Hello my darlings. I’m writing to you at the end of a very long day and am doing so at the expense of what will likely be crucial sleep as I’m going to have an even longer day tomorrow, but I didn’t want to continue to leave everyone in suspense. The last time I wrote I was feeling very anxious about my mother’s Christmas visit. I was rather worried, justifiably so, that our already strained relationship would become more strained than it was previously.
I am quite relieved to tell you that my anxiety was somewhat misplaced. I will not say that her visit here was without setbacks or frustrations, but it was actually a rather good visit overall. She arrived somewhat late Tuesday evening so by time she arrived I was already dressed down for the evening (read: in my pj’s without makeup or my wig on). I did this somewhat on purpose because I didn’t want to overwhelm her immediately the first night she was here. I did, however, have my real hair up in a pony tail with a purple headband on, so I was still looking somewhat girly.
I won’t lie, the first night was awkward. I was rather nervous to have her around and didn’t really know what to expect from her. She noticed this and made a comment about it. Eventually, though, the awkwardness faded and things became a little more like normal between us. We didn’t do much the first night except chat before going to bed.
The next morning I got up for work and got ready to leave. I decided to wear my favorite dress and actually put effort into my makeup (not always the case these days) because I wanted to dive into the rest of her visit headfirst. She was here to see me and see me she would. She was rather tired and I left somewhat early so when I said goodbye to her she was still somewhat sleepy. My spirits were raised, however, when she told me that I looked very pretty when we said goodbye.
To be positively affirmed by my mother, the person who has been my greatest struggle thus far (apart from my wife’s sudden and painful departure, that is) was amazing. She told me I looked pretty! I can only imagine what it must have taken for her to say that. She didn’t say I looked good or looked nice like one might if they were trying to remain gender neutral, she said I looked pretty. Pretty isn’t necessarily a feminine descriptor as a man can be pretty, but to me, it was an affirmation of my gender presentation.
I went to work floating on a cloud. My mother hadn’t been awful and had actually been putting in an effort to be supportive and accepting. I knew, however, that the real test would come later that day when we were supposed to go to target to pick up some things. Her being affirming at home where no one could see was one thing, but to be affirming out in public for everyone to see was something entirely different. As I suspected, my mother’s reactions to me in public were somewhat different than they were at home.
Evidently some older lady read me as trans and tried to rescue her (I’m assuming) granddaughter from being exposed to my trans-cooties as I perused the women’s clothing section for a cardigan (which I did not find, sadly). I didn’t notice this woman or her apparent transphobic revulsion to having to share the same space with me, but I guess my mother did because after we left the store she asked me, “Do you just not pay attention to the way people react to you?”
I found this question strange because from my perspective, there really weren’t any people who had visible or negative reactions to me. That’s when she told me about the older woman’s comment and when I also realized that my mother was doing exactly what I did when I first started going out into the world as Emma. She was hyper-aware of any activity that might be interpreted as a negative reaction to me because she, herself, felt anxious about the way people would view me. I chuckled at her question and told her that I didn’t really care what people thought of me anymore. If they want to stare, then fuck ‘em, they can stare all they want. I also told her that the older lady was lucky I hadn’t heard her comment to her granddaughter about how they needed to leave that area because had I heard her, I would have likely been confrontational with her.
Although I do not suggest anyone do this, I have started to react differently to people who are rude and transphobic. Rather than tucking tail and not saying anything, I call them out on their shit. If they stare in a rude way for too long I say something to them. If they ask me inappropriate questions or harass me on the street, I give them the finger, tell them to fuck off, and walk with my head held high.
This trip to target was just the first of many public outings that my mother and I would have over the 5 days she was here. The next day, we raised the stakes a bit and we went clothes shopping for me (since I used to get clothes for Christmas and my mom didn’t really know what I liked to wear anymore, she decided to just take me shopping). At first, the experience was somewhat painful because again, my mother’s anxiety about being in a women’s clothing store with me in broad daylight was apparent. She was outside of her comfort zone and didn’t really know how to help me find clothes I’d like. She remarked several times about how she had no idea what I liked and didn’t like.
Again, I had to kind of chuckle at her reaction to this new experience. I explained to her that it was okay that she didn’t know because I didn’t necessarily know either. I told her that I was still new to buying women’s clothing too so she just had to be patient and relax. It didn’t take long, however, for her initial anxiety to subside. Once she picked out an item or two that I actually liked she seemed to relax a little and her confidence returned some.
We spent probably an hour or more shopping at my favorite store (Torrid) and after everything was said and done, I had several new outfits added to my wardrobe. My mother, while visibly uncomfortable buying me women’s clothing, did seem to take things quite well given the circumstances. A year ago she was in hardcore denial that I was transgender or that I wanted to transition and here she was, buying me dresses and helping me pick out cute outfits at a women’s clothing store.
