#1293: “I’m worried my family’s anger about me being a trans man will overshadow my sister’s wedding.”

Hi Captain!

My sister (she, 26) got engaged a few weeks ago to her best friend (yay!!!!!!!!!!) and asked me (he, also 26) to serve as her Man of Honor. I am beyond excited for her and the groom and am so thrilled to take part in her special day. However, I’m worried my family’s anger about me being a trans man will overshadow her celebration.

Some backstory: my sister and I are incredibly close but it took a while for us to get here. She’s adopted and experienced difficulties I was fortunate not to have. Since we’re the same age, our emotionally abusive parents always compared us and espoused subtle white savior narratives. For the past 10+ years, I’ve been doing work on myself to be a better sibling. We’re now in a great place and support each other with family bullshit.

Last year, I came out as a trans man. My sister is the absolute best ally. However, my mom blew her top and staged a week-long “gender intervention” while I was visiting my aunts, uncles, and grandmother. It was…. A LOT but I got through it with the help of friends, my amazing fiancé, and mental health professionals. The ordeal was also difficult on my sister because my mom would say things like “Aren’t you happy you’re the good/favorite daughter now?” Both parents and the extended family vent to her about me despite me asking them not to.

Flash forward to now: My mom saw a gift from my sister asking me to be her Man of Honor with my chosen name on it and had a lot of crapinions at my sister, who almost disinvited her from the wedding. Captain, this wedding isn’t until October 2021! My family doesn’t know I’m on T, am legally changing my name, and am having top surgery within the year, Our childhood church in a conservative state (where she’s getting married) is very homophobic. What scripts do you have for me to diffuse situations so my life doesn’t overshadow her wedding? I offered to present as a woman but my sister declined. I’m considering writing a letter to my family (for disability reasons, phone is a poor medium and I live 2,000 miles away) but I don’t know if it would make this an even bigger deal. I greatly appreciate your amazing blog and all your help!!!

-Trans Twin

Hi Love!

Rae here, with a guest post. Thanks for your question. This is a tough situation and one, unfortunately, that I have heard come up many times in my work as a gender therapist and coach.

Captain Awkward has a fantastic (and very thorough) post about a similar situation with lots of great advice and scripts that you can check out here:
https://captainawkward.com/2017/07/02/987-coming-out-as-trans-to-family-at-or-before-a-family-wedding/

In addition to echoing all of Captain Awkward’s advice in the post above, here are a few more points and ideas to consider.

First, your sister sounds amazing! What an incredible gift to have a sibling who really and truly has your back, sees you for who you are, and accepts you. As an adopted child myself with an emotionally abusive parent, I get how rough that can be. However, your parent’s shitty behavior towards her is not on you. You are doing all you can by doing your own work to show up as the best sibling you can be. You don’t have to make up for your parent’s mistakes and it doesn’t seem like she expects you to. In fact, you two seem like you are a united front against behavior that crosses your boundaries and it’s great to have someone who really “gets” what your parents are like to commiserate with.

From everything you’ve said in your letter, it sounds like your sister would be happy to work with you to figure out how you can make the wedding be the best possible experience for both of you and I want to lean into that. She is the Bride, after all, and everyone knows that people will go to great lengths to make the Bride happy.

I’m curious why it feels like your needs would be a burden to her. She has already demonstrated that she has your back by naming you as her Man of Honor and setting boundaries with your mother. I imagine if the roles were reversed, you wouldn’t think twice about wholeheartedly supporting her and making your wedding as comfortable as possible for her.

I know that you fear that you will ruin her wedding because of your family’s reactions to your trans-ness and that you want your sister’s wedding to go off smoothly and for her to really enjoy her special day. I want that for her too. Here’s the truth: If your family or anyone else at this wedding has told themselves a story that you “ruined” the wedding simply by showing up as yourself, then it is just that: a story they are telling themselves. You are not responsible for other people’s reactions to your identity and any actions they may take as a result. If your presence ruins their experience of the wedding, makes them angry, or drama happens because someone says something hateful or discriminatory, that is on them, not you. You are literally just existing.

