Friday, June 23, 2017

Chicago Trip: Coming Out to My Partner's Family

Last week I came out to my partner Kath's parents. And her siblings. And their partners. And their kids. And her cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, family friends and phew, I think that's about it. First I came out via a letter to Kath's parents and then we followed that up with emails to everyone else. This was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. 

For weeks, maybe for months, leading up to this Kath had been gently nudging me to take the step of coming out to her family. Over time I guess it became a little more like roughly nudging me. It made total sense to come out. This is who I am. It's on my ID. It's on my passport. I don't actually have boy clothes anymore. We see them two or three times a year and it's become pretty difficult to keep hiding my transition. Plus, keeping the secret sort of means lying to people we care about. So coming out makes total sense right? 

In this past year I've come out to co-workers and to my own family. So why is this step so much harder than those? Well, it's because I'm not only coming out transgender but I'm also outing my partner as someone who dates a transgender person. I worry that Kath's family will see her as a failure because she can't land a "real man" or as someone who was tricked by a partner who betrayed her. I've always been a weirdo, but now I'm outing my partner as a weirdo too. It's different. It's difficult. 

Sure, Kath would be the first to tell me that she's also been a weirdo her life too, but it's such a weight to have to make a decision that will potentially ruin someone's relationship with their family. My own relationship with my family isn't great, so coming out to them didn't really risk too much for me emotionally. Sure, I wouldn't enjoy getting a mean response even from someone whose opinion I don't value, but I wouldn't be heart broken over it either. 

I would be heart broken if Kath's parents reacted badly though. In the past few years I've gotten closer to them. In fact I may be closer to Kath's parents than I am to my own parents. The idea of losing that relationship scares me quite a bit. And the idea that Kath could lose her relationship with her family scares me even more. So, to sum that all up - I was nervous. 

Pictured: Me being nervous. 
Kath's family is Catholic and they are fairly devout in their beliefs. Having grown up in an insane evangelical family, any time I have to come out to a religious person it makes my nervousness increase even more. The fact that we had a trip to Chicago where we were going to attend a big family event only increased my nervousness. It was at peak levels! Not only was I coming out, they were going to be meeting Faith in a couple weeks. Yikes!

Well, I drafted my usual letter for Kath's parents. I made sure to let them know that my transgender identity was a longtime thing, that it was serious, and that I loved their daughter and would always put her first. And their response was as good as we could have hoped. Yes, there was some stuff in there about Jesus, but mostly it was positive and supportive. Of course their first concern was about their daughter and that's to be expected. Thankfully I had a good supportive spouse in my corner who was able to reassure them that she was happy. 

With that major step taken, our next step was to send out an email to all of Kath's extended family. She actually drafted the email and it was really well written. She outlined the situation, explained everything really well and emphasized that we both loved each other and hoped they would accept the new me. We got some immediate responses. And they were all, 100% super duper supportive: 
  • Looking forward to meeting Faith! 
  • I love you and support you no matter what 
  • I promise not to be weird with Faith.
  • I'm happy you're both brave enough to be honest so meeting up with you both can be smooth. I'm happy to be seeing you soon!
  • Please don't stress out about reactions from family!!! And yes, I will let my kids know... worries!
  • I am not the person to be judging somebody or to say what's right or wrong for anybody other than myself. If both of you are happy, then I am happy for you.
So, that was good. Yet my nervousness didn't abate as we headed toward our Chicago trip. This was going to be a big trip. There was so much to plan and prepare for. 

Most important for me was having a brand new beautiful wig. My own hair is growing. It's still growing. It's getting there. But it's not there yet. So I bought a brand new wig that I think looked pretty good. Seriously, I'll often save a brand new wig for when I have a big day coming up. I like to look my best. And, the truth is the better I look the more I pass. And the more I pass, the more seriously people will take me. That's not right. That's not fair. But that's the way the world works.

On the day of the tip, I set out to look my absolute best while also trying to look as casual as possible. It's like getting ready at the expert level. I think I did okay. We took a train to another train to yet one more train (JFK is kinda hard to get to) and then a plane to Chicago where the family was going to meet their new daughter-in-law for the very first time.

The folks were going to be picking us up from the airport. When they arrived it was like they'd had me as their daughter-in-law for years. There were "she's" and "her's" and "Faith's" all around. The drive back to the house was really no big deal. We talked about the flight mostly and I feel like they went out of their way to act as normal as possible.

This is something I've noticed a lot with coming out to people. They will often go out of their way to act like it's no big deal. Everyone wants to be cool as Fonzie and no one wants to admit that a situation weirds them out. People try to act as unfazed as possible even if they are fazed as heck on the inside. Sometimes I swear I can see it in their eyes - they are longing to ask every question in the book but don't want to be that person. They want to be the cool, accepting person. I get it.

A good moment came when Kath's dad and I were sitting around hanging out. Her dad has this huge interest in model trains and in fact he has a whole area of the basement (i.e. most of the basement) dedicated to his trains. He read train magazines, goes to train meetups and you get it. He's really into trains. 

Now, I should admit, there is something I like about model railroads. I think it's because I always enjoyed models. My favorite parts of museums were often the meticulous model dioramas of farms or villages. Growing up Star Wars obsessed, I wanted to be a model maker when I grew up. So I'd build meticulous models, load them with fireworks and take videos of them blowing up. I wish I still had photos of the insanely detailed 8" x 10" HO scale Mos Eisley spaceport I made in high school. Yes, I was a weird kid. And yes, I totally get the appeal of model trains. 

