two weeks’ ago Q2, about the underpaid temp worker whose full time friends would complain to them about not being able to use their accrued vacation time, really resonated with me. I have a question that also is in the vein of “navigating social situations when there is a privilege imbalance.” Captain, I am buying a house soon! It will be a big life event and I want to share both the news and my happiness about it with my friends. As is the case for many home purchases here in the year 2018, luck (the job market in my industry) and privilege (my parents helping with down payment) were important enablers of this upcoming purchase. A good number of my friends very much want houses themselves but simply can’t make it happen. (How) can I share the news with them in a tactful way? Or do I just STFU and only share the news if people specifically ask? P.S. She/her pronouns

A1: Important distinctions between that situation and this one:
  • The people that poster were encountering were coworkers, not friends.
  • They weren’t “sharing good news” they were complaining about having a problem the questioner would love to have.
  • A problem that was directly related to compensation and fairness and disparities in the place where they worked together.

That’s not your situation, so share the good news with friends the way you would any other good news about your life. And be honest about the help you got – “We bought a house! Thanks so much to my parents, who helped us out with the down payment, we’re so excited and grateful. Can’t wait to have you all over.

If you’re looking to share the ups and downs of your search for a house, a thing I’ve seen people do that’s really nice is to use social media filters and opting in, i.e. “Hi friends, I’m training for a triathlon over the summer, and I’m making a filter here for my posts about training and goals and bikes. Let me know if you want to be reading these posts, and I’ll add you!”

You could do the same for “Who wants to look at house listings with me?” Personally, I can’t buy a house right now but I super-enjoy looking at real estate listings and vicariously house shopping for other people, and if you were my close friend I’d be all about it.

Q2: I recently had a parent from whom I was almost-not-quite estranged die, which has led to a lot of complicated grief that I’m working through both in therapy and with supportive friends/family, and that is going pretty well. I’m having some concerns, though, in my responses to people wishing me condolences, etc. asking how I’m feeling, if I need anything. The thing is, my needs and grief are a different kind of hurt to the kind expected in white Anglo-American culture at the death of a parent. (It’s very much grief for what could have been but wasn’t, as it is for many instances of abuse.) It’s been hard to figure out what I can say to communicate that I am doing all right in the day to day, but that I’m still bereaved, and that the situation is complicated, without going into five minutes of messy backstory. Do you have any ideas? Pronouns: they/them

A2: Since you mention white Anglo-American culture, in particular, did you know that “Mourning” used to last two, sometimes three years? Years, plural where people wore dark colors and were given a pass on performing happiness or fulfilling social obligations or dealing with pesky marriage proposals. Maybe it would help if you thought of yourself as being “in mourning” now. Part of being “in mourning” is giving yourself permission to open sympathy cards, eat sympathy casseroles, take time off from work for wakes and funerals and from social engagements as you wish, and hear “I’m so sorry for your loss” and other ritual expressions of sympathy without taking it as judgment or pressure for you to feel any kind of way about the person you lost. You and your departed parent can’t deserve or un-deserve these things, your culture has rituals that are the same for “RIP Beloved Spouse and Parent” and “I Basically Just Came To This Funeral Because I Look Great In Dark Colors And To Make Sure This Asshole Is Really Dead.”

It sounds like people close to you know what’s really up, so don’t feel like you have to either set the record straight or perform a certain kind of grief for people who don’t know the situation well when they express concern for you or offer care. “Thank you for your kind words” or “Thank you for thinking of me” can get you through a lot of death-adjacent social situations. “Do you need anything?” can just mean “Seriously, do you need anything? Because I like you and I can bring over a stack of silly movies or take a walk with you or feed your cat when you’re out of town.” One answer can be “I’m not even sure how to answer that, I’m still sorting out how I feel and what I need, but I’ll let you know!”

If someone gushes that you must miss this person sooooooooo muuuuuuuuch, they are projecting their own fears or memories about losing a parent. You can say “We weren’t very close, I’m afraid” and then metaphorically pull a very thick and stylish black veil down over your face. Oops, can’t stay and talk, you’re In Mourning!

Q3: Hi Captain! I just got word that my mom is dying. She’s been sick for a long time, and the nursing home says the time is coming. It sucks, and I’m headed home. My question revolved around my dad. They’ve been divorced nearly 20 years. Last time I asked her about him (several years ago), she said she didn’t want to see him. He was emotionally and verbally abusive for their entire marriage. He’s also self-centered, self-important, and likes to make a (fake) martyr of himself so he can be the center of everyone’s thoughts and discussions. If I don’t tell him before she dies, I’ll be blamed by him and his wife for… something. I have no idea what exactly they’ll come up with, but it’ll be something about faaaaamily, and how he should have been told so he could go see her even if she didn’t want to see him. And then he’ll parade that around to all their friends so he can get their pity and attention (this has happened several times around other fraught issues, so I’m fairly certain it’ll happen again). Way cool, I know, but fuck it, I can deal. My question is, do I even ask my mom if she wants to see him before she dies? Do I ask her to mentally revisit something that makes her cry until she can’t breathe every time? I can’t figure out if it’s better to ask her if she wants to say goodbye (or fuck you?) to him before she goes, or if it’s better to not ask, and if she wants it she’ll tell me?

A3: Oh, I’m so sorry, your poor mom.

Your mom a) knows that she’s dying b) surely remembers that she was once married c) knows how phones/email/postal mail works and d) is the 100% ultimate boss of whether she spends one more second thinking about the abusive jerk she once espoused (and mercifully freed herself from!).

If SHE brings up your dad, then you talk about your dad with her. If she does not, that’s your answer, forever and ever (literally forever). In the meantime, do not give him information that would prompt him to track her down and stress her out. It’s none of his business unless she says it’s his business.

Once you clarify that boundary, the rest falls into place, right? If after she dies, your dad tries to throw a What About Meeeeeeee? party in your mentions, you can honestly say “Well, she never mentioned you” or “I’m sure if she’d wanted to see you she would have called.” Try “Your relationship with each other was never my responsibility to manage” for good measure. You’re a person who is about to lose your mom, not the facilitator of his fantasy of some kind of deathbed reconciliation.

I want to say good job, you, for recognizing your dad’s games and making sure your mom doesn’t get to be proxy-abused by him one last time.

Ooh, before I forget: Someone did a great thread on Twitter about how to give people the news that someone has died.

Q4: I came out as trans to my family in an email and they’ve taken it poorly. My dad said he’d never use my new name, I told him that’s not ok, no response from him since but he likes my vacation photos. My mom is grieving like I died, despite letting her know over a year ago that I was questioning my gender identity. Unfollowed me on Facebook because she can’t stand seeing me gendered correctly yet. Wtf am I supposed to do now? I’m an adult and living on my own. Oh, he/him pronouns and it’s been like 2 weeks since I sent the email.

A4: You told your family who you are and gave them the opportunity to show you the love and acceptance you deserve. You invited them in. You told them a piece of wonderful, life-affirming, happy, true news.

They’re failing spectacularly in their responses, and you deserve better. They may see their error and behave better with a lot of time, but that’s not on you to facilitate or control, and you don’t have to wait around for that to happen. You may end up deciding to go low or no contact with them for a good while before even trying to talk about this again.

I’m not sure if you told your whole extended family or just your parents. I understand worrying that your extended family might react the same way, but, you don’t have to let your parents be the only conduit or keeper of those relationships. If you’d have sent your grandma or other relatives a birthday or holiday card before the announcement, you might keep the lines open by sending occasional postcards/greeting cards (things that don’t demand immediate response but say “I’m here and I’m thinking of you.”)

I think it’s very, very important that you let your support system  – Friends? Therapist? Fellow trans folks/community? – take some good care of you right now. You’re not the only one who has been through this kind of painful rejection, and there’s nothing like people who survived these same terrible & wonderful times to remind you to be kind and loving to yourself.

Q5: This seems pretty minor, so it’s okay if you don’t get to this question, but my parents are moving out of my childhood home today. I lived there from before I can remember until I left for college, and I’ve lived nearby for over a decade post-college. I am having what I think are reasonable feelings about them leaving. The problem is that my Feelings have always been a problem for my parents, so actually talking to them or having some kind of last visit closure wasn’t an option. They hate that I’ve always been sentimental, and would probably laugh or roll their eyes if I tried. I went over one last time and tried to have my own private goodbye with the house while my parents played with my kids, but it didn’t seem to help. I’m sad that I’ll never be able to go back, and I’m still selfishly mad that they’re leaving to go live so far away from me and my kids. They’ve never really wanted to be close to me, emotionally or otherwise, so I guess I’m just upset that I can no longer pretend that somehow things will get better and we’ll have the relationship I wanted. I know that over time I’ll get over it, but do you have any mantras or aphorisms or beer recommendations for getting through this transition basically on my own?

A5: Hi there. I’m glad you got to say goodbye to the house. It’s understandable that you would feel some stuff because you are also saying goodbye to the idea you had of what your family was like or would be like. You’re grieving and grief feels weird and takes time.

Your parents aren’t the right people to process feelings with, so, who is? Spouse?Therapist? Friends? Talk to them about this. Maybe make a journal or scrapbook with photos and memories of the house, or draw pictures of it. Get the feelings out somehow.

You are a parent, so you can show your kids the emotional availability and attention that you wish you’d had.  (They can’t really process the other grief feelings with you and shouldn’t have to).

You asked for beer recs. My tastes in beer are pretty prosaic. I used to live in Prague so I like pilsners and dark bocks, nothing too hoppy. I’m kind of dying to try this (I like plain old Shiner Bock and their Ruby Red variety) but it’s not available in Chicago yet.

Q6: And another trans related question: I recently realized I’m transmasculine, still not sure what I want to do yet. I’m only out to my husband and BFF and just started seeing a gender therapist.

My husband has said some things in the past about other trans people that were… shall we say… not that accepting (“how could they do that to themselves, they were so pretty before”, in that vein). When I came out to him we had a great two hour discussion, but he was asking me “what does this mean” and will I change my body, because he’s straight and not attracted to men. Which I already know. But now I’m scared to change any part of my appearance, because then he will be less attracted to me, and I’m not ready to be out to the rest of the world yet.

Any advice or scripts for how to deal with this?

A6: Hello! What big, awesome news!

It’s great that you have a therapist! You also need community where you can explore and process and play with expression and be your handsome SELF that is not about or at your husband.

Your husband also needs a resource and outlet where he can learn information and process his feelings. This is a giant resource-list for spouses of transgender folks. I don’t have a strong YAY or NAY rec for any particular resource, but you have to be able to be like “dude look it up” or “dude I can’t speak to that but maybe these folks can.” He could benefit from a safe place where it’s okay for him to freak out that his marriage is changing without you bearing the burden of those freak-outs.

You know this in your heart: Some marriages survive and adapt wonderfully to the gender transition of one of the partners and some just don’t. Those discoveries, negotiations, and tradeoffs are yours and your husband’s to make, in your own way and your own time, and no one can tell you what that all should look like. Still, I would like to gently suggest that there are many possible win conditions here, and “divorced/no longer sexually involved, but happy and deeply loving friends” is not the worst outcome in the world especially if the other option is that you suppress everything about your identity out of fear of losing someone. You don’t have to figure it all out right now.