I want to name that going back to your familial church in a homophobic state can be a triggering thing for many folks. Religious trauma is real and damaging and simply being back in that environment might kick up some things for you. Be gentle with yourself.

Minimizing the likelihood and impact on you of any potential hatefulness is absolutely the goal. And I imagine your sister would agree that you deserve to have a good day as well and wants you to be able to celebrate with her without worry.

Captain Awkward makes some great points for thinking through if you want to send a letter to some family members before the wedding and what you might want to say in the linked article above. If it feels like it would take some pressure off of you to let some family members know beforehand so that you don’t have to see their first reaction, then go for it! Remember that you are allowed to set boundaries in the letter for how you’d like them to respond and what sorts of questions/responses are and aren’t ok. If I were in your shoes, I’d also enlist your fiancé to read any responses before you do so they can weed out anything that would only harm you before you have to see it.

I hear you on there likely being physical changes that are very noticeable to family members and the fact that you are going by a new name and pronouns might be a sticking point for some folks. If it were me, before going to the wedding, I’d make some decisions about boundaries. Are you willing to be called by the wrong name and pronouns by some people or do you want to correct people? Would you like your partner, sister, friend, etc. to correct people? What sorts of questions are you willing to answer and which ones are you not? What sort of comments and behavior are you willing to put up with?

If someone crosses a boundary, how do you want to handle it? Do you want to speak up, walk away, take a break and talk to a friend?

There are no right answers here. Sometimes keeping yourself emotionally safe by not getting into a verbal altercation is the most authentic thing we can do, even if it’s painful in other ways. And at other times, our mental health demands that we speak up, even if it’s uncomfortable. Ultimately, you have to decide what is best for you.

Here are a few other things to consider to make this the best experience possible.

  • Build your army before you fight the war. Meaning, get your support system on lock and on call before the event.
    • Ask for your sister’s support. Bride powers are **real!** Take advantage of them. The linked article above has some great scripts for asking your sister to contact a few key friends or family members to loop them in on the situation and ask them to use your correct name and pronouns and perhaps whisk you away for a drink or a quick walk before great Aunt Gertrude gets too far into her line of questioning. Know who these people are and maybe have a code word or signal ready when you need an escape route.
    • Bring a date if possible. You mentioned a fiancé, so I’m making an assumption that they are going with you to the wedding. If so, have a chat before about if and how you’d like them to step in. If not, ask your sister if you can have a plus one who can run interference. See the linked article for more tips on this.
    • Put your friends on call. Let them know you might be calling or texting them.
    • Schedule a therapy session as soon after the wedding as possible to process the experience.
  • Gamify it. Make a personalized Bingo board of all the shitty things that could happen at the wedding and mark them if they do. Figure out what treats you get if you make a Bingo. Loop your fiancé and friends into it. Sometimes all we can do is laugh at how ridiculous people are being.
  • Bookend it. Make sure that your tank is full and you’re feeling good before the wedding by front-loading things that fill you up and make you feel seen and connected to people who love you. Set up friend dates, pleasurable things, and things that make you feel like yourself for right after the wedding to refill your tank.

On a broader note, I’m curious if the thought of “My trans identity is a burden to others” is a thought that comes up for you in other situations as well. I’m wondering if a part of you believes that you are responsible for other people feeling discomfort simply because you are existing as your most authentic self. And that it is your job to make yourself smaller and more digestible to make others more comfortable. If so, I’m going to call bullshit on that. Like Captain Awkward said in the previous article, you and your identity are not a burden.

Discomfort is not harm. Let me say that again. Discomfort. Is. Not. Harm. In fact, I don’t know any needed social revolution that didn’t make people uncomfortable. Expanding our view of gender beyond the binary and beyond what we were assigned at birth challenges folk’s fundamental views about the world. And that’s a good thing. That’s how progress is made.

PS-I think you’re magic. Don’t forget it.

Rae McDaniel, MEd, LCPC, CST (They/Them) is a Gender and Certified Sex Therapist who works with folks feeling anxious and lost about a transition they’re experiencing in sex, gender, sexual identity, or relationships. Find them at www.practicalaudacity.com and 
www.genderfck.club.