I am transgender (he/him pronouns), and came out to my immediate family last year. I have not come out to my extended family because – well, I don’t consider it their business! In my mind it would be like telling loosely connected acquaintances.
The issue is this: my younger brother is getting married at the end of this year. I’m very proud and want this to go perfectly. But, it’s likely that a fair number of the family will be present. I’m not part of the wedding party but by being family I am going to be alongside the main feature. I wouldn’t pretend to be [birth gender], but my physical appearance is changing and it’s unlikely that I could, anyway. (And I’m really glad that I’ll be able to look more like me in photos that will be around for years to come.)
I haven’t spoken to most of the extended family for several years. Aside from their aggressive take on their religious beliefs, they are rude about physical appearance, unkind about hobbies, and subscribe to very gross politics. There’s practically no pleasant conversation, and if I interact with them I usually find myself wanting to argue, so I Christmas with friends, avoid other family events, and no one has ever rang me up to say they missed me.
My immediate family are supportive – to an extent. I don’t want to ask my younger brother to help handle the family, because he’s got a wedding to care about. My older brother will probably be happy to defend me but I don’t want to the potential for volatile conversation (we both have a fight-first kind of attitude). My parents barely support me to my face, but have acknowledged that I’m an adult and will do my own thing. Primarily they are concerned about appearances, and worried about being judged for their parenting, and concerned about how comfortable the extended family will be.
Because it is my brother’s wedding, beyond family the people will belong to his close-knit social circle, and it’s unlikely that I’ll have a friend I can latch on to. The engagement party had a lot of people in a small space and I managed to avoid the family there. When it comes to the actual wedding, I’m not sure I’ll be able to manage the same.
I’d love some tips on coming out to people you don’t care about and don’t interact with, and coming out to people who are very set in their ways, and ideas on how to quietly inform people who are wondering where [deadnamed me] is, or shutting down unpleasant conversations in a wedding environment. I don’t want my gender to overshadow or interfere with my brother’s wedding.
Hello and thanks for your question. I think this answer will cover:
- Ways to spread the word ahead of time.
- Ways to make the event itself maximally safe and comfortable for you.
In your younger brother’s shoes, I would 100% want to be “bothered” by this if it was causing you anxiety, and there would be no way that your transition or your gender could possibly “overshadow” my wedding. If your extended family’s bigotry ruins the wedding, that’s not your fault for being who you are, and I would never, ever think that or make you responsible for it, and I would want to help if I possibly could. Also, good news, there’s something specific and concrete he could do to help you:
After the invitations go out, he and your other brother and your brother’s intended spouse could call or email or text the people they are closest to and the people who are the most likely spreaders of family news in the extended family and say, informally:
“Hello, you may not have heard this yet but [Deadname Sister] is now [Your Name/Brother]. I know it’s been a while since we’ve all been together, and I’m not quite sure how far he’s spread the word in the last year since he told us, but it’s really important to me that people don’t call him the wrong name or ask awkward questions at the wedding. This is a really happy thing for our family, and I’m trying to call up the relatives I can trust to be cool and supportive about this ahead of time so we can all relax and celebrate at the party, can you help me spread the word?“
A. Treating people like you trust them to be cool and supportive and telling them how they can show you that they’ll be cool and supportive is a good way to sort of back them into the corner of being cool and supportive.
B. As the groom, your brother use his clout as the person at the center of the event to everyone’s advantage: You in a snappy suit and your cool new name is not ruining the wedding, but someone making you uncomfortable would be ruining the wedding. “Behave yourself as a personal favor to me” may compel good behavior where, like, common human decency might not.
C. Getting the word out beforehand removes the drama of people being surprised in the moment. They’ll have a little time to react before you have to see that reaction.
D. Let your brothers absorb any “gross” “political” “religious” objections for you!
Script for asking him/them:
“[Brother], I’m really happy for you getting married and excited to be at the wedding. I don’t want to put more work on your shoulders while you’re in the middle of planning this thing, but I also don’t want that event to be some kind of ‘big reveal’ of my transition – would you be willing to spread the word to our relatives and ease the way? I don’t interact with them all that much and I haven’t yet found the right way to get the word out.”
Then, if he’s open to it, give him a rough script of what you’d like him to say and let him handle it. If both or either of your brothers are willing to do this for you, let them do this for you.
You know your brothers best, and if they aren’t up for this or you don’t think it’s a good idea, then it’s probably up to you to call your most chatty and talkative relative or relatives and/or your coolest, most liberal cousins and spread the word to the people who can spread the word.
“Hello [King/Queen Of All Family Secrets Far & Wide], how are you? I know we haven’t talked in a while, but I could really use your help with something. Don’t know if Mom/Dad told you, but last year I came out to them as transgender. I go by [Name] now, and use male gender pronouns and male presentation. I’m really excited for [Brother]’s wedding and for the chance to catch up with family I haven’t seen in a while, but I’m also a little nervous about it and I really don’t want this to be a big deal on someone else’s big day. Would you be comfortable spreading the word in the family for me, so it won’t be a surprise? I know you’re so great at staying connected with everyone, it would really help me out.”
