Telling your family you are transgender can be one of the most defining conversations of your life. The reality for many is they may not understand and accept you straight away and that rejection can feel overwhelming. Judy Virago shares her coming out experience and notes that time and compassion can heal many wounds.
When I was younger I was terrified that I’d be disowned if I came out as trans.
I had projected a lot of unfounded fears onto my family; based on media tropes, my own judgments about their religion, and other people’s stories.
By the time I had actually started taking hormones, I was an adult on the other side of the world. I didn’t really feel like my family had any choice but to accept me as who I am. And if they weren’t ready to accept me, I was ready to let it all burn.
It’s not easy to give others the chance to catch up to who you are becoming when you feel like you’ve waited so long to be yourself already.
My father was pretty honest with his response to me telling him I was his daughter. He said, “In the Kingdom of God there is neither male nor female, slave nor free. You are my child and I love you. Having said that, it will take me a bit to get my head around the idea.”
Dad had a son whom he loved dearly. He needed time to grieve for his son before he could get to know his daughter.
My younger sibling was worried a drag queen had eaten his brother. After spending some time alone with me my brother declared, “you’re not really a different person, you’re just more you.”
Most of my family came around to sharing my brother’s perspective.
But the oldest member of my family, Great Uncle Paddy, flat out refused to acknowledge me.
Late last year, I saw him at a family funeral. I asked if I could give him a hug. He addressed me by birth name and said, “No you may not.”
I knew he wasn’t going to be around for much longer and this felt like my last opportunity to connect with him. I started crying and walked away.
One of my aunties took him aside. He had his own experiences of being ostracised, she asked him why he would want his niece to feel the way he had felt? Before that moment, no one had given him ‘the talk’ about who, what and why I was. I certainly hadn’t!
Walking through the fire of family scrutiny can be a long and painful journey. For some, it’s less painful to just burn down the whole damn bridge. For others, it’s safer that way.
To anyone out there with family who are struggling to embrace you, I encourage you to be patient.
If you need to, keep your distance while you wait. The cumulative pain of exposure to repeated misgendering and deadnaming breeds bitterness and resentment.
But remember that it’s a transition for all of you. Be compassionate, while not compromising who you are. If you’re operating at an 11 out of 10, don’t dial yourself down to a 7 just to make other people comfortable.
Identify the allies in your family, they will be your champions.
Towards the end of that family funeral, Uncle Paddy hobbled over to me on his walker.
“Hello, Judy”, he said.
Uncle Paddy put his hand and shook mine.
“Welcome to the fold.”
I had been living my truth for eight years at this point. I spent multiple Christmases with this man without a glimmer of recognition and finally, standing outside a Catholic church, he could see me for me. He was the missing piece of my puzzle, the last member of my family I craved acceptance from. I felt complete.
When Paddy died a few months later he left me a piece of his original artwork: an unfinished drawing of a flower. Like that flower, our relationship never had the chance to flourish, but the state he left them both in was beautiful.