“Hey, long time no see! How’s your son?”
Throat closes, chest tightens, every sounds begins to amplify. Stammering often follows, as if the ability to speak is gone. The familiar barrage of the all same damn questions drown out everything. Momentary paralysis takes over.
“Do I lie and say fine?”
“Should I just come out with it?”
“God, what if they think trans is a mental disorder or say something really stupid?”
“What if they get hostile?”
“Where are the exists?”
“How long will this all take?”
“What time is it?”
“Why am I being a coward?”
All of this happens in seconds. It isn’t until afterwards an awareness of how stressful the interaction was is noticed. As the spike in cortisol and adrenaline subsides, the shaking eventually stops. The physiological reaction indicates the level of panic that took place. These repetitive moments of fight or fleeing are wearing. Every conversation is relived and picked apart, often, with a heavy dose of self-criticism. There is a deep longing for normalcy. Yet, this is the new normal.
In the beginning of a transition, simply going to the grocery store is stressful. Avoiding eye contact with people gives a sense of false security. Pretending to be hyper-focused on the olive selection when seeing an acquaintance in the aisle can be a common tactic. Making it through a mundane errand without having to come out, explain or defend gender was the new measurement of a successful outing.
Sometimes the internal arm chair coach talk kicks in.
“Who cares what people think! Fuck them if they can’t accept your kid. Who needs them anyways? You don’t owe anyone an explanation. You can totally do this!”
Then there is the guilt ridden, suffocating self-talk.
“What are you afraid of? Imagine how much harder this is for your kid. You’re not the one transitioning. It’s up to you to be stronger, take the pressure off so they don’t have to deal with the constant questing. You can’t afford to be tired. This is a matter of life and death. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
Childrearing is hard enough. One’s identity becomes lost, messy. Who we think we were is not who we become. Less flattering character quirks become accentuated, frequently in public. Grooming can be optional or a luxury. Openly admitted this shit is epically hard is not socially acceptable. Maintaining a facade of control and perfection is implied. Adult melt-downs are frown upon, even on social media. Making others feel comfortable is more important, the expectation.
A manual on deconstructing gender is not given to new parents. When a child comes out as trans everything we thought we new is wrong, potentially harmful. Unraveling the gender binary and our own complicity within is mind bending. The process happens at warp speed.
Questioning every parenting decision is unstoppable. From choosing a name, the color of the nursery, gendered clothing and toys purchased. To not recognizing soon enough.
“I should have known.”
Anxiety, insecurity, grief are the new norm.
There is no exact timeline for when it becomes easier coming out about a transgender child. For families that are safe to be visible, it may happen faster. Word gets around, especially in a school community. Suddenly your family becomes the trending topic. Gossip is a double edge sword. It can help avoid telling the people you only see at assemblies or birthday parties. Or those relatives…you know which ones. Gossip also can spread damaging or harmful information about trans people. Picking your battles can be a life saving mantra. If you don’t hear the rumors and gossip does it mean it’s real?
Sometimes relationships vanish without any notification. Friends that were there at all the birthday parties before the transition disappear. After time we realize they’ve stopped texting, making plans or engaging the same on Facebook. Poof…gone. But there is no time to mourn or chase them down. Another layer of grief is stuffed or ignored.
Fine, good riddance.
Relationships that end quietly or confrontationally both come with abandonment. Not being able to predict whether loving your child unconditionally will cost a couple relationships, a marriage, or an entire community is consuming. Waiting for the other shoe to drop takes on a whole new meaning. It’s not possible to fully describe this level of uncertainly.
New age catchphrases sometimes help ease the pain. You know the ones.
“All things happen for a reason.”
“Every day is a new opportunity to begin again.”
“Trust the journey.”
“When a door closes a new one opens.”
“Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself.”
Forgiveness, what a bastard.
There is an unspoken expectation of maintaining relationships simply for being family. An obligation we put on ourselves, whether or not these relationships are healthy and safe. When love is used as a weapon against you or your child that is a form of abandonment. How do we forgive abandonment? Specifically from the very people who are “suppose” to be there for us, family.
The old adage that blood is thicker than water is like salt in a wound when your family has rejected you and your child. The desire to keep trying is haunting. Forcing us to think we need to be and do more.
“Maybe this article will finally get them to understand?”
“If I explain gender one more time it will finally make sense.”
“How can they just stop loving us?”
“Maybe by telling our story they can come to love us, again.”
“If they can just see how happy my daughter since transitioning.”
This is a period filled with waves of insecurity and exhausting conversations. Attempts to rationalize the irrational. The loneliness feels like a weighted blanket you can’t remove. Doubt erodes the faith in all relationships, even if slightly. An armor of guarding gets built up out of survival. Suspicion lingers in the background. Nothing looks the same again.
We begin to rebuild and adjust to another new normal. Family takes on a different meaning, more tribal. We lean into those who speak our language. Are living in a shared reality. Those who validate and celebrate our children.
Learning to live life unapologetically takes courageous tenacity. One must be willing to go it alone, be unpopular, disrupt systems and constructs. While at the same time, putting aside any personal discomfort or fears with confrontation. Whether we like it or not, being transgender is confrontational. There are those who will go to any length to make the lives of transgender people and their families as hard as possible.
We become the new barriers pushing back on injustices directly, or indirectly, aimed at our loved ones. By default we end up on the front lines fighting for equality. Most often with no training on how to tell our stories without tokenizing our children. Or subject them to possible future repercussions for “coming out” on their behalf. The unknown and known risks are maddening.
If you see us staring blankly or at a loss how to answer a simple question, give us some space to just breath. Likely, we haven’t taken a full breath for quite some time. Being able to separate or compartmentalize the political climate is near impossible. Small talk is frustrating and takes a level of effort it didn’t before. From time to time we may pretend we don’t see you, don’t take it personally. It just might be one of the harder days.