Then you can give that person a little bit of Transness 101 as it applies to you, for example, “Please just call me [newname], I’d really rather not answer questions about medical stuff or “how did I first know” especially at a wedding, yes, coming out is hard because there’s so discrimination against trans people, but I’m happy to feel more like myself.”
You may have to answer some of their awkward & gross questions and hear some religious platitudes, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve found “I’ve prayed about it a lot and I trust that God loves me” to be a good catch-all when the moralizing comes out, and bookmarking a good 101 resources so you can say “I don’t feel comfortable talking through all that just yet/I don’t quite know how to answer that question/This is all so new to me that I don’t feel like an expert yet, but if you want to read more about it I’m happy to send you some links.” The person’s initial reaction might not be their only/forever reaction, and if you can get them on your side and make a genuine connection, they will be a) honored to be “chosen” to be in on the “secret” and b) chuffed to be recognized for the work they do keeping everyone connected to what’s going on.
If you can, connect what you want them to do to helping your parents out, too “I’ve got great friends and coworkers around me, my brothers have been great, mom and dad are doing their best to adjust and be supportive, but I think that they are nervous about what the rest of the family will think, so you’d be helping them out a lot by spreading the word, too.”
All this word-spreading is only a good idea if you think it would make you more comfortable. If you’d rather go completely low-profile the way you did at the engagement party, then fly low! If you were close to your family, they would know the important things about you, but you’re not and they are not, so, they don’t get to be mad that you didn’t call them up personally and audition your identity for them. One possible answer to “Wait, where’s [deadname]?” is “Not here!” or “Hey, I go by ____ now. Nice to see you, cousin!” or letting them wonder, forever.
I hate all this for you, my dear Letter Writer, I really do. You deserve love and a place in your family. You deserve to not have to take on all this emotional labor and risk so you can go to a party. My message to your family and all transphobic and homophobic people is basically:
Image description: David Lynch as Twin Peaks’s Gordon Cole, in a dark suit with an FBI badge and hearing aids in place, with the text “Fix your hearts or die.” He said this to the FBI colleagues of Denise when she transitioned from male to female. I want it on a t-shirt.
Now, let’s talk about the wedding itself.
Can you bring a plus one? If so, and if you don’t have a romantic partner who wants to go, I suggest bringing a good friend who is gregarious and able in social situations (that person who gets described as “Oh, ____ can have a conversation with anyone about anything!“) to be your buffer. If no “plus one” has been invited, I think it’s worth breaking wedding etiquette and asking your brother if you can bring somebody. If it’s out of the question, he’ll say ‘no.’ You’re not a jerk for asking in this situation.
If your brother doesn’t want to inform the family for you, who does he suggest you hang out with at the wedding? Can they seat you with the young & fun & liberal friend table? Was there anyone cool from the engagement party? “Brother, can you seat me with the cool kids, thanks” is a reasonable request. You’re attending to support him, but he’s the host of an event, and your safety & comfort are important.
Can you make sure to have your own transportation to and from? Sometimes just knowing that you can bail if things get upsetting can help you endure.
Can you be Chief Errand Runner and Behind The Scenes Helper? Can’t stop to talk about the state of your eternal soul or what you keep in your pants if you’re going to grab more ice!
If you can’t bring a buffer person, can you have a support system available by text? Sometimes being able to Tweet The Madness is the only thing that gets me through an awkward family moment.
Is there a safe, quiet spot (your car, the rest room, the coat room, outside) at or near the venue you can retreat to if you need a moment to yourself? Scout it out when you get there. If you need to bail at any point during the reception, bail. Your safety and peace of mind matter, too, and the groom is going to be way too busy with all the hoopla to worry if one guest left at 9:30 instead of midnight.
Gross politics are extra thick on the ground right now, and it sounds like you will be deep behind enemy lines. Decide if you’re more of a “Well, that’s a horrifying thing to say, Aunt Bea” person or a “Hrmmm these mashed potatoes are delicious and aren’t the flowers beautiful?” person, and lean into being that person. You don’t have to fight every fight right now when you’re just trying to survive. Adopt “I am here to support my brother, these people are not really important to me” as your inner mantra.
I was at a wedding deep in Tr*mp country earlier this spring and while everyone was on good, non-politics-talking behavior, seeing the super liberal Aunt-in-Law (who came out in her 40s)(and rolled up wearing these magical Doc Martens) was a deep balm to the soul. Your family is not a monolith, and while I 100% believe you about why you stay away from them, I hope someone at that party is gonna be glad to see you exactly as you are.
I know a lot of our readers have been through similar situations, so, tell us what helped you.
This is also one of those times that I’m going to ask straight, cis- commenters to hang back and read more than you post. Transgender people get harassed, discriminated against, and sometimes murdered for their identity every day in this country and I’m not sure any of our “This is exactly like the time I had to deal with an awkward situation at a wedding” stories are the most relevant here.
We’re all sending you love.