Coming out to my parents
Besides my therapist, my girlfriend (now wife) was the only person I had come out to in my family about considering myself a transgendered person. Telling her, and being accepted by her was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve ever gone through in my life; as though a huge burden was lifted off my back. At the time, I had been seeing a therapist who was helping me think through my transgendered thoughts and feelings and I remember him giving me advice to “take my time” and “go slow” about the process of coming out to family and friends. It felt so good though to not have to hide this part of myself any more that I really did want to tell the world – convinced that they would be as accepting as my girlfriend had been.
I’m glad I took that advice, not because I’ve personally had any negative experiences coming out, but because it has both given me a chance to think about who I am more deeply (when you bury these thoughts and feelings for so long it felt to me like I didn’t know who I really was), and because it’s given me the chance to realize that the world isn’t as accepting and constructive as my girlfriend was. It’s now been nearly six years since I originally came out to her, and over the last two years or so I’d come to the point where I felt I could also come out to my parents. So for the last couple years I’ve been looking for an opportunity where it just felt natural to have the conversation.
I’ve seen both my parents and the rest of my family quite a few times over the last couple years, but the moment never seemed right. We either had some sort of “schedule” we were trying to keep to in order to get some sight-seeing done, or the entire family was there and there was too much risk of someone coming in mid-conversation and making it awkward. I knew that I needed to find a moment where we were all relaxed, where we had a couple hours of down time, and where we wouldn’t be interrupted. That moment finally came a few weeks ago.
My wife and I flown out to visit family and friends and had planned a road trip with my parents to explore different areas of the Pacific Northwest (wife and I hope to return to the West coast one day). One morning, after we had gotten a good nights rest in our hotel and didn’t have any set schedule for the day I decided the moment was as good as any. Sitting in my parents hotel room, I told them that I had something to tell them.
A few years back, I had told my parents that I was seeing a therapist about some things I was working through, but hadn’t told them why. They were completely supportive at the time, and told me they were so glad I found someone I could talk to. I let them know what I wanted to talk about was what drove me to go talk to the therapist.
I started out by saying, “I walk to talk to you about the reason I originally went and saw Brad a few years ago. At the time I really didn’t know what I was dealing with, and was very scared, but Brad told me that I have what is called ‘gender identity disorder’, but even though that’s the clinical name for it I’ve come to realize that it’s not really a disorder at all. I have come to identify myself as a ‘transgendered’ person.”
There it was, it was out there. And I detected not the slightest amount of judgment, condemnation, anger or disappointment from them. I think they were likely a little confused though, and probably knew that this was a really important moment for me. So I continued by explaining a bit more about what being transgendered is, and what it means for me. I started by defining three separate things for them: sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Explaining that sex is related to what external parts you are born with, sexual orientation is what you are attracted to, and gender identity is what gender you identify with or feel that you are inside. Luckily my parents in the last few years have had the opportunity to become friends with a very nice lesbian couple, and my cousin has come out as gay as well so this has prompted lots of conversations about sexual orientation in the past and they know that there’s a “spectrum” of sexual orientation. I told them that the same is true for gender identity. There are some people who identify as completely male, or completely female, and that exists apart from their born sex or their sexual orientation.
I talked to them about how for a majority of people they identify somewhere along the gender identity spectrum that they are able to find a comfortable level of gender expression. You see girls that are into ‘boy’ things, and some boys that are into “girl” things – although I pointed out that the spectrum for male gender expression feels a bit more narrow than that of females. They agreed, although I could tell they hadn’t thought about it before (at least not as much as I had!).
I told them that for as long as I could remember, literally from the time that I was a little child that I felt like I should have been born as a girl, and that every night going to bed I prayed, and at every birthday celebration I wished, and that every star I wished upon that I’d wake up the next day and be in the right body. I explained to them that it’s not a “sexual” thing, and that the people that suffer with gender identity disorder aren’t doing it to just get attention – that it’s a real thing, and that you soon realize at a young age that it’s not appropriate to play with “girl things” even if it comes more naturally to you. I told them that the scientific community isn’t sure why this happens, and that it seems to be naturally occurring in both humans and nature – and that every culture going back as far as history is available had transgendered people. That you don’t just “teach” someone to be transgendered, and that there was nothing they did to make me this way.
It was with this framework that we were able to discuss where I am now, and they were able to ask questions. I told them about coming out to my wife, and she was able to join in the conversation as well to talk about what it means for her. I could see that a lot of things were making sense though to my parents – why they didn’t have to worry about me sleeping around with girls, why I was sometimes emotional, and why I seemed depressed sometimes and wouldn’t talk to them about it.
We had a very open and frank discussion, sometimes I got a little teary eyed, and sometimes they did. They said they were so sad to hear that I struggled for so long with this and felt I couldn’t talk to anyone. Overwhelmingly they said they accepted me, and that they just wanted me to be safe and know they would never stop loving me. They were aware that transgendered people can be abused in society, so especially my mom was wanting to be sure that I was “safe” if I ever went out en femme.
The conversation lasted about an hour and a half and we went on about our day. I told them to please know that they can ask me any questions that come up, and that I want to talk to them more about it if they are comfortable. And for the most part they have asked questions along the way. It also has helped them to realize how much more diverse the world is, and how people all around us are struggling with things and how important it is to be the kind of person that is approachable and accepting.
What I’ve taken from the process in coming out to my parents is:
- It’s important to find a time and space where you won’t be interrupted, and where they can be relaxed and feel they can ask questions.
- Don’t be in a rush to come out to them. Wait until you’ve had a chance to really know what being transgendered means to you.
- After reading many stories of people coming out to their parents I realize that in the vast majority of cases the parents are accepting. It can be uncomfortable, but the majority of people are surprised to find that their parents still love them, and are even willing to learn about and discuss the subject.
- It’s helpful if you think ahead of time about what you will say – and if you can speak their language. You know your parents, and how much education you will need to provide in the context of your conversation, but if you do your homework you have a good chance at helping them understand and keeping the conversation constructive.
- Make sure they know that you realize this can be an uncomfortable topic for some, and that you will respect their comfort level. That you want to be as open as they are comfortable in discussing the issue.
- Make sure they know the reason you are telling them is because you love them and don’t like hiding this from them anymore. For me, I expressed that I felt this could be good for our relationship and that I wanted to be authentic with them.
- Just remember that these things take time. It will be a lot of information to take in all at once for them more than likely. Be willing to let the conversation take place over many days, weeks, months, or even years.
- Know that by coming out, that you’re being true to yourself, and that by doing so you help create a world in which more people are aware of what being transgendered is all about.
Image Credit: MJLphoto.com