Q7: Hey Captain! Today’s question is about past regrets and exorcising demons. Back in the 90s, when I was an undergrad student, I was stalked and ultimately assaulted by a classmate. I tried to report everything to the proper authorities at the time – but first they couldn’t do anything about the stalking because it hadn’t resulted in physical harm, and then they couldn’t do anything about the assault because no one else witnessed it and it didn’t leave any physical evidence. At the time I just wanted to get away from the stalker, so I changed my major to something else, where classes were held in a different part of campus – and that actually ended the stalking. Life has certainly had its ups and downs in the couple decades since, but I did manage to graduate with honors and parlay my education into an extremely successful career. However, to this day I regret being driven out of the STEM field I had originally chosen. I have thought about going back to finish another bachelor’s degree in my original major, but from a time and cost perspective that isn’t really practical. The bottom line is, I figured out a way to keep myself safe when others wouldn’t, and have an amazing job I love now – I’m just still rather angry that the course of my life changed because of an abuser who was never held accountable. Any ideas on how to let this go, and appreciate the wonderful life I have now?

P.S. Also! Wanted to clarify, I’ve already had lots of therapy for the (officially-diagnosed!) PTSD I developed from the stalking and assault. I’m (mostly) healed and no longer have the nightmares and panic episodes that plagued me for years. I just remain, well, pretty damn pissed off about the missed opportunities. Thanks!

A7: Can’t imagine why anyone would be pissed off after stalking and assault robbed them of their chosen field of study, resulted in years of PTSD and nightmares, and the people with power to do something about it totally failed to address it!

J/k I can imagine this perfectly

Two things you can do to channel this:

  • Explore something related to the field you used to love in a way that is fun and interesting to you now. Reclaim it. It doesn’t have to be a degree or lead to a career. Take a class at a community college, volunteer with an adjacent organization, pick up a skill as a hobby. STEM doesn’t belong to that asshole.
  • Become an advocate for people who have experienced stalking and assault. Lots of ways to do that – letters to the editor, serving on committees, shaping institutions and social spaces you move in, speaking about it, mentoring young people. You survived it, you thrived in the aftermath, you healed, now it’s time to change the world!

In the meantime, keep kicking ass and taking names.

P.S. I just read a very enjoyable book about SPACE and MATH and fighting for one’s rightful place. It gave me a lot of feelings, and if what you need is a good cry and a good read, you may enjoy it, too.

Q8: Meta-question for you — any tips for accepting (solicited) advice, when the answer isn’t what you were hoping for?

A8: You asked one specific person what they thought and they told you what they thought. You can ask follow-up questions, or for recommendations of other places to find the information. You’re not obligated to apply the advice, so, say thanks and move on.

Q9: I appear to have developed a mental block around putting together presentations…right at the time I’m job-hunting and have to put together presentations during the interview process. Halp?

I give you: a list

  1. Does it have to be a brand new presentation or can you recycle?
  2. What would your Drunk History episode be? (Mine = The Defenestrations of Prague)
  3. What if you threw a party and gave all your friends a limit of 5 minutes/25 slides to explain a topic they are super-nerdy about?
  4. I do this with documentary students who are struggling to shape a film out of tons of footage: If you had 10 images and 10 sentences to tell your story, what would they be? 4b: Export and print these out and we’ll stick them to the wall and look at them like we’re in a gallery. Hands down my favorite thing to do as a teacher and/or an editor, we always find new ways to tell the story.
  5. You can do this, you’ve done it before, you’re just procrastinating. Procrastinate a little more (maybe watch some Drunk History), then set a timer, write down everything you know about what you want to present on as fast as you can. When the timer goes off slap that shit into some slides and go!

Q10: Friend uses “If I don’t text first will they text me” to see if they are valued. Gives silent treatment until they get texts, sometimes even after to make you “text first” multiple times to “prove you care” I have SAD scared to text, very stressed, halp?

P.S. Want to clarify- I care for my friend very deeply but constantly being hooked to my phone to take care of them & make sure they feel loved if I need some time & space is stressful + they often reply in negative/rude ways even if they want texts. Having a hard time helping them.

A10: When someone gives me the silent treatment, I have exactly one response: I HOPE YOU LIKE SILENCE, MOTHERFUCKER. I grew up in New England and moved to the Midwest almost 20 years ago. Leave one brownie on the plate and I will prove Zeno’s paradox with it, try something passive-aggressive with me and (provided I notice you’re doing it in the first place) I can outwait you until the heat death of the universe. Set me up to fail the way your friend is setting you up to fail? I HOPE YOU LIKE FAILURE.

You say you like this person and you seem extraordinarily patient and kind, so, try this:

Set up a time – weekly, maybe- where you text or talk to or Skype or otherwise interact with this person in a way that works best for you. “I don’t have time to text as much as you want, but I don’t want us to lose track of each other, so let’s touch base every Tuesday night for a little while.” 

Follow through on what you said you’d do. And if you have to change the schedule for whatever reason, let them know in advance. Treat it like a sacred appointment.

At other times, live your life. If they start texting you a lot or expecting texts at other times, remind them about your Tuesday plan. Respond once: “Hey, can’t talk now, let’s catch up Tuesday.” Then don’t reply to anything else. It’s okay to turn your phone off, temporarily mute them, whatever.

The first time you set the boundary will be the hardest. They might panic and escalate things and you might have a weird argument about it. The next Tuesday, text them as usual and see if you can start over.

Over time, one of two things will happen: 1) the friendship will end because y’all are not really compatible or 2) your friend will adjust and you will both feel more relaxed and secure in knowing that you have a structure for hanging out.

P.S. There was a thread for text-based therapy and therapy-adjacent things the other day, similar to the list here. If your friend is lonely and needs a ton of real-time support, there are Non-You alternatives.

Q11: Any good tools/trix for trying to assess ur own feelings? I found Im good @ suppressing feelings, which I know is not gr8. But I don’t know @ times whether I do feel somethin but i’ve squished it, or if I just think I should feel something/someway but I don’t. I should mention that I do journal pretty regularly and that usually helps, but I struggle when I need a quick assessment and don’t have the luxury to to write it all out.

A11: Yes, there’s an app for that! You can set reminders at specific times of the day or randomly, your phone pings you, you stop for a second and choose how you’re feeling from a range of options (and colors!) and then you have an opportunity to enter words that you associate with that feeling.

As a person who regularly enacts this skit with therapists:

Therapist: So, how are you feeling right now?

Me: Well, I think that…

Therapist: I didn’t ask what you thought. How are you feeling?



Me: We’re gonna sit here until I say a feeling aren’t we

Therapist: Our sessions don’t last that long

Me: …

Therapist: ...


Therapist: Fine, tell me what you were thinking.

Me: [A firehose of words and thoughts!]

Therapist: You almost named a feeling!

Me: Neat! Which one?

Therapist: Anxiety.

Me: Ah! My old friend.

Therapist: So, next week, then?

Me: Oh, thank god. I mean, yes, next week!

The color-coded chart is way easier, and I can track moods and associated data and changes over time, like, yep, I was down in the gray-blue part of the scale for a while there but all my associations were “the news” and “creeping Fascism” so, that makes sense, right here’s where the meds kicked in, right here’s where the kicked back out again, etc. etc.

















127 thoughts on “Short Answers/Chat Today!

  1. Hi, Q5! Sorry that your parents’ move is stirring up such difficult feelings for you. I want to add to the Captain’s comment about not enlisting your children to process your experience right now.

    While I completely agree with that, I do think that situations such as this are a great time to model NAMING your feelings, and to show kids that you can feel your feelings and survive them. “I’m feeling sad because Nana and Poppy are moving,” “I really miss the old house right now,” I think are okay to say in a matter of fact way. You can also assure them (and yourself) that while you feel sad now, you won’t always feel sad. When you’re feeling better, tell them that too. “I was really missing the old house this afternoon, but right now I’m thinking about how happy I am to be in THIS great house with all of you.”

    I used to sometimes narrate my own coping process to my kids, as a way to reinforce it to myself and to model it for them. “I’m feeling sad and lazy right now. I’m going to set a timer for 10 minutes and just sit here, and THEN we’re all going to put on our jackets and go play at the park!”

    Obviously, I’m not suggesting overdoing this, but I do think you can share THAT you feel something, without making your kids responsible for fixing it.

    1. This is a great thing to model for your kids – sometimes the things other people do make you sad, even if they’re not doing anything wrong, and it’s okay to feel that sadness and not force yourself to be happy about it.

      It’s something I’ve been really practicing lately – some of my closest friends still hang out with my ex, and I’m sad about being excluded from those activities. My ex isn’t a bad person, and I still get to hang out with my friends plenty, but I also have a history of bottling things up until they’re toxic. I’ve been working on letting myself be sad about that without either blaming them for hanging out with him or feeling guilty for being sad since they’re not doing anything wrong.

      1. Same! That sounds like a really healthy and awesome modeling practice.

  2. Another recommendation for The Calculating Stars. (And Kowal’s other work as well- she’s a great writer!)

  3. Little addition to Q7 – I’m in STEM, and actually got a professor fired for ickiness, so I hear you. Totally went through the same thought-patterns you are now, so you are not alone. In addition to Captain’s advice, I’d only add: volunteer. Take what you love, and give back to the STEM community in whatever capacity that helps you alleviate some of that resentment/anger/frustration/disdain. For me, it was cleaning out enclosures at a local wildlife rehabilitation society. Somehow, shovelling animal s*it by choice helped me deal with my own emotional s*it. Good on you for wanting to get back to what you love! Also, volunteering helped me figure out what I WANTED from a career in STEM. Maybe you don’t know right now, or your tastes have changed, or the economy has changed so the job-market has shifted. Volunteering helps dip your toes in without investing in anything too long-term, plus you’ll get a taste for the community and job market. Who knows? Maybe being a guide a museum, or washing out beakers, or talking to kids about rocks, is just enough to satiate your STEM-lust. Good luck!

    1. Yes, this! I highly recommend volunteering at robotics competitions in particular– that helped me deal with drudging through my STEM major that wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. There are roles that have more or less interaction with kids of a range of ages, and there’s often a chance to learn about some cool technical stuff as well.

      1. Thanks! I was only 19 at the time, and a very young 19, and luckily (for me), it was all in email format so I had proof… I got him fired from the university. Got him fired real good. I am so sorry LW went through the “no proof – no action” style that is employed by many post secondary institutions. So grateful that is changing.

        He took something from me, a piece of innocence lost… but it DID make me work harder for my Biology degree!

      2. Seconding Emily. PROF got HIMSELF fired. You didn’t do it for him. He did it his own damn self with his harassment.

        1. If things I did helped get an asshole like that fired, I might be quite proud and enjoy thinking of it as ‘I got him fired’ :). Word the story however works for you :).

  4. Captain. Your Drunk History rendition of the Defenestrations of Prague is the Thing I Didn’t Know I Needed.

  5. Dear LW7, I felt like I wanted to write to you. I know I am just an internet stranger but you sound awesome! Kudos to you, you rock – and it sounds like you know it which is fantastic. I have not been exactly where you are but I have also had to change my field, though due to an invisible illness. I have found myself thinking many same thoughts as you. I am genetically more susceptible to this illness than most people but it was stress caused by abuse in my childhood which caused it. Just like you I am angry at the abusers whose actions took away my dream though I did find another field I vastly enjoy.

    I am planning to engage myself in some studies on the field of my dreams this autumn and I can hardly wait for the lectures to begin. The Captain gave once again excellent advice. You adapted under enormous stress and with no support whatsoever – and so did I. I am so sorry you had to go through that. Still, you have developed onderful coping mechanisms and skills and sharing them with others would probably be a big service.

    I am very happy for your career. Still, I get the aching feeling of the lost dreams and your love for your initial field. The Captain gave very good options of which you could try several: volunteering, taking a course to see how you feel about it now… I kind of wish I were there to support you and to invite you over for tea, supportive discussions and geeky passtimes.

    You are wonderful! May the STEM be with you!

