Tuesday, October 20, 2015

10-20-2015 Entry: The Difficulty of Family Relationships During Gender Transition

**warning, this is going be an entry with some pretty intense and raw emotion behind it, but I think it encapsulates what it can be like to go through this issue and others like it.**

“How could you do that? Don’t you know how disrespectful that is? That was your name that we gave you! If you change it then it’s like you’re erasing me!”

Many of us have been there. Many of us have felt the pain of a parent who just doesn’t get it; that parent who refuses to use the right name or the correct pronouns. The parent who was so loving when you were living as your assigned gender but is now cold and distant as you embrace your new life as your true gender.

You wonder why they can’t just be happy for you. Things are getting so much better. The dysphoria is finally being dealt with, and you’re growing into this wonderful person. You are beautiful/handsome, you are confident, you are excited, you are living a fulfilling life and you are happy. So why aren’t they?

I think for me, the hardest part is the betrayal I feel about the promise my mother always made: that she wanted nothing but the best for me. How can someone who spent their entire life trying to make sure I had everything I needed suddenly stop caring?

Maybe there are a lot of people out there who are not like me but this transition, this becoming Emma, is what I needed, and I needed it for a long time. I needed to become this person, to finally step out into the light of day and breathe the fresh air of authenticity. I couldn’t keep hiding this part of myself. I couldn’t keep pretending I was just another guy when I knew, to the core of my being, that I really wasn’t.

So how can a woman who vowed to always make sure I had what I needed suddenly turn her back on me, her only child?

The words at the beginning are hers, although they are tarnished with memory and may not have arrived in that exact order. More than that, they can only somewhat convey what was hidden beneath and behind them. They do not adequately convey the sobbing cries of the miserable person, wounded, hurt, and angry as she spoke them to me. They are also further obstructed by the pain I felt upon hearing them; a pain that left me in such a state of despair that I can hardly described the misery I felt for hours afterwards.

Yet, here these words were, thrown at me like I was some sort of monster. She wanted me to believe that I was the one being selfish. I was the one being disrespectful. That it was her I was erasing, not myself.

I could hardly believe it. When I hung up the phone I was in such a state of shock that it took almost an hour before I could finally wrap my mind around the situation. A relationship that had felt so close and loving just one year earlier now felt so cold and distant.

I knew when I embarked on this journey that things wouldn’t be easy. I knew that it would be difficult for my family to see me as a woman after they’d known me for twenty-nine years as a male. I knew it would take adjustment and that things would take time, but I never anticipated this. I never anticipated that the person I could always depend on, the one who’d always been there for me, even when no one else was, even when it was just the two of us against the world, would abandon me so abruptly; not now, not when I needed her so badly.

I felt anger, I felt pain, I felt abandoned, and I felt betrayed. How could she be so cruel when this isn’t about her? This transition isn’t about her, and yet all she could do was think about how hard it was for her, as if it’s been so easy for me.

So few people know what this is like. So few people ever have to worry about things like this. So few people ever have to go through the trials of a gender transition. No one understands, not really, not unless they’ve been there themselves. To have a parent, a sibling, or even a child stop wanting the best for you, stop caring about you, stop respecting you, or even stop loving you is one of the hardest things you can go through, but it is so much harder when it’s because you decided to be your complete or authentic self.

They always say blood is thicker than water, but what happens when that blood runs cold? When does a person give up on such a close family member? When does being patient become an exercise in futility? How does one cope with a situation like this?

I love my mother and always have. I have always looked past her faults, her mistakes, and her failures because of that love. I have always forgiven her for the times she wasn’t at her best and always stood by her when things were difficult. Ours was not an easy life, not after she and my father divorced and my father moved away. It was so often just us against the world.

I watched as she grew out of her twenties, through her thirties and into her forties. I watched as she grew in her job and her skills, beginning as a lowly sheriff’s deputy at a prison all the way to her becoming a decorated detective despite all the hurdles a woman faces in law enforcement. I watched as she was interviewed on the news, time and again, and felt so much pride when she ended up on national television for her work.

