In my work with gender-variant people, I often get the chance to talk to partners, spouses, parents, children, siblings, and sometimes even grandparents. Usually, I’m meeting with one of these people because they are struggling with a transgender family member’s disclosure.
These conversations are among my most satisfying. Why? Because the simple fact that we’re talking indicates that someone is truly trying to come to grips with this life-changing revelation.
Disclosing one’s gender identity is an important step in the process of transitioning. It is part of accepting and consolidating the new gender, making others aware of one’s (usually) new name, and new pronouns to be used.
But, it seems to me that disclosure to close family members is often done with some expectations on the part of the person disclosing. The expectation being that the recipient of this news will quickly accept the new gender identity, and embrace all the changes still to come.
Understandable, yes, that a person about to undergo such an enormous life change as transition would like to have close family members ‘on board’. But it is necessary? Is it even fair to expect?
It’s easy for transitioning people to forget how long they have spent pondering their gender identity, questioning how they want to pass through the world, investigating what it will take emotionally, financially and physically, and what it will mean to transition.
For family members who are learning of this for the first time, it is crucial for the transitioning person to allow them at least as much time to adjust to the idea and adjust accordingly as they have spent adjusting and accepting.
Must They Vote?One point of contention I hear about most often is that family members hear about the upcoming transition and perhaps passively accept it, but that they don’t necessarily approve of it.
My opinion is that family members do not have to approve of someone’s transition, and in fact, the Transperson who insists that all agree is not ready to take such a crucial step forward.a
That is, if one is secure and steadfast in their gender identity, and is fully prepared to move forward and deal with all of the joys and challenges of this step, they won’t need to have 100% acceptance and participation. Because that’s real life, right? We do things we believe are right and hope that those close to us agree, but if they don’t, it’s okay. Our relationships are much more complex and interesting if there are points on which we do NOT agree…relationships that are always in complete harmony are actually a little dull.
Tasks and Responsibilities
What I do believe, is that it’s critical that families continue to love and have open hearts toward transitioning members, even while not fully understanding or being ready to embrace this change.
Every family has its own dynamics about members who are ‘different’ in some way. Some families make the necessary adjustments and discuss it thoroughly, some adjust but never discuss it, some resist any change, and some openly challenge the change. My experience is that families handle news about gender identity in exactly the same way they handle any big or unsettling news or announcement about any family member! We humans are pretty consistent.
Honesty and openness without expectation of immediate acceptance is the task of the transitioning person. Love and an open heart is the task of the family member.
Together, I believe a new ‘normal’ can be achieved, and I’ve seen it happen for others…it can happen for you, too.