    1. yeah, i had a similar but different experience. i used to be an art major when i first started college, but then i got very sick and couldn’t physically do the work anymore, so i had to switch. sometimes i still miss it and feel like my body and genetics took it away from me. i’m sorry you’ve had a similar experience, convallaria.
      op7, it’s okay to miss what you had even though you’ve managed to be successful in a different field, especially when it wasn’t you who took the option away from you. if you want to get involved with that major again, see if you can do things like interact with it in a hobby capacity, or read industry news, or take a course in a low-pressure setting. i’d make sure to have therapist support while you interact with it again, in case it ends up being a trigger for you since it was associated with such a difficult time. i hope you are well.

      1. Oh, laundryghost, I am so sorry you had to go through that. It sounds like our experiences have some similarities though I found out about the restrictions caused by my illness earlier than you. Several of my friends have gone through the same for health reasons so unfortunately we are not alone.

        Art is AMAZING. If you have enough time/energy/spoons I would love to know what kind of solutions you have ended up with.

        My field of dreams was medicine but I switched to biology. I still get to do many of the things I enjoy, like analyze illnesses (though on plants, not on humans) and spend time in a laboratory, doing research and trying different approaches. Also my daughter has had the same dream since she was a small child and she is very persistent, so we geek about medicine together.

        Recently I have began to think whether I still could try switching fields, perhaps study psychology. I get it that I am very privileged: we have a free public education of good quality and although the courses in Open University do cost a bit they are not really that expensive – and many online courses are available.

        Best of luck to you, laundryghost!

        P.S. I love your nick. I have a long and very positive history of helping my mormor, mother and aunts with laundry and I love the smell of clean bedsheets drying in sunshine.

  6. Hello Q5! This (or something similar) happened to me. My parents broke the news to me gently because they knew I’d be upset, but after that, I felt like they just up and left. It’s been 10 years now and I still feel a little bereft, frankly. BUT one thing that’s helped is to try to figure out a few things that really were home to me–a sound or a piece of furniture, or something else (like the fact that our bookcase was right near the kitchen so I could read while my parents cooked), and see if you can replicate it?

  7. Q2: I think you may have fallen into the trap of thinking you need to say more than you actually do. If someone asks how you are doing, you can just say “It’s a difficult time, but I am mostly fine day to day, thank you for asking.” or “I’m still grieving but I’m getting through the days, thanks.” or “I’m just taking it one day at a time; today I am doing okay, thank you.” Those are enough. You don’t need to explain anything more. And if someone asks how you are doing while implying or stating that you must miss your dearest, most beloved parent very deeply, you can respond with what seems like agreement but isn’t: “It’s certainly a difficult time; I appreciate your sympathy.” or “It’s rough but I am making it through.” Almost nobody will think this is weird at all; if anyone does, and pushes, just say “it’s hard for me to talk about; thank you for understanding.”

    Grief conversations tend to be awkward on both sides, and everyone expects that, so don’t feel like you have to find exactly the right thing to say.

    1. Q2, After you’ve gone through whatever platitudes or scripts suit you, if/when people won’t let it go gracefully, I think it’s okay to get angry and let people know it’s not okay for them to keep pushing you to perform grief or sadness for their benefit. It’s ofetn accidental, but it’s stil rude and selfish and obnoxious. You can tell people, “Knock it off!”

      I had one really weird incident with a friend who wanted to comfort me so badly, friend kept pushing me to break down and cry – but this was the week before my Mum’s funeral, which I was arranging (only child, and my Dad was also grieving), so I what I needed was to keep it together because I needed to Get Things Done. As the conversation got weirder and felt more and more manipulative-to-emotionally-abusive (my feelings; I know that was not my friend’s intent), in the end I just snapped “Stop!” at my friend, abruptly ended the conversation – “I can’t deal with this right now!” – and hung up. (Friend called back a couple of days later and apologised.)

      And you’re allowed to do that! You can get angry or upset ot whatever, you can shut a conversation down, hang up on or walk away from people!

  8. Regarding Q5 – My grandparents’ house was in our family across 4 generations for over 55 years, until it was burned down (long story). That house meant a lot to me and to my family. I spent a lot of my childhood in a play area set up for us in the cellar and could probably navigate the entire thing with my eyes closed. So, I ended up commissioning an artist to make a drawing of it for my Yiayia (Papou passed away before it happened) and made it digitally available to anyone else in the family who wanted it. I have a framed copy hanging in my house.

    Might be a nice way for you to remember the home without having to get into the relationships within it.

  9. Dear Captain:

    Drunk History on the Defenestrations of what now? Pls to either small explain or find link.

    What I would do for Drunk History. Um…Stares blankly, sifting and processing

    Continues staring, rejecting ideas left and right for being too weird

    Probably the establishment of the Church of England and/or Queenships of Mary and Elizabeth I, as taught to me by a history teacher who told us it was all like a soap opera and then went on to prove it.

    1. I don’t know whether my Drunk History has been done, but Caligula’s “invasion” of Britain, as portrayed by Robert Graves in “I, Claudius,” is ludicrous and certainly worthy of a D.H. treatment.

        1. Every time I’ve visited this site, I’ve been impressed by how tolerant the commenters are in respecting people’s feelings, triggers, and boundaries… only to now see posters describing historical events in which multiple people were killed as “cool”.

          1. I can’t argue with your feelings, but I personally enjoy learning about parts of history that I didn’t know about before, even if the events themselves were very serious, and I might sometimes get geeked enough to say “cool” when a thing is not cool when you know more about it.

          2. Sorry, That wasn’t “cool” as in those people died and that’s nifty but “cool” as in this was a piece of history I did not know about thank you for telling me. But I will try to be more conscientious in the future.

          3. It was the 17th century. Those people would be dead by now even if those events hadn’t happened.

          4. So the event itself wasn’t necessarily “cool”, but the gaining of knowledge certainly is!

          5. We clearly have to find another word because there are definetely different kinds of “cool”. I am also a huge history and anthropology geek. My dear friend just moved to curate a sacrificial burial site in Germany and she described a pretty horrible series of human offerings performed in Stone Age. What did I say? “Cool!”

  10. Q4, if you find yourself in need of new family members, I for one would be happy to call you my internet cousin or nephew or whatever. Only if you’re down for that, of course.

  11. Q2: I’ve been there too, and the Captain is spot on about who you choose to share your grief with and how much you want to share. Jedi hugs if you want them.

  12. Hi QW11! I’m a therapist and this is my jam:). I love the app idea and here’s another suggestion in case it works for you: feelings live in the body and can show up as thoughts in the mind. Sometimes when it’s hard to know what a feeling is, we tend to try and think about it (as the cap demonstrated), which is not the primary home of the feeling, so can be confusing at times.

    You could try taking a breath, closing your eyes, and dropping down (almost literally, like an elevator is taking your attention down from your head into your body) and feel into it: is your heartbeat elevated? places of tension or spaciousness in the body? heaviness or lightness in the heart? do things feel congested or flowing, fast or slow, tingly, hot or cool? any images come up (“there’s a fist in my lower back/fire in my solar plexus”)? is it hard to even connect with your body, like you don’t want to go there, or easy? give yourself a moment to really connect with physical sensation without trying to analyze, just like saying “hi” to your body. If a certain place draws your attention, let it deepen there. Sometime the feeling will just reveal itself then, like “oh, heavy heart, sadness”. For some folks it’s a longer process, if you haven’t had support from caregivers to develop this ability, of developing your own relationship with your body/feeling map (“rapid heartbeat, racing mind, shoulders tight – oh, right, last time this was anxiety”). You might notice which feelings are easy for you to recognize, and which are less familiar. It can be absolutely fascinating (like noticing how similar excitement and anxiety can feel in the body, which relates to a A LOT of what the captain writes here), and you can learn your own cues and giveaways (e.g. folks who have a hard time recognizing or validating their own anger, but learn to notice when their jaw is clenched).

    This is something you can see parents doing with kids- helping them translate their somatic and emotional experience into feeling words, which connects those wires. We can do this for ourselves, too! It might help to speak to yourself in that kind, patient way a parent might speak to a child- “ok love, you’re feeling kinda tired and your body is heavy and your mind is looping – are you just exhausted honey? a little depressed today maybe?” and see what clicks. It can take some time but the wires do connect, and it does become (in my experience) one of the most direct and reliable access points for “quick assessment”. You are very much not alone in this process! The body isn’t as good at “squishing” feelings as the mind can sometimes be, so I hope this can be another source of feeling information for you:).

    [Caveat: if there’s a lot of unprocessed PTSD in the body it can be overwhelming/unsafe and contraindicated to drop into the body this way without support – if it feels this way for you, don’t do it.]

    1. I’m curious how one would “drop into the body”…how would you explain to to a client, ir coach them on doing it?

      1. It’s a little easier in person, where I could track a client’s responses, but basically it’s mindfulness of the body (so any mindfulness meditation instructions can guide the way). For example: let your body find a comfortable pose. If it feels right, allow the eyes to close, or rest the gaze softly down. We’re not trying to change anything or achieve anything (i.e. not trying to calm the breath or focus the mind), so invite in and include all your experience just as it is – just summoning the ability to witness the process while it’s unfolding. Let yourself feel the simple physical sensations – breath rising and falling, places of pressure where back/bottom meets couch or feet touch floor. Notice texture, temperature, breeze on the skin. Just tune in to the simple, actual feeling of physical sensations from inside. Some people need to stay here for a while if this practice is new; if it’s easy, keep deepening into more subtle felt sensations like the ones I listed above (tension/ease, energy moving in the body, tingling, heaviness/lightness, etc). Mindfulness will often naturally deepen and refine as you stay with this. Does that help?

  13. LW1, I’m in a similar situation at the moment: husband and I in the process of buying a house, which we could afford anyway, but parents helping us out in a way that will make it financially easier on us long-term. I live somewhere where housing is expensive, rent is expensive, and we are SO SO lucky to be in this position.

    And yet. Trying to buy a house is stressful and full of uncertainty and I need support. So I share with my friends in a group when there is any concrete news, and respond to any questions if they ask, but specific questions/venting/excitement I share only with those who have been there themselves or expressed a particular interest. To me that seems like the right balance of ‘what’s happening in my life’ versus ‘let me tell you all the details about this thing that you can’t do’. YMMV.

    1. Also, it’s nice that you don’t want to hurt your friends’ feelings, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell them about your life. Just don’t go around bragging about how easy it was for you to buy your house or complaining about how DIFFICULT is is to have enough money to buy a house, and you should be fine. As someone who is the friend in an analogous situation (difficulties getting/staying pregnant, friends who have recently become pregnant unexpectedly), my reaction to them is only “amazing news, I’m so happy for you!” or “how do you feel about this, do you want to talk about your options?”) If I have any feelings about myself as a result, I share them with my husband, not that friend. Your friends want to know the good things in your life and celebrate them with you. And if they don’t, that’s a different problem.

      1. “Your friends want to know the good things in your life and celebrate them with you.”

        Absolutely worth remembering!

  14. Q5: Have you checked out the books by Scottie and Marcy Madden? Their journey within marriage during a transition is really beautiful and honest. Not to say it should be a script for your relationship, at all. But you are not alone.

  15. In keeping with the trans-related theme of the day, a small question, or maybe not so small, I don’t know:

    My about to be eighth-grader recently came out to me and zir dad as non-binary. Zir school is…really not likely to deal with this well if informed of it. I have promised to assist zir with researching options for high school, if that involves us moving apartments next year to a friendlier district or involves whatever friendly and affirming private school ze can get into and we can find a way to afford or involves setting up a homeschooling high school and eventual local community college and doing that thing of high school equivalency by college credits we’ll do it.

    Meanwhile for this year? We are…where we are, dealing with a school where “she” is well-liked as long as the presentation stays on the right side of “quirky kinda-tomboyish girl” and where if the private high school route is the one we go, references from those teachers will be needed. Ze knows all this and is (grudgingly) sort of okay with it, but I know a year is a fucking long time when you’re 13. I want to be as supportive as I can but I don’t want to be THAT Proud Parent who goes totally overboard about it either – I’m bi, and when I came out one parent handled it very badly and the other went the Embarrassingly Supportive route.