I watched her fall in love and get married. Then later I watched her heart break and her life fall to pieces. I watched as she picked those pieces up again and kept progressing. I stood by her side the entire time, even when so many others had nothing good to say about her, because I loved her without condition. She was my mom, how could I not?

Three nights ago, however, I did not love my mother. I could not feel pride about my mother. I stood by her side and tried to comfort her as she broke my heart again and again with her words, but I did so, for the first time, begrudgingly.

How could she be like this? How could she, after all we’ve been through, after all the times I stood by her when she was at her worst or lowest, turn her back on me like this? I was erasing her???

The nerve! The gall! This wasn’t about her. Changing my legal name to Emma isn’t about her. Finally taking this important step into my new life isn’t about her. This is about me! This is about my future! This is about what I need! If I’m erasing anyone it’s the man I used to be mistaken as. The only person who has a right to be upset is that person I’m actually signing away, and he is here with me, making this decision.

I’m sorry, but I cannot keep doing this. I cannot keep comforting my mother, or any other family member, while they break my heart and disrespect my decisions. I thought she and I had an understanding, that we’d love and respect each other no matter what. I know I’ve upheld my end of the bargain, why hasn’t she? She keeps mourning the loss of her son at the expense of her new daughter and if she doesn’t figure that out, she’ll be morning the loss of her relationship with her child as well.

People are always saying I need to be patient with her, that I need to try to understand what she’s going through, but I think they’ve got it turned around. In actuality, she needs to be patient with me and try to understand what I’m going through. Even if my decision to transition to Emma affects her life, I’m the one going through it.

I’m the person who has to take the hormones and feel my body painfully change. I’m the one going through a second puberty fifteen years after the first one. I’m the person who has to build a new life from scratch at the age of thirty. I’m the one who has to fill out legal paperwork and use a name that doesn’t fit anymore. I’m the one who has to out myself when I go on job interviews. I’m the one who cringes every time I get a piece of mail that says my old name, or when my university refuses to change my email/blackboard/student record to reflect my true name.

I’m the one who gets harassed on the street and has friends and family members alike turn their backs on me. I’m the one who gets to take on the new role of social outcast because our society hasn’t figured out that the binary is a convenient lie people tell themselves because the truth is too messy or confusing for them to easily understand.

I’m the one who gets discriminated against, who gets called names, and who gets berated by people who don’t even know me. Every time I step out on the street in my big city there is a significant chance I’ll be assaulted or murdered just for being who I am. I am the one taking on all the risk, taking on all the burdens, and dealing with all the consequences.

How dare she make this about her. How dare she say I’m being selfish when clearly it is her, not me, who is being selfish. How dare she accuse me of being disrespectful as she tells me that I shouldn’t change my name and says that doing so erases her.

Parents, I get it. It’s hard to suddenly see your child as a new person. It’s difficult to watch them put everything in their life at risk to live a more authentic life, but if you have a kid (regardless of their age) that is going through gender transition, you need to make it about them before yourself. They are the ones who need support, not you. You are the one who is supposed to be the grown up, the mature one, the wise one. If you are struggling with it, it’s your responsibility to deal with that. Talk to friends, talk to family, or talk to a therapist, but whatever you do, don’t unload your baggage onto your child (who is already probably dealing with more than you can imagine).

There is already so much guilt and shame used by society to make those of us who do not fit in conform to uncomfortable norms. As a parent, it’s your choice of whether or not you are going add to that for your own children. If you’re having an emotional reaction, then it’s about you and something going on inside of your mind that needs work, not theirs. That’s not your child’s responsibility, not their fault, and they certainly don’t deserve to carry that burden for you.

The question you have to ask yourself is what’s more important, that you have a positive relationship with your child, or they conform to your gender expectations? Is it really that hard of a question to answer?


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