And that’s more or less how things continued for the duration of her stay. She was often visibly uncomfortable but still making the effort to adjust to the new paradigm. She even referred to me as she when she was talking with the cashier. You cannot imagine how wonderful it felt to hear my mother, the person I’ve struggled the most with about this transition, call me she in public to another person. In the grand scheme of things that act was a tiny one, but the impact it had was huge. She was actually trying.
That’s not to say that there weren’t setbacks along the way. She and I went back and forth many times about her misgendering me. She called me mister at least a dozen times and only really corrected her self about half of the time. She did refer to me as he in public to someone, and although they didn’t really notice because it was a loud bar, it still felt really awful. I’m not sure she ever called me Robert directly, but she did refer to me as Robert to others several times (like my grandmother, some of her friends back in Colorado, and worst of all my former step father). I cannot fully articulate the lump I felt in my stomach as I watched her describe a picture she sent to my former step-father of the two us as “Robert and I.” I can somewhat understand why she did this because he does not (nor do the others) really know me as Emma, but it still hurt that she was referring to me in that way to placate the discomfort of others. It would have been wonderful if she’d referred to me as Emma to these people regardless of their exposure to my new and true self, especially when sending a picture of me in full presentation as Emma… but we have to begin somewhere, right?
She did use my real name a few times over the course of her visit which, again, were small victories that had huge impacts. My mother called me by my true name in public where others could hear her. It seems so small and so silly, but it meant so much that she was even trying. By the end of the visit, I think she really started to see me for who I’ve become instead of who she used to know. I think she really started to see me as a girl and possibly as her daughter instead of as her son. I don’t think she is there yet and I don’t think she will be any time soon, but I now have hope that our relationship can be salvaged and can grow into something meaningful. I stood my ground many times and corrected her when she misgendered me time and again, but rather than becoming defensive as she could have, she tried to make appropriate adjustments to these corrections.
As I told her and my father, and as I will tell any parents of transgender children (regardless of age) out there who may be reading this, all that truly matters is that you try. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to get it right every time right away. As long as you are willing to try and are willing to put in the effort to be affirming, you will make it a long way. Eventually, yes, you likely need to start getting it right all the time, but it’s understandable to get it wrong sometimes in the beginning. As with almost anything key is to keep trying, even when you mess up or fail.
To those people out there who do not have the support or gender affirmation of their parents I want you to know that there is always hope. I was certain my mother would never be okay with my new life. I was almost positive that our relationship was going to come to a tragic end, but that’s not the case. I know how hard it can be for them to misgender you and to call you by the wrong name but you have to be strong, patient, and sometimes assertive about it. If they use the wrong pronouns or the wrong name, correct them. Even if you have to do it a hundred times or a thousand times, eventually they are going to give in. No one likes being corrected over and over again, so eventually they will start using the right name/pronouns simply so they don’t have to hear you contradict them.
I think that too often we as trans people forget how strong we are. I think that too often we worry about being an inconvenience to others and are willing to accept mistreatment for the sake of peace. I say to hell with that mentality. If they won’t give you the recognition you deserve then it behooves you to demand it or to assert your right to it. When my mother called me Robert on the phone time and again over the past few months I didn’t correct her because I didn’t want to be in conflict. Anger in the guesthouse taught me that I deserved better than that, so when she was here and I did correct her regardless of the potential conflict, I got the results I wanted.
You cannot be too passive and expect others to just change on account of you. Sometimes, you have to push, pull, and drag them kicking and screaming into changing for the better. If they are completely unwilling to make the changes necessary then give them an ultimatum, give me the respect I deserve or say goodbye to this relationship we have. No matter what they decide, you win. If they change then you get what you want. If they leave, then they were never going to support you anyways and you are better off without them. I know that can be hard when it’s someone you care about, like a parent or a sibling, but over the past year I’ve learned that family isn’t about blood, it’s about who stands with you and supports you. Sometimes those people are related to you by blood, and sometimes they are people you crossed paths with at key points in both of your lives. My family is much larger today than it ever was before because I’ve broadened my definition of family to encompass those who are not related by blood.
No matter what, you are not alone. No matter how hard your struggle is, you are not alone. No matter how isolated you feel, you are not alone. There are many of us out there and we are all fighting alongside you in this continuing battle for acceptance from our friends, our families, our governments, our societies, and our world. Be brave. Be bold. Assert your right to being treated fairly and with respect and never back down at your own expense because it makes others feel more comfortable. Fuck their comfort, be true to yourself. They will adjust or they will leave, and either way, you win (even if it hurts at first). At least, that’s what I’ve been learning time and again over the last 15 months.
Well, my darlings, that’s all I have for now. I have plenty of other things to talk about (especially dating) but it’s almost an hour after my bedtime and I haven’t even taken a shower yet, so I must bring this entry to a close. Never forget that you are beautiful, you are irreplaceable, you are amazing, and you are loved. **MUAH**