    Zir name has a gender-neutral short form that ze now insists on using in all situations where a full legal name is not required, and ze may wish to make that form zir legal name at some point. We’ve been over “don’t use ace bandages as a binder, if that is an issue TELL ME and I will get you a real binder!” and discussed what menstrual hygiene options will make zir feel least dysphoric, things like that, and I have pointed zir to Scarleteen for “whatever sex and gender stuff you don’t want to ask your mom about but don’t want fake news about either” which ze appreciated.

    I guess that I don’t know what I don’t know, so anyone who’s been where I am or where my kid is and can help with the dos and don’ts of this?

    1. I am both a genderqueer adult and someone who works with trans teens, and I think you’re totally on the right track.

      The one thing I would caution you about it making your child’s choices for zir or overly pushing a “safe” /closeted choice, which is the biggest way I see ‘want to be supportive’ parents fuck up their queer kids. 13 is old enough to make your own choices–and accept there are consequences for those choices.

      So when it comes to things like “how out do I be in this unsupportive school” I think the best thing you can do (which is sounds like you are? or are close?) is make the different choices clear to your child AND their consequences–and let zir know ze can make either choice. Eg stay closeted, walk the line, get out in a better position in a valid choice BUT so is come out, knowing you’ll likely be harassed, lose a rec letter, and your school will be shit about it. I think the parental drive to protect your kids is a good one, but anyone who works with teenagers can point to when it starts to be a problem, and with gender-non-confirming kids that risks are higher than “some fights and missed curfews”, as I’m sure you know. The emotional pain of not being able to live her authentic truth can get a whole like worse than the physical bullshit–but kids are different! Some can more easily deal with one over the other.

      Also–this depends where you live, but are you hooked into any local support resources for trans kids? Do you have medical professionals who get it in zir corner? (does ze want puberty blockers? if ze needs contraceptives in a few years is there a doc ze can talk tot hat won’t misgender zir?)

      1. I took ze to zir first trans/gender non-conforming youth meet up at our relatively local pride center today! Basically this morning I said “this is a thing, do you wanna go?” and ze said “YES THANK YOU” so we did the thing.

        We’ve talked about puberty blockers. Ze does NOT want at this time, as ze is the smallest kid in zir class and very much a “late bloomer” puberty-wise already. Ze said “if I change my mind I’ll let you know.” Mostly what ze wants right now is opportunity to spend time in safe and affirming spaces, a more gender-neutral wardrobe, the unisex variant of zir first name used unless it legally cannot be, and for us as zir family to know and respect that this is who ze is and that ze has thought it through.

        Honestly as far as pushing “safe” choices, zir dad is much more vocal about that than I am. Ze was, for a few years prior to coming out, talking a lot about wanting to be a foreign exchange student in a country that would NOT be friendly or safe, and zir dad pretty much did a frantic panic “NO YOU CANNOT TRAVEL THERE OMG” at zir after ze came out. Zir dad also approached me after ze came out to him with “OMG WE NEED TO GET ZIR A THERAPIST BECAUSE TRANS KIDS AND SUICIDE RATES OH NOOOOOO.”

        Me: *facepalm* “Husband, please tell me you did not say that TO our child, because YOU NEED A THERAPIST in response to coming out would’ve really come off wrong, though I understand the worry.” Thankfully, he didn’t, but ack.

        Also re: school, another factor is ze is not my only child, zir little sister goes to the same middle school, and ze is trying to not make it weird for little sister. I think ze would have a much bigger case of the Fuck Its otherwise, tbh. (Little sister knows and is supportive. I’ve also had to give ze the talk of “you’re not a girl and that’s awesome FOR YOU, but I heard you be rude to little sister about liking super girly-girl stuff and that is Not Allowed, got it?”)

        1. Yeah, you all sound like you’ve got this in hand! I think finding the line between “good parent instincts” and “AH PANIC!” is the toughest part of parenting teenagers. Your spouse has some good-sounding instincts (“that country isn’t safe for queer folks!” “it is hard to be a trans teen, and trained professionals could help zir!”), the key is translating that to ‘information teen can navigate their own choices about, with support’ not ‘very natural panic response’. Y’all got this. ❤

          (Also–those suicide rates/mental health issue rates for trans kids? Fall to normative levels for kids with affirming parents/families who socially transition young. Y'all got this.) (That said, I'm glad y'all are plugged into professional community support.)

    2. Hi Anonymom, transmasc binary person here who came out as trans to everyone (partly by accident) in high school (and it went fine, so I can’t speak to that, unfortunately). I am so so glad to hear that your kid has at least one parent (sounds like two parents?) who is/are so accepting and thoughtful about this; as I’m sure you know, that makes such a difference. In my personal opinion, being chill and accepting is the most important thing you can do, and everything else is way secondary.

      One small thing that popped into my head since you asked for further advice, though: It might be helpful to find a way facilitate zir getting zir own binder if zir chooses, without having to involve you. It might be different for zir than it was for me because my parents took a long time to get on the train (and because we are different people etc), but I know that I personally would rather have been swallowed by the earth than discussed binder options with my parents or relied on them in any way for that. Ditto for other “private area” considerations (packer, different underwear, etc). Also +1 million for Scarleteen!

      Also, just in case your teen may (now or in the future) be considering any kind of hormonal/surgical intervention (including blockers), I’d recommend finding a way to get more comfortable with that possibility in advance if at all possible, and inform yourself about it or become informed by a medical professional you trust who knows about trans care. (Emphasis on knowing about trans care.) I know for my parents, that was the hardest, hardest thing, and talking to professionals who were behind the times just made things worse. Of course, as you know, that may not be a part of your kid’s journey in any way! But it might help their discernment process, and definitely your relationship, if you’re able to talk about it without shutting down. (Kudos if you’re already there. That must be hard.)

      1. Good thought re: more “private” clothing. At this point ze says “sports bras are fine and I know I can layer them if I want”. The hardest thing so far has been swimsuits; we would have a lot more options if ze was just a little bit bigger but sometimes adult xs in unisex stuff is still just a touch too big but there is just enough “need something that makes nipples not show” going on that a kids’ rash guard top doesn’t look right, so it’s been trying to find in the girls section tankinis that do not emphasize the chest at all and are not feminine-colored (FYI, ZeroXposur is the one brand that seems to reliably do that, if anyone else has a kid with similar needs; sometimes Lands End works but they got too bright aqua and pink and purple this year, sigh).

        I have a local friend who has a trans son who just finished high school, so that’s someone I can talk to about who to see and who to avoid re: medical stuff. My kid doesn’t want medical right now but ze acknowledges that may change in the future.

        1. I don’t know if Decathlon does business where you are, but check them out if they do. Awesome unisex-y swimsuit tops you can buy separately, as well as sports bras.

          Maybe some short-sleeved full body surfing swimwear would work? I’ve found that, the more sport-oriented the swimsuit (surfing, competitive swimming, diving), the less body-emphasizing it is: the focus is not on how it looks on you but on allowing you to move well in the water.

        2. Piping up as yet another transmac NB person here. When I want to keep the nipples from popping out but still want to breathe easily, I use TransTape, which is skin-toned kinesiology tape meant specifically for transmasculine and nonbinary people. (It can also be used for binding but I find it to be a bit of a hassle). The excellent Cliff Pervocracy (an occasional guest poster here) recently suggested silicone nipple pads for the same purpose.

    3. For binders, if ze ever wants one, get thee to ShapeShifters ( it’s an explicitly nb-affirming place, they have lots of fabrics and cuts, and they’re much softer on your skin than Underworks. If you go with Underworks or another shop selling prêt-à-porter binders, make sure to get a size that fits zir. A bit loose is better than too tight.

      If I were zir, I’d wait to be done growing* before starting to wear a binder for extended periods of time, to avoid the risk of permanently deforming my ribcage and losing pulmonar capacity, getting back aches, etc. In the meantime, layering, weaves and doubled sport bras are a godsent.

      For the coming out at school thing: please take care not to project your fears onto zir. It’s ok to tell your child about the risks of coming out, but if ze decides to do it and references be damned, let zir. Ze knows what ze needs and, if ze doesn’t, that’s still zir decision to make, right or wrong.

      * Everyone is different, but I started at 19 with an Underworks full-lenght binder, when my ribs were as solid as they were ever gonna get. If ze wants to bind, ze should make sure to buy a new binder when ze outgrows the old one, ’cause being able to breathe in the thing is kinda important.

    4. Oh, man. I feel for your kid. It’s criminal that a (presumably) public school can get away with being nonsupportive of their students’ gender identity. From the educational options side of things, not all private schools require letters of recommendation from past teachers–the school I work for certainly doesn’t. As long as you’re exploring, you might look into self-directed education. For the homeschooling route, “College without High School” by Blake Boles is a great resource for expanding your possibilities. There are also a variety of school-like entities that provide support for self-directed learners: Sudbury schools, Agile Learning Centers, and Liberated Learners Centers, among others. Most are likely to be very supportive of nonbinary people, and also give students the tools to change the school if it’s not supportive.

      1. These are good options, but also, the kid might want the whole school experience. Ze should not have to become a hermit because of this. I fear that public schools are taking a big step backward due to the current political background and it might take us ten years to catch back up to where we were two years ago.

    5. Does ze have any non-school-attached activities, sports, hobbies, classes, volunteer work, etc? If not, could that be a thing? Even if ze wants to go through with sticking out the coming year in zir current school as a ‘tomboy’, it might be a big relief to have an outlet where ze can regularly interact with peers as zir true identity and gender.

  16. Q8, if you find this is happening repeatedly/on a regular basis, a couple of possibilities: 1. You’re asking the wrong person/people for advice. 2. You’re asking for advice when what you want is validation.

    It could also be that you want someone you’re close to to be on the same wavelength with you about the thing, and they’re not, and that can suck. Getting to a point where you can live with that sucking is doable, and maybe you grieve that they’re not the person you talk to about Thing for a while but you can still be close to them in other ways.

  17. Q1: In the early 80s, in Silicon Valley, when house prices were going through the stratosphere hourly, my now late husband would drag me to look at every single new construction that came down the pike. I tried to be a good sport

    1: I was in my early 20s and hadn’t found my voice yet and 2: at first it was a cool way to spend a Saturday that cost nothing other than affordable at the time gas money. We used to do complimentary wine tastings (there were tons of wineries) and the flea markets for the same reason —we were generally tapped out financially.

    After a while though it became all too depressing. We didn’t have enough money for a down payment (I mean who in their 20s has 30-50K just hanging out? Not many of us!), and despite getting all kinds of financial help themselves over the years, including down payment money (gifts not loans) there was no way my parents would have given us a dime because they were plain stingy. His parents were dead so no money coming that way either.

    Even if by some miraculous intervention from any deity that we didn’t believe in we were able to get a mortgage, the payments (interest was super high) wold have been more than both of us made in a month together. A house was just not going to happen.

    Long story short (Ha! Too late!) I eventually found a way to say “no more” because it was just too much to keep looking at something that I was never, ever going to get. It was like constantly having a box of chocolate waved in my face without the box waiver allowing a single piece.

    Sooo… LW’s friends who can’t, for whatever reason, by a house, and who might love the opportunity could likewise feel that this is their metaphorical box of Godiva and not really appreciate it, regardless of how thoughtfully/gently/tactfully the LW approaches the whole “I’m house hunting” aspect.

    All of that said though, I would treat buying a house as just a “we bought a house.” Casual and matter of fact. *If* anyone asks questions, LW can always say “my parents gave/lend us the down payment.” If they get pissy…ignore them. Jealousy is not a good look…it’s best kept hidden.

