by E.J. Dávila | April 26, 2014 1:18 pm
For those with family members who are dismissive, stubborn, straight-up ignorant, instill fear, and/ or refuse to address the lingering tension of your (lack of) interactions: I write this for you in solidarity and as an acknowledgement of your anxiety and pain. You are valuable, you have worth, you are important, and things will be okay.
For trans* folx, the familial coming-out process is arguably the hardest. It carries with it a fear of disgust, disappointment, and rejection. It can often take the longest, especially considering how frequently parents romanticize the birth-assigned gender of their baby to the point where they imagine what an entire life for them would look like. For families, gender transitioning shatters this weird bubble families live in regarding the gendered life of their relative.
And I want to take a moment here to assert that coming out as trans* and coming out in regards to sexual orientation are extremely different experiences. I also want to assert this to further reaffirm my belief that it is dangerous to lump the experiences of “LGB” folx with “T” folks despite the popular acronym that attempts to homogenize the “queer” community.
While one coming-out process is not necessarily easier than the other, the gender transitioning process is very visible and is either blatantly embraced or rejected. Families witness their relative’s transition in contrast to families (hopefully) not witnessing their relative’s sexual activities. A homophobic family member can easily ignore the sex life of their relative if they want to remain close with them. While not ideal, it is perhaps an attempt at what I would consider “acceptance” (different from being an ally, which I will explain next), but a transphobic family member provides a violent situation if they insist on misgendering and misnaming their trans* relative (this is not the same thing as accidentally “slipping”). Perhaps a popular microaggression trans* folx experience here would follow the family member’s logic of “I’m sorry but I’ve just known you since you were a baby and I will always see you as a _______”.
It is both derailing and devaluing their identity, and belittling their life-changing decision to transition. This violent environment, ironically, is usually in the name of “love” and “acceptance”. Sure, your family member still loves you for transitioning because “they could never stop loving you” and that is why they are still maintaining a relationship with you, but they are pretty much ignoring it by purposely misgendering/ naming you even with the information (and appearance) of your transition.
You don’t have to be telling your trans* family member how gross or weird they are or physically harm them to be violent. Love and acceptance (to that family member) become conflated here, yet both are irrelevant and not required. And it is difficult to challenge family members on this, because they will just tell you that “they love and accept you for you”. But this love is toxic and violent, and is merely a tolerance of what you are doing without making efforts to participate in allyship. By violent “love” I mean the lack of physical or explicit harm yet a total dismissal of the transition, which is absolutely unacceptable.
Nobody should be put in a position where your acceptance of something or them is truly significant or has any influence on how they live their life. Acceptance, for me, is more so a reactionary decision to tolerate someone without making active efforts to support them and make them feel safe, validated, and human.
If you are a family member of a trans* person who regularly practices ignoring their transition:
-Telling them you love and accept them no matter what when they become frustrated with you, because your love and acceptance does not negate your actions and does not remove your accountability for them
-Ignoring any visible discomfort by the trans* relative
-Reminding them of their childhood and coming up with reasons they “may not” be trans*
-Asking about surgeries, sex, their sexual orientation, or anything else regarding their body
-Remaining silent when another family member does all of the above
-Asking them what name and pronouns they prefer, and use them
-Politely correct other family members when they use the wrong name/ pronoun
-Staying in touch with them if you don’t already. Transitioning (especially with use of hormones) can be really tough to balance with other life things, and it is important to check up on them
-Educate yourself. There are books, websites, and good ol’ asking questions
-Be open to the very real reality that you are not always right, you do not know everything, and you have much to learn
-If you’re the gift type, buy gifts that are potentially relevant to their transition or beneficial to their overall health/ well-being (e.g., clothes that match their gender identity, exercise equipment, etc.)
-Understand that feelings of gender dysphoria are visible during the earliest stages of childhood, and in no way is this a phase or some sort of recreational transition
-Let go of any idea that your favorite things about this person are a reflection of their gender, and that gender identity is ONLY one’s own understanding of themselves in relation to culture, people, and the rest of the world. It is not for you to analyze, stereotype, or debate
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