  18. Hi Q2! Every death is different, every person left is differen. I do not know one person, myself included, who has not been distressed by expectations or words of some other people.

    Because I felt I might be grireving ‘wrong’, I talked to a therapist about specific instances – such as that I only cried when I was walking my dog. It was helpful to hear that my reactions are within the huge range of normal reactions.

    Everyone who talks with me about my relative’s death knows I am grieving. I think they mean well. I can limit my responses without offence. For example, when my aunt said she would pray for my dead relative, we both understood that she was saying “I care about you both”. “Thank you” was enough. Often, people I did not know well offered condolences in public, which I think means “OMG I don’t know what to say!” I would respond “I can’t talk about it”, which we both knew meant “bereaved person needs to be left alone.”

    With people who knew me, I would be as honest as I wanted. Early on, when asked how I was I surprised myself by laughing and saying “I’m a complete mess!” Some people who asked if they could do anything got specific replies – “I need to get out more but it’s hard to leave the house. Would you come over and we get food?”

    This is my experience. Yours are different. We have this in common: neither of us have to explain ourselves to anyone, stay where we are uncomfortable, or follow anyone’s guidelines about how to grieve. Nor do we have to carefully avoid saying or doing things that other people might find odd. We get to set our own boundaries.

    What we do need to do is take care of ourselves. It can be hard. Ya gotta eat. Sleeping is good. Showering is a nice idea. Getting dressed is a pleasant option, and if you make it outside it’s a great day! Try to avoid self-destructive thoughts. If you have to give someone else your knives, do it. Give yourself credit for anything you accomplish! I went to the dentist last week and was OK! Soemeone said something to me and I didn’t punch them!

    I’m sorry this is so long, and may be irrelevant – I mean well but am probably projecting my issues onto you!

  19. ‘Leave one brownie on the plate and I will prove Zeno’s paradox with it, try something passive-aggressive with me and (provided I notice you’re doing it in the first place) I can outwait you until the heat death of the universe.’

    Thank you for explaining my Bostonian-ness, Captain. Add a hefty sprinkling of cusswords and that’s me wrapped in a beautiful, swear-y bow.

    1. As a midwesterner, I am really pretty offended by the Captain’s brownie comment. I understand that East Coasters see us as passive-aggressive, but these cultural behaviors (*particularly* the leave-the-last-piece thing) come out of a cultural history of POVERTY.

      I can’t imagine you are interested in poverty-shaming.

      Seven left means what you made tasted bad. none left means you didn’t make enough.

      Picture yourself as a dirt-poor subsistence farmer. You don’t actually *have* enough food to make as much food as your guests would like and then feed your own children later. Your guests hold back so as not to shame your poverty and starve your children.

      This is also why you don’t just ask a host for something to drink, but wait until they offer. They (would have in the era of my grandparents) literally give you their last glass of milk even if that means they don’t have any for their children later.

      1. Fellow midwesterner (who now lives in Boston) speaking. The “leave the last piece” habit may come from farming communities but is now just as frequently used by snobby middle- to upper-middle class folks to police a certain classed and raced flavor of “good manners.” And there’s plenty of poverty in the northeast (hit especially hard by the opioid crisis).

      2. My husband was born in Kansas and he WILL NOT EVER eat the last of anything. Our fridge is full of jars with one olive or a teaspoon of mustard. His grandparents grew up poor but were middle class by the time the parents on both sides were born. These habits persist for generations after the poverty is no more, so is it really poverty shaming, three generations later?

        1. I’m not sure if it’s still poverty shaming, but it is still classist at the very least.

          When people talk about the cultural differences between “old money” and “new money,” in a way that puts down “new money,” for example, I think we all know that the subtext of the insult is, “well, your parents were poor, so you’re still not *really* important, you don’t *really* belong here.”

          As a person who is now safely working class / lower middle class (40th percentile, I Googled it) and makes around the same-ish amount as my roommates, there are cultural and habitual differences between us because some of us grew up in serious, sometimes-homeless poverty and some of us had upper middle class or even wealthy parents. I’ve become increasingly aware of how fraught and frustrating this all is. While I don’t think it’s insulting in and of itself, I do think it’s important for liberal communities to be just as aware and careful when it comes to classism as we are wrt other kinds of prejudice. To me, if we’re going to err on the safe side and not use the words “crazy” or “stupid” because they can indirectly insult and stigmatize mentally ill and cognitively disabled people (which is fair!) we should have the same awareness of ideas and phrases that ignorantly / unintentionally stigmatize the cultural markers of poverty and being working class and avoid those as well.

          A lot of guess culture (which I call offer culture, since when it works well that’s what happens) comes from not wanting to embarrass someone by asking them for something they want to give you, because they care about you, but just can’t because they’re poor (or disabled, which is often related).

          In a well functioning offer culture, a problem is stated and people offer solutions and help that is within their abilities and resource. Sometimes nobody has the needful resources and that’s painful. And, obviously, an offer culture can become dysfunctional in different ways than an ask culture. But neither type of culture is immune to dysfunction.


      3. I got it from the south rather than the midwest, but I have the leave-the-last-piece thing pretty hard (to the point of having gone to bed hungry and some pretty bad anxiety around visiting people who use different hospitality norms), so I’ve sat with this some, and I have both a lot of respect for the conditions under which this culture arose, and a strong need to deprogram it in myself. Sometimes that means self-deprecation and laughing-with other carriers. It’s been a few generations since this arose, and its cultural function and the ways we can and should interact with it have changed in the meantime.

        I’ll ask you to consider also that we’re not talking about shaming people for being poor, we’re talking about a legacy of people choosing to go hungry rather than admit their poverty, and the awful pressures that compelled that choice. We’re talking about a social system where inability to make subsistence in a cruel economic system was treated as a personal failing that impacted on the worth and dignity of the human being, rather than a symptom of the brokenness of the system (or as a failing of those in a position to help that don’t). So when you’re dealing with a person that has internalized that worth metric and those hospitality norms, it can be kind to participate, and it would be really shitty to shame the actual subsistence farmer in your narrative, but I don’t think the cultural history as such obligates us to all that much deference.

      4. That’s an interesting response. I was saying that I personally, as a Bostonian, identify with the tendency to respond passive-agressively to passive-aggression (assuming, like the Captain said, that I even register what you’re up to) and was not saying that Midwesterners are more passive-aggressive than I am. I also read the Captain as saying that both her New England roots and her Midwestern present contributed to those behaviours. I didn’t think either of us was saying that as New Englanders, Midwesterners seem passive-aggressive; I thought both of use were speaking for ourselves and recognising those traits within ourselves, while also acknowledging that there may be geographical culture influencing us in those ways.

        As for the not taking the last bit of food, the source in my family is similar in that it came with my grandparents from their countries of origin, both of which were extremely poor but also had deeply ingrained cultures of hospitality. But it was also well-established behaviour in Boston high society going back many generations, and as buttons noted, it’s often now simple manners-policing. It cuts both ways – not that either is good, but it does make it harder to know which side a person is approaching it from.

        And as Clorinda noted, while these traditions may be rooted in poverty, I reckon there’s a point at which they just become how a person/ family operates. Taking my grandparents as an example, both couples raised their families in Boston and while they weren’t exactly rolling around Scrooge McDuck-like in piles of cash, they were considerably more financially stable than they or their families back home had ever been – and yet, this behaviour continued. And my parents learned it from my grandparents, and I learned it from my parents, and so those traditions persist in me and I am forever offering things *to* people while never taking anything *from* people because That’s Just What You Do. Real necessity to social necessity to standard operating procedure: it’s an interesting progression.

      5. This is one possible motivation for not eating the last slice out of a collective dish while in someone’s home, but it’s not the only cultural motivation by a long, long shot. Where I am (The South) it is most closely about:

        1) Demonstrating that you are not ravenous or greedy (which probably is the thing that maps most closely to “look, I’m not poor, I’m literally leaving resources on the table)
        2) Demonstrating that you respect the needs of others/the group above your own desires

        And then the gendering of demonstrating that you control your desires and hunger and are willing to turn this self-control to the good of the group.

        OKAY SO. Then you combine that with the fact that in the South at least this does not usually actually come up inside someone’s house; inside someone’s house, they have the prerogative to split up the brownies, assign one to you, and hand it to you on a plate. (The politics of refusing that pastry are then completely different). This comes up in 3rd locations: church dinners, committee potlucks, the dreaded work meal. Part of the angst that is produced by the brownie is that there may not be a clear host/ess. A hostess could call it! The person who made the cake can act as cake hostess even in a third location by peering inside the cake pan and saying “Would you all split this last one with me so that I don’t have to take it home?”. But if there’s no clear ownership of the cake, then claiming the right to supervise its dispensation is claiming hostess status, which, stick with me, subtly disrupts the balance of power. In the right kind of war-of-social-cues, eating the last slice instead of refusing it might be accepting the dominance of someone else over committee potlucks. The brownie is not just a brownie. The brownie is a white flag of defeat. You are gonna eat that and later you are not gonna get to pick the flowers for homecoming service because Lydia Ann is going to think she runs everything.

        1. [screams in horror; walks into the sea]

          Of course, now I live in Australia, where the dominant cultural rules about food are, in my experience, much more straightforward: eat what you like in whatever quantities you like, just keep your knife in your right hand at all times because loose cutlery on the table makes your friends nervous. But god help you if you need the finer rules of ‘shouting’ drinks explained to you. It is a snake pit of financial status, complex social signalling and bean-counting, with the added complication of there being a lot of people who really do just want everyone to be able to have a good time and are trying to look out for their friends as best they can BUT YOU’RE NOT ALWAYS SURE WHO THOSE PEOPLE ARE. All this in a country that’s supposed to be friendly, easy-going and entirely ‘no worries’ about anything up to and including waking up to a massive goanna on the side of your house (and if you don’t believe me on the last one, Google ‘goanna climbing house’ and read what house’s inhabitant had to say about it). You put Lydia Ann’s coup de cake against a Sydney pub on any given Friday and she wouldn’t even rate… but it’s a social experiment I would give my left boob to watch.

          1. Aussie here – if you’re not using your knife to eat, the best place to put it is on your plate until you want to use it again. Free your right hand! (But yes, definitely not on the table itself.)
            (Also some people have different rules, but the standard rule is “knife being held or on the plate”.)

            Shouting drinks… oy. It’s a minefield.

        2. I must confess that as a non-US citizen I did not get the brownie comment at all but all your analyzes have shed a lot of light on different forms poverty had left to our customs and behaviour.

          Now I am just left wondering if not taking the last piece of what is offered is much older and based on the social rules of all the ethnic groups which have influenced The US today.

          My own roots are happily all over Scandinavia (1/4 Norwegian, 1/2 Swedish, approximately 1/4 Finnish and some Japanese heritage) so I mostly identify as Scandinavian – and in here we also share this cultural norm; it is considered very rude not to follow it for example among the inhabitants of Western Finland, The Swedish Finnish and many areas in Sweden. Especially in Western Finland it is considered a kind of loss to accept the last piece of something. I have always considered this a part of the culture of hospitality which also includes offering to pay for restaurant bills and negotiating for hours who gets to pay (my aunt’s lawyer husband always laughed at it when my mother and her siblings spent hours trying to decline payments offered to them). In an earlier conversation in here a person from Iraq also commented that this kind of behaviour is common in their area though I am not sure if it also includes declining the last piece of food. Nowadays, though, especially in the urban areas here in Scandinavia trying to reduce the amount of vaste has affected this behaviour.

          The Christian church has been dominant here from Middle Ages and keeping books of population has been its responsibility which it took very seriously. Thus I know that several members of my family have moved to United States and Canada beginning from the 17th century. They usually settled to Iowa and Ontario area as far as I know.

          I am not a historian but I have always been very interested in history and anthropology. I must do more research on this subject but I have a vague recollection of the not taking the last piece being mentioned in old Scandinavian writings. In the Sagas someone usually disobeyd a law or a cultural norm which threatened someone’s honor and a bloodbath ensued. We are not like that anymore, luckily.

          I do not mean that this cultural norm would be only restricted to Scandinavia, far from it; It is probably quite wide spread and people probably give it different cultural meanings. For me it has always been something that my mormor taught so I have never even thought of why.

          Honor was very important for Vikings as I would suppose to many other cultures as well, so I agree with the other commenters here: it is probably a compromise between a pretty strict culture which demands giving hospitality and not wanting to be or seem greedy.

          Sorry, this is pretty much OT. I am just very interested in cultures and behaviour.

        3. I come from a Southern-inflected part of the Midwestern U.S., and that is exactly how this dance operates there. My experience with this behavior has always been that not taking the last piece of something is about demonstrating that you aren’t greedy. It’s closely related to ideas about performing self-denial, and making sure you aren’t perceived as thinking your own frivolous pleasures are more important than everyone else’s. It’s still related to class, certainly, but it’s rarely about preserving resources for someone whose offering may result in a painful shortage for them. It’s usually more about performing social class by way of demonstrating that you are too “well-bred” to just give in to your desire for more cake.

          It’s also frequently couched within dieting and/or body-shaming language, wherein there is a magical, unspecified exact right amount of food to eat at the gathering. Eat more than that and you are judged to have excessive appetite and/or a lack of self-control, eat less than that and people will hypothesize about whether you are ill. When someone breaks the ice and DOES take the last piece of cake, this is typically executed with an off-hand remark along the lines of either “to hell with dieting!” or “I’ll go back on my diet tomorrow!” or with a deliberate devil-may-care attitude. Sometimes a participant will embrace the appearance of rebellion and announce, “Well, FINE, if no one else has the guts to take that last piece of cake, I WILL!” HOWEVER, this, in itself, is all part of the established ritual that the speaker has just claimed to disown, since drawing attention to the ritual and then positioning onself as the courageous, iconoclastic rebel is one of the few acceptable methods of securing the last piece of cake.

          And oh! Mortals beware the dread event with NO CLEAR HOSTESS and NO CLEAR LINE OF CAKE OWNERSHIP! These be dangerous waters.

        4. Holy shit- I will never look at the last piece of cake the same. I had no idea there were rules about the last brownie or slice of pizza.

          1. I have heard of it from a couple of friends from Uzbekistan. They said it was an Uzbekistan thing though!

          2. I had no idea about the rules of cake until reading this thread. I think I’m happy I’m autistic. I’ve been going along blissfully finishing cakes for years, probably messing up social hierarchies along the way. Actually, I’m kind of amused.

      6. Since you asked, I pictured myself as dirt poor farmer saying “Sorry, I don’t have enough food to feed 10 people at a party. Community that cares enough about me to be aware of my poverty, please help me?”. Also, “I need this milk for my kids so I cannot give it to you.” Poor farmers can say no, too. I won’t cave to the past’s shame spirals.

        I WILL eat the last normal sized portion of something because when I host things, I hate having to pull out the tupperware for three fucking olives or Zeno’s sliver of quiche. The alternatives are nagging guests to take a plate home or picking at the dishes as I clean, adding calories to my diet that I don’t want. Also, having a tiny bit of something left over can be seen as a passive aggressive “you didn’t make enough”. How big of a portion needs to be left before people stop feeling bad about the food they made?

  20. Q2, I feel this hard. Several years ago, my estranged biological was diagnosed with cancer literally six months after I had decided I was never going to talk to him again or refuse to have him in my life because he was that difficult. I put my own feelings aside and was there for him as much as I could be while he died (we lived far apart) and I saw him before he died. I felt like I had said goodbye to him long before his death, but I was not prepared for the grieving that followed.

    I later realized that I wasn’t grieving the loss of him, but the loss of the relationship we never had and would never have been able to have because he was incapable of having it. This was a man who left me and my mother when I was a child and only waltzed into my life when he felt like it, who never said he loved me (and I certainly didn’t feel love for him), and we never connected on a single thing. The things I found out about his marriage with my mother as I got older … well, it meant that I could never respect him or have been able to connect with him. He was, in my eye, a horrible man that I had a really difficult time dealing with the fact that we were related. (I’m fine now. I obviously take after my mother.)

    To make matters weirder, he also decided to get married 3 days before he died to a woman he had a mostly online relationship with, and since she was now his wife, she took over all the decisions for the memorial. Which, I suppose, was her right, but I wasn’t allowed to take a single picture of him for myself. Our relationship was difficult, but I still wanted something and I didn’t even get that. His brother did what he could to make things easier for me and my sister, but ultimately I decided I couldn’t attend the memorial service – being in town while he was dying was hard enough, as he had visitors who kept telling me about what a great person he was (which is really difficult to hear when you have never experienced evidence of it) was hard enough and I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle an entire service of that without breaking down or yelling at everyone.

    Then, my sister announced to everyone on Facebook that our father had just died. People cope in their own ways, and I suppose this was her way of letting people know what was going on (she was more willing to forgive him and they had a somewhat closer relationship but she also refused to go to the memorial service), but we had a lot of mutual friends on facebook because we were both attending the same college. She was friends with a lot of people that I wasn’t, but they still knew me because I worked at the campus library. All of a sudden, students and faculty were telling me that they were sorry for my loss and I felt shellshocked that they knew when I hadn’t told them, and there wasn’t a single place on earth that felt emotionally safe to me. I was incredibly furious with my sister, and I dreaded going to school. Even saying “thank you, but we weren’t close” didn’t work with everyone because with some people that just made them curious and others were “well but he was still your family.” To anyone who doesn’t have any estranged family members: That is an incredibly tactless thing to say, please don’t.

    I got through it all with my friends who understood/knew the situation and the love of my mom and stepdad…and writing a lot of angry journal entries where I ranted about him and about my sister, and how unfair everything felt. And then I just said to people “Thank you, I’m doing okay” because that’s all they were trying to do – check in with me, because they cared and they were (probably) worried that not saying something was rude/unfeeling.

    When my mom married my stepfather, we converted to Judaism. The Jewish mourning practice was something I found very helpful. Most people might be familiar with the practicing of ‘sitting shiva’ which is a seven day mourning practice, but there is also “sheloshim” which lasts the first 30 days after the burial and “shneim asar chodesh” which lasts for a full year and is traditional for immediate family/children. During this time, there are restrictions on attending festivities/parties …the way it was explained to me was that the restrictions were there so the children wouldn’t feel obligated to accept invitations while they were still emotionally distraught, and that this process is there so that mourners don’t feel obligated to jump back into the habits of the living when they still feel closely connected to grief. I wasn’t grieving my biological father, but I was grieving the lack of relationship, I was grieving the love we never had for each other, I was definitely grieving that I had all these questions that would never get answers…and for a long time, that’s what I did. I grieved and I allowed myself to do so and feel the complicated, murky feelings until I didn’t feel them so heavily anymore. I took time out from socializing and let myself be alone so I could process everything, and it made a huge difference. With no one there to constantly ask me how I was, I was actually able to focus on how I felt than reassure them I was okay …I was able to feel, rather than think and try to articulate my feelings for someone else.

    Which is a long way of saying that my suggestion is to simply tell people that you’re doing fine (if that’s what you feel like saying), but you’re taking time to process things. That you don’t have the words to describe what you’re going through, but it’s good to see them and you’re grateful for their kind words. If they express concern for how you are handling it, you can mention that “well, you know things are what they are right now, but I’m getting through this. I have a great support system, thank you.” and just leave it at that. The people who matter know what is going on with you, and the only thing that will make it easier is time. People may want to see you jump back into ‘the land of the living’ and with lots of energy and good cheer, to reassure themselves that you are okay, but you are not obligated to provide that to them.

  21. As the proud auntie of a beautiful trans young lady, I’d like to say that you may find extended family is not quite as terrible as your parents. The first I knew of my niece’s gender identity was when her momma sent out a prayer request text to all her brothers and sisters to pray for her “son”, and my reaction was, “let me guess, X is going through something perfectly natural and reasonable and my sister is having a cow over nothing.” I contacted X directly and said though I didn’t know what their mom was on about, I supported them whatever was going on and I’m sorry that they have to deal with having a crazy mom. Other aunties might not be quite so aware of what’s going on, but if you have a “cool” aunt or uncle, you might give them a shout out.

    1. Yup, sometimes one’s parents suck (at least on certain topics), but aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. can be a literal life-saver. I have several really awesome aunts and uncles, and I try to be the “cool aunt” to my niblings and the “cool cousin” to my cousins (most of whom are younger than I).

      That being said, could you please not refer to your niece’s mother’s behavior as “crazy,” since there are a lot of mentally ill people out there who are not-cis and/or not-straight or who are cis and/or straight but not assholes to their family members (or friends, acquaintances, schoolmates, coworkers, or random strangers) about their orientation and/or gender identity? Thanks.

    2. I’m glad you’re able to be there for your niece. You say you’ve contacted X but would it be worth contacting X’s mum about this if you haven’t already? Also perhaps a Google search for ‘trans-positive resources in [your family’s denomination]’ might come up with something you could pass on as well to the mum. (Apologies if I’m wrong in assuming Christianity but they tend to be the ones who go in for shared prayer requests.) I’ve recently started looking into LGBT Christian resources and there’s far more than I could ever have imagined when I was younger. Well worth a try.

      I’m not trans but I am bisexual which I suppressed from a young age due to growing up in an evangelical church. It was very damaging for me to absorb from my surroundings that I was inherently sinful because of who I am, and I can only imagine how much harder it could be for a young trans girl, especially as she is being raised by parents who react to the knowledge that their child may be trans as if it is an illness to be ‘healed’ through prayer.

      Once again, I’m glad you are there for X.

  22. Q9: Sometimes making a presentation is hard because of making it, and sometimes it’s hard because the future prospect of giving it is unpleasant. If it’s the latter, a friend of mine recently started doing PowerPoint Karaoke at scientific conferences — you pull a name out of a hat and give a presentation right then based on that person’s slides, which you have never seen before. It’s ridiculous and funny and often involves drinking.

    It can also be useful as a jumping-off point for making presentations in an area where some creativity might be expected, because wall-of-text slides with predictable transitions are no fun for the game. Throwing in something unexpected and interest-grabbing is a lot more entertaining.

    Making a presentation about something you’re very interested in can also be a good starting point. Like, a PowerPoint on the defenestrations of Prague might have a title slide, followed by a slide defining defenestration. The next one might point out that there have been multiple important defenestrations in Prague, and note that not all of them have been fatal, etc.

    You can work backward from that to come up with a generic template with filler text. Slide 1: “Title goes here.” Slide 2: “Essential definition(s).” Slide 3: “Context and general clarification.” I know you already know how to make a presentation, but sometimes it can be easier to actually write the damn thing if there’s a pre-existing framework.

    Best of luck!

  23. Q4 – I think you need to give your folks more time to process this change. It’s only been 2 weeks for them. It doesn’t matter that you told them last year that you were questioning your gender. They might have thought it was a phase. You will have to allow them time to adjust. And your mother is allowed to grieve the loss of the child she thought she had. That’s her feeling. I can’t believe you told them this major change in an frigging email. Go visit, talk to them, explain why you have made this change. Answer questions. Good luck.

    1. NO.

      1. Telling people big news like this in a letter or email gives them time and space to process the news. It also protects the person coming out from the possibility of in the moment or violence. People get to come out in a way that is maximally safe for themselves.

      2. Parents are allowed to have feelings about big changes in their children’s lives but NOT to treat their children unkindly.

      3. There are a lot of resources in the world where parents of transgender kids can find information and support:,,

      Finding those links took me less than 5 minutes on Google. The questioner here is their CHILD not their Transipedia. They can do some educating of themselves. They, as parents, can ask themselves “how do I be loving to my transgender child right now?”

      Their child does not have to comfort them about being who he is. He doesn’t have to audition to still be their child.

      I agree that more time is probably needed to fully process everything and find a new normal in these family relationships, but the questioner did not do anything wrong in the way he came out.

      Future comments from you will have to pass through moderation. Also, LOL at “Being Direct” as your username.

      1. Responding to ‘my parent has explicitly said they will NEVER acknowledge my gender/use my correct name/pronouns’ with ‘you just need to be paaaaaaatient with them’ is one of my All Time Least Favourite Micro-Aggressions Against Trans People.

        When somebody has said ‘I am not going to try and do X thing’….what exactly do you think patience is going to achieve? Why would they decide of their own accord to actually make an effort, when ‘patience’ is teaching them that their refusal to do so has zero consequences to their relationship with their child?

      2. This question and this thread made me start thinking about the circle theory. I first heard it in the context of grief and sickness and similar painful things, but this conversation is making me think about how it applies much more generally to intense personal experiences whether good or bad.

        The birth of a new baby, a marriage, a big life transition like coming out as gay or trans, etc.

        The basic premise still holds. Who is at the centre? Support people further in, get support from people further out

        1. This is what I told my family when I came out to them, although not specifically citing circle theory. You can kvetch about how hard this is on you…to Literally Anyone In The Whole Wide World Who Is Not Me. Your friends, a therapist, a support group for parents of LGBTQ people, the wide open sky, I DON’T CARE. JUST NOT ME.

    2. The Captain and Elder Grantaire handed the rest, but as for the mourning: NO CHILD WAS LOST. THEIR SON IS RIGHT FUCKING THERE, ALIVE.

      Of course parents need time to process coming outs, and if they need to get to grips with the fact that the life they imagined for their child turned out to be inaccurate, they’re more than welcome to. But. Their child is still there and still needs them. Comfort in, dump out: they need to process their feelings with people not their child, and keep showing him love and support.

    3. So, Being Direct, you think that the appropriate response to “Mom, I’m trans” is “but what about meeeeeee?”

      Of course parents have feelings. And they should find someone appropriate to help them process those feeling. That person is not their child.


      Adding nuance: As I mentioned above in response to a different question, I actually DO think that, in a healthy and loving relationship, a parent can NAME their feelings and DISCUSS their process with their child. In an appropriate manner. That’s different from making the child responsible for managing the parent’s feelings.

      1. I actually think this situation is different than the one you mentioned above. Key point: the subject making the parent feel something is their own child, who they are talking to. Given that the child needs support right now and the parent should be supportive, whoever is helping the parent process their (doubtful or negative) feelings should not be their child.

        Because “this is making me feel X right now” is very close to “YOU are making me feel X right now” and OP doesn’t need anything that sounds like an accusation.
        This is not about OP making the wrong decision and having to be confronted about how he is hurting others, but about OP generously sharing his truth with his parents and needing to hear that things are okay.

        1. Yes and no, and it depends on the relationship. In some relationships, if the parent is having trouble but chooses to present nothing but a rosy front to the child, that also can be distancing and alienating. It’s hard to have real intimacy when you’re hiding an important thing about yourself. Like, “I love you and support you but I’m having feelings of my own.”

          If the bottom line truth is that the parent loves the child unconditionally and wants what’s best for the child, and that’s what they say and also how they act, then I think there is room for “this is going to take me some time,” or “I’m having trouble with some of this right now but I know I will work it through” or “you’ve had a long time to figure this out, please remember that it’s very new to me.”

          I also think that in both comments I was clear that there’s a difference between saying THAT you are feeling something, and enlisting the other person to manage your feelings. In fact, with my adult children I try to be explicit. “I am feeling this way right now, I’m working on it, and it’s not your job to fix this for me.”

          On the other hand, if the relationship is already distant and strained, then yes, I think the parent should plaster a smile on their face and keep their feelings to themself.

    4. Ahahahaha fuck no.
      When I came out to my mom, her comment was “I hope you’ll find a nice girl!”. When I came out to my grandma, her comment was “I hope it’s just a phase.” Bigots gonna bigot. It’s not on trans folk to spoon feed and soothe bigots. Especially not if those bigots are their parents.

      1. +1 million

        Surprise is fine, support is good, anxiety is probably normal especially if your parents are already anxiety prone.

        But if a response to coming out is anger or despair or grief or denial, it shows that the person believes that being LGBT is somehow tragic or unjust. That belief is a prejudiced belief; a person who isn’t open to challenging their prejudices and changing them is a bigot.

    5. Yeah… I’m gonna disagree on the email bit. It’s actually nice because they can have their hissy fit and retreat to the fainting couch, and then respond gracefully after having their smelling salts or whatever.

      That being said, while I’m not quite on the “give them time” bandwagon, I’d go on the “there is hope” bus. If the Dad is ‘liking’ pics of LW – especially pics of him while male-presenting, I’d call that a decent sign that Dad’s trying to be supportive. As for Mom, well, she’s being a bitch. She might stop being a bitch later, but she’s being one now.

    6. If a parent has such rigid expectations for their child that they view the child deviating from that plan as somehow on the same level as that child DYING (as the loss of their child, as something to mourn deeply), then that is fully on the parent. Deviating from our parents’ plans for us is a normal and healthy part of growing up into our own individual selves. That’s just as true when the deviation-from-parents’-plan is about gender as it is when it’s about career choice or where to live.

      If a parent wants to be ridiculous about it, fine, we can’t stop them–but it’s definitely not up to their child to indulge (or even tolerate!) their ridiculous behavior.

    7. Oh wow. I’m glad there’s been so many supportive comments demonstrating the power of the written word by explaining how very wrong you are, “Being Direct”.

      “They might have thought it was a phase”, are you for real? I’m 31. I *did* visit my mom. A year ago. I explained what I was feeling – in person – to my mom. A year ago. I gave her books and links and the number to a trans-competent therapist. IN. PERSON. A. YEAR. AGO. We’ve had a couple of follow-up conversations about me exploring my gender identity and that I’m on a waitlist at a local gender clinic. In. Person. Over.The.Course.Of.The.Entire.Year.

      The style of delivery is irrelevant when the recipient does not want to hear the message.

      Bearing that in mind, please receive this in whatever shape or form is easiest to digest for you, be it letters, morse code, bird song, smoke signal or what have you: Go fuck yourself.

      For the rest of the lovely commentariat I have a hopeful update. My mom texted me today and used my new name and we’ve been doing some small-talk about vacations and sending some summer pictures. I’m hopeful that we can make this work.

      1. “The style of delivery is irrelevant when the recipient does not want to hear the message.”

        Nailed it.

        I’m glad things are seeming more hopeful.

      2. Yay! I’m so glad to hear that your mom seems to be moving in the right direction.

    8. That’s funny, because when I told my parents about my transition, I did it in person… and they complained that I’d shown up and sprung it on them out of nowhere, and then also complained that I hadn’t told them sooner (because I’d spent months saving up the money to visit).

      Like Q4, I had previously told my parents I was questioning my gender. And yeah, maybe they did think it was a phase. That’s still their own damn fault for not listening/being in denial about something they didn’t want to be true.

      And balls to this idea that parents need time to “grieve” because this is just so damn difficult for them. You know what’s difficult? Being trans. I’ve been told point-blank by my family that my transition is harder on them than it is on me. I’m still here. I’m still their child. And quite honestly, it would be great if they could find it in themselves to muster some emotional support while I’m doing one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, instead of ignoring me and wallowing in their own indignation.

    9. I came out to my mom in person, after driving 6 hours to visit for s long weekend. I then endured hours of abuse, denial of my existence, and accusations of betraying my gender. Not to mention the parts where she told me it was going to screw up my daughter. Somewhere in there she decided to trash my father who had been dead for 8 years and tell me that it was his fault I had anorexia and that had nothing at all to do with living in a body that didn’t feel like mine. So she literally would have preferred a dead daughter (cause I was going to end up starving myself to death if I didn’t transition) to a live son. About 5 months later she returned the birthday present I sent her, telling me I didn’t exist. I haven’t had any contact since, and it’s quite frankly a relief. I think sending an email might have been the better way to go, honestly. Please try listening to some trans people to understand what we experience before deciding to judge perfectly reasonable actions.

  24. Jennifer, I agree with much of what you said, especially this: ” Parents are allowed to have feelings about big changes in their children’s lives but NOT to treat their children unkindly.” i also want to add that parents are allowed to disagree with their children, but NOT to stop loving them unconditionally. I am not transgender, but have some empathy for those that identify as trans because I’m on the spectrum and know how it feels to be rejected and not loved for who you are. And Being Direct, I don’t think the questioner’s mother really lost her child at all. No matter the gender identity, or what he/she/they does or says, the child is still the parent’s child, and still should be valued no matter what .

  25. For Q9 (and anyone else who has ever struggled with creating presentations), I so strongly recommend checking out Dr. Echo Rivera: She’s also on twitter: @echoechoR. She has lots of free training and materials, and she has a professional development course called Blast Off to Stellar Slides (which I’ve completed, and highly recommend). Her background is community psychology and domestic violence, and she is just super awesome and inclusive.

  26. the “someone” who gave the great twitter threat you linked to, Captain Awkward (huge Fan!) is Naomi Alderman, author of The Power and Disobedience (currently a great LGBT drama, please see) and personal hero of mine. Yay! Thanks for linking to her!

  27. Q2. Loss and grief are different for everyone. Unfortunately, some people don’t realise that/or don’t know what to say, so they fall on the tried and tested responses. Don’t be afraid to tell people how you are really feeling, those that care about you will support you in the ways that you need them to and those that don’t, you can kick to the kerb.

  28. OP 2. My very abusive father died 9 years ago and when I heard I thought “Good and I’m glad”. That shocked me very little and it was hard to pretend like I was so sad that he was gone and I echo others having trouble with all the people telling me what a “good man” he was. That was his normal person persona, not the monster I saw at night for so many years. However, my grief was as others have written very complicated bc I mourned not having a normal, happy father-daughter relationship. I was forced by my brother to put my hand in his ashes to spread them in white water and I will NEVER be that person to anyone who had a complicated relationship with a dead person! Grieve as you need to.

    1. Q2 hits home for me for similar reasons to yours – my mother has dementia. Its progression reached the point of “she’s not there anymore” years ago. And I have done very little recognizable grieving.

      I can point to one afternoon in which it hit me hard. She used to love to say that pelicans were “proof that God has a sense of humor,” and she’d count them on long drives across the lake. That afternoon, on that drive, every time she saw any bird at all, she’d simply said “there’s another one!” and giggle. She could no longer distinguish between pelican, cormorant, seagull or sparrow. “There’s another one!” It hit me hard that the woman who loved pelicans was gone.

      But mostly, I’ve grieved the adult relationship we should have had, that I wanted us to have, that now we would never have. I kept thinking, sort of, “I’m all grown-up now, can’t we be friends now? No? How about now? Am I grown-up enough now?” But she kept talking down to me, kept talking over me, kept dismissing my thoughts and opinions and experiences same way she did when I was a teenager, kept saying racist/bigoted things, saying cruel things (and, when called on it, saying in a smug voice, “That’s right, don’t you remember? I’m mean”). Relaxing into the bigotry she never let herself perform when me and my brother were children, and then laughing at me for being shocked (which of course I was! I didn’t see it in her growing up! She was careful not to display it or pass it on to me! Why shouldn’t it come as a shock that she likes to tell n-word jokes? She was the one who, when she caught me repeating one when I was eight, told me we don’t say that word, not ever!)

      But realizing that now we never will have that relationship has come as a relief. For all intents and purposes, she’s gone. I no longer need to keep trying to “earn” the adult friendship I wanted to have with her. I will no longer be baited into banging my head against that brick wall. It’s too late now. It’s over. The part of me that kept asking “Am I grown-up enough now?” can finally rest.

      And, more importantly, the person who said all those mean, cruel, awful, hurtful things? Sometimes out of nowhere in the middle of a conversation that was up to that moment going well? She’s gone. Those conversations will never happen again. Realizing that is like taking a deep breath and straightening up a little after the hundred-pound weight finally slipped off my back forever.

      So I’m not performing grieving in the expected, accepted way, and sometimes it makes things awkward. I expect that when she dies there will be even more awkwardness, because I’m not going to suddenly be sad for the funeral… but then Mom’s not the first person in her family who suffered dementia in their final years, and everyone on her side of the family knows that feeling of “we actually said goodbye years ago; it’s actually a relief to stop having to support the body, does that make us horrible people? I hope not?” so maybe it won’t be as awkward as all that.

      My main role in her illness is to be there for my dad, who has taken care of all the logistics and absolutely is grieving and needs all the support. It’s not like he was a saint to me growing up, any more than I can write mom off as abusive–they both had their fantastic moments and they both had their cruel moments–but he and I do have that adult friendship relationship I’d hoped for but never really got with Mom, and I do feel close to him, and I can see that he’s hurting, even though he’s not good at showing he’s hurting (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he copes with hurting by not showing that he’s hurting, that’s how he keeps it together). It’s complex. It’s a very managed friendship, but it is a friendship, one that has been growing over the years. And I can’t imagine what it’s like to watch the person you married turn into someone else, someone childlike but without a child’s capability of learning, someone who has forgotten all the joys and all the tragedies you experienced together over so many years.

      So when people say to me “I’m so sorry” about Mom’s dementia, I’ll generally say, “Thanks. It’s harder on Dad than it is on me,” and leave it at that. If it’s someone who’s in Dad’s circles, they tend to accept that as what a dutiful daughter would say. If it’s someone I’m close to who isn’t close to Dad, I might feel safe adding some part of the above, about why I’m not personally grieving, and they’ll understand.

  29. Q8

    So, because anxiety and upbringing and a whole load of other reasons, I often find that in the moment I can be more concerned with a conversation going smoothly, or with seeming like I know what I’m talking about or that I have my shit together than I am with the actual issue at hand. In conversations involving advice, this can lead to me feeling like I have to make snap decisions about it, and if the advice isn’t what I was hoping for/expecting, this can lead to automatic rejection because it seems oppositional to what I already know or believe. And because the most important thing is the flow of conversation, then before I know it I’ve martialled reasons against the advice and talked myself out of it before I’ve even properly considered its value. I’ve made some pretty bad decisions about important things because of this habit.

    Of course sometimes the advice will just be bad, or contrary to your values and that sort can be dismissed fairly quickly. But maybe the ‘thanks, I’ll think about it’ script isn’t just good for politely fobbing off your advisor, but could also be helpful for you (us! – I need to do this too) if we actually follow through and do the thinking.

    I know the push against other people’s interference is important and ‘you do you’ is an empowering message, but sometimes hearing advice we don’t want can be important too, and giving yourself some time outside of the performance that is conversation to properly weigh that up (is it their bad take, or yours? do they have insight from a different perspective or different information that might be useful?), rather than just having a knee jerk reaction in the moment, will benefit you (even if you ultimately decide that on proper reflection you don’t agree).

  30. Ohhh Q7, I feel you so hard! I second volunteering as a good way to channel suppressed talents.


    I got sexually assaulted by one of my STEM tutors in my second year. I took it all the way through university and police reporting systems, but couldn’t get anywhere with ‘he said, she said’ evidence. On top of that, some of his academic friends started trying to get me barred from future jobs, and I developed a gigantic dose of ‘nope’ and mental health issues. I took a year out, then struggled to the end of my STEM degree. I cried with absolute sheer relief when I found out that I’d got a good enough result to ‘pass’ and that I would never, ever have to explain to anyone why I had gotten a bad result, and would never ever have to go back.

    I did a job in something completely different for 3 years, and was good at it, but then I started volunteering with a local public engagement community. Met some awesome people who were really supportive, made some good contacts, got inspired, and in a few months I’m going back for a Master’s degree in my STEM field, and another crack at the dream.

    I’m straight up terrified that this place is also going to be riddled with assholes, or that I’m going to fail because it sets off some mental health issues associated with the assault and aftermath, but the difference is that now I feel old enough to handle any assholes, I am kind to myself, and I am lit by a fire of righteous anger that no-one is ever going to put out.

    1. I read your story. You’re brave and you rock, I wanted to wish you the best of luck with your future studies. Fuck the haters.

    2. Good for you! That is awesome, and I am glad you met great people.
      I work in STEM and volunteers are awesome, or just people with an actual interest.
      For example, I hold a Lepidoptera journal club every two weeks were we discuss new research and we have multiple non (official) scientist join in.
      It is a great way to learn from each other and it forces the scientist to get out of their little bubble. You don’t need formal education to know a lot or to contribute meaning fully.
      Good luck!

  31. Q10: Your friend sounds awfully insecure in your friendship (and maybe in their relationships in general, if this is something they do with other people as well). Ideally they would tell you this outright and you would work together to find things that you can comfortably do that make them feel more supported/secure.

    But it sounds like they either don’t know that conversation can happen, or don’t feel able/willing to kick it off. Instead, they’re trying to trick/pressure you into meeting a specific, rather arbitrary standard of ‘this is what love is’ that they’ve chosen. It happens to be one that you can’t comfortably meet, and one that isn’t indicative of how you feel towards them. This is unfortunate, both because it pressures you to do something that you’re not up for doing, and because I bet they continue to feel insecure and bad on a regular basis.

    Since your friend isn’t doing it for whatever reason, maybe you can start the discussion about how to show love in your friendship. This could look like: “Friend, I hear you on wanting me to initiate texting more often, but I’m actually really uncomfortable with texting (like, as a mode of communication, with anyone–this isn’t about you). That’s not something I will realistically be doing regularly–and more importantly, it isn’t a good measure of how I feel about you or our friendship. Feeling like I have to do it is bad for me, because it just makes me uncomfortable and anxious and generally bad-feeling. I’m assuming you don’t want me to feel like that any more than I want you to feel neglected or unloved, so let’s brainstorm some possible alternative ways of showing affection so we can both get our needs met.”

    Hopefully your friend is receptive to the discussion and you guys come up with some viable methods!

  32. Q8: Try only asking for advice from people whose judgement you trust so much that you’d seriously consider their advice even if it sounds awful at first. If you get the answer you wanted, great…and if you don’t, you know it’s worth seriously considering their perspective. It doesn’t mean you have to take it–you never HAVE to take advice, you can always say “Thanks, I’ll think about that” and then decide not to do it. But it’s a lot more productive than asking advice from people that you’ll only listen to if they say what you want to hear; if you don’t trust their wisdom enough to listen and consider it regardless of what they say, then don’t waste their time asking for their advice.

  33. Q7: I recently watched (on Netflix) “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about campus sexual assault (HUGE content warnings here) and I recommend it to you, if you think you can deal with it, very specifically because it deals with a group of young women who, in 2013, started the movement that led to the national conversation on campus sexual assault, mass Title IX lawsuits against colleges and universities, and a Department of Justice investigation. These same women later founded this organization: I recommend the documentary and reaching out to EROC, because they may be able to offer you tools to do … something which will help you get over your rightful feelings of resentment and betrayal. Maybe you have a legitimate lawsuit on your hands–or maybe not. Maybe you can become an advocate for someone else going through what you went through. Maybe you can, with help and support, simply express your experience and feelings to the institutions that failed you. Maybe you’ll even get an apology (although no breath holding.) You never know what these folks will recommend, but they’ve been doing this for the past five years, and it’s a new era. Good luck to you!

  34. Hi Q8! When a very good friend was helping me through a difficult time, often his advice wasn’t quite what I needed or how I wanted to deal with xyz. But I felt like every piece of advice was still useful. It felt like I was trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without the lid of the box and he was helpfully handing me pieces that might fit. Most of ’em didn’t, but every one gave me a better idea of what the piece I was really looking for looked like, even if only that it looked not at all like that one. A bit like making a decision by tossing a coin and going with which way you wish it’d fallen.
    Looking at it that way might help you appreciate the caring that (I hope) went into the advice while being totally OK with doing something completely different.

  35. For Q5: Hugs if you’d like them, and also a song:

    Hearing ‘[too] sentimental’ made me cringe. Betcha you’ve gotten plenty of its cousin ‘too sensitive’ too. Fuck all of that noise. You feel what you feel.

    In addition to the house itself (and I’m right there with you on how a place can be more than a place, it can be all the memories that have seeped into it over the years), you’re also in a similar boat to Q2: mourning the parents that you wish you’d had, the ones who would have been there for you and made you feel loved and accepted.

    Of course the move itself isn’t ‘at you’, but there weren’t already a pattern of crappy behavior, you’d be able to feel safe in expressing how much you were going to miss them, and know that they’d work with you to find ways to stay in touch.

    You know you’re probably not going to get that, and it’s hard and sad.

    The only concrete suggestion I can offer is to try seeking out new places and activities with your kids. If something resonates, make it a tradition. I know having special places and/or rituals in life are important to me, and if you feel the same, this might be a good time to establish some.

    1. Another great song, specifically saying goodbye to the house she grew up in – Amanda Palmer, Dear Old House

      I don’t have any better words to add than what the Captain shared, but love and healing to you.

  36. For q2 My mother died 2 years ago we were not close, the relationship was strained and there were some definite past issues and while we weren’t close I found I still felt sad. For me My grief was more about what might have been, what I hoped our relationship would have “hopefully eventually evolved to be” more so than the actual loss of the relationship/person who had passed. I do think it is possible to sometimes love someone you wouldn’t necessarily like if they weren’t a relative. (equally fine to not love relatives at all as well) I didn’t particularly like my Mom, I did not dislike her either but, we would not have been friends outside of the context of us being related however I did love her.
    It can be hard to explain your grief to people who don’t have experience with not feeling the way they “should” about the people in their family. The good new is you don’t have to explain it you can just say thank you for your thoughts, the casserole, etc and just continue with the grief you feel in a way that suits you best

    1. You can keep cutting something in half indefinitely. The level of passive aggressiveness comes in when you’re down to splitting carbon atoms lol.

      1. I didn’t think about that! I got stuck on the if one rice makes no sound when it falls but 1000 do then 1000 nothings make something. And trying to make that into something that works with a brownie. Although I will just take the entire brownie. I figure if you didn’t want someone to eat it you wouldn’t put it out and who wants half a brownie?

      2. Oooh… I kept thinking of the form where you can never get from point a to point b because each time you have to cross half the distance. I.e., that she was saying people would go so slowly they never reached the brownie or something. It didn’t really make sense though :).

  37. Captain Awkward – I’ve never commented before and may never again, but your post on July 19th was one of the most amazing things I’ve read on the internet. Thank you.

  38. Hello Q7 You may want to try joining professional organizations. For example, there are several engineering groups that have monthly meetings with a lecture + dinner. Sometimes you have to be a member to attend, but all that requires is the membership fee (usually about $30 /year). There are always conference planning committees looking for volunteers, which may get you free admittance to professional conferences in your area of interest.

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