From the first time Kath's dad met me and discovered this, spending time with him has usually involved hearing stories about model railroads, looking at photos or looking at his new builds. I think he just loves finally having someone around who appreciates it, not as much as he does, but still appreciates it. 

So the first evening, after dinner, we're sitting around chatting and he pipes up with, "Hey Faith, do you still like trains?" Yes, I explained. My transition hasn't changed my personality. I'm still the same person I always was. In fact I may even be more that person than I ever was before because now I'm not hiding a major part of who I am. And yes, I still like trains. 

That was, I think, a major moment in his acceptance of me. He was instantly back to his usual self and pulled out a new magazine to show me pictures. Things could be normal, just like they were before, but with me as a girl now.

Now, every time I walked out of the room, Kath did get bombarded with a few questions. None of them were rude questions, but they were curious. What bathroom does Faith use? Does she go to work as a girl? Things like that. Kath answered with the skill, diplomacy and humor of someone who's done 51 podcast episodes on these topics. There were a handful of gender or name screw ups, but they were accidental so I wasn't really bothered by them.

Best of all though, I was included in all the party prep. Traditionally, it seems like women end up being the ones who cook and clean and help with all these huge family events. And it was seriously nice when I was included too. Granted, I don't enjoy food prep that much, especially when I'm not the one cooking, but I do like being included in the traditional female roles. Even if they are domestic.

Seriouisly, though Mid-Westerners, once you add marshmallows to something you can no longer call it a "salad." Sorry, but there have to be some rules in a civilized society.

While we were in Chicago we stayed with Kath's parents and that created some of its own difficulties. Travelling and staying with other people present some interesting challenges for me. The first thing I do when I wake up is hit the bathroom to do my makeup. I don't like people seeing me without makeup or hair. Sure, it'd be more comfortable, but again, it's about acceptance. If people saw me fail to present 100% female, then I worry that they might not accept me as being "real" or serious about my transition. I want to be fully accepted. The big event, a baby baptism followed by a huge family party, was on Sunday. And I definitely wanted to be accepted and taken seriously by everyone.

First, we went to church. Religion in general tends to make me weary, but honestly, the baptism wasn't too bad. For one thing it was good and short (Catholics tend to be much better about time-management than the protestants I grew up with). But best of all, I don't think anyone really noticed anything out of the ordinary. Seriously, I didn't get any weird looks or anything. The family members I met at church were all cool as cucumbers and none of the other parishioners even seemed to notice me. Chances are they were more focused on their own babies than on me. That's the way I like things. 

The party itself was at my sister-in-law's house, which was huge. It still amazes me how non-New Yorkers live. What do they do with all that space?! Well, the home was seriously beautiful. It was large and despite being large it was full of people. There were parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, family friends, neighbors; all manner of kith and kin. Even though everyone was super nice, it was, in a word, overwhelming. 

Social situations are already overwhelming for me. I'm a serious introvert. Even at parties with my own friends I need regular breaks. Being around too many people for too long stresses me the hell out. Now imagine having introvert stress on top of the whole coming out transgender to a room full of people and you'll totally understand why I took many, many, many breaks from the proceedings. 

Thankfully there was a back yard and a bathroom and some other areas where I could sneak away for a little bit. Throughout the whole seven or eight hours of the party, Kath was awesome. She stood by my side even when I needed to retreat and helped me deal with all the stress. Isn't it amazing that even when people are super nice it can still be crazy stressful? That's life.

I mean it when I say that everyone was super nice. People were. And Kath and I even managed to have an impromptu live Gender Rebels when some of the family literally cornered us in a room and started asking questions. It really wasn't that bad though. Sometimes it's nice when people aren't acting all super cool as a cucumber and actually express their curiosity. I've heard every question a hundred times by now so I'm able to answer and be informative. Plus they didn't ask anything offensive or inappropriate. Even the kids were totally cool (which of requires cool parents who educate them).

All in all the party and the trip and the coming out went really, really well. They went as well as I ever could have hoped. Seriously, the only way it could have gone better is if they had handed us a gigantic check or gifted us a brownstone in Brooklyn or a giant 50 gallon drum of Haribo Saure Pommes, the finest candy known to humanity. 

Seriously. The best. And only available in Germany.
After everything, it actually took me a while to process things. It's been about two weeks and I still feel like I've barely had a chance to process this. It's a new thing. It changes everything. My brain has so many new neural connections to establish. It makes sense that it's been taking time. 

But overall, I'm happy that I'm out. And Kath is happy that I'm out. And that's great. Best of all, I'm out out. I'm done with coming out to everyone who matters to me. The last remnants of the old gender have been swept away. It's a good feeling. When family people visit I no longer have to duck back into boy presentation. I no longer have to hide my life and all that comes with it every single time people come to town. And that is seriously wonderful.  

Transition takes time. That's what every has always told me. Until you do it yourself though, it's hard to understand the glacial pace it seems to take. Right now I'm over a year and half in and I feel like I've barely started. But coming out to everyone, being out to everyone, feels good. I'm me. Just me. It's like a weight is off my shoulders and I look forward this new era of my transition. 

You can also check out the podcast we made about this topic. It's actually the 50th episode of The Gender Rebels!


  1. what I found is that the more I come out to people the easier it gets but also that people are generally far more accepting than I ever imagined they would be. Congratulations!

  2. A great post, Faith - I'm so happy for you. You've certainly got a wonderful family (both nuclear and extended). As always, nice photos - and it seems to me the make up was just right.

    Michelle x

  3. The kids miss you, Aunt Faith, and can't wait to see you again! We all live you and Kath and are thrilled you are part of the family!

    On another note, I think the human race is generally curious about things we don't know a lot about. We want ask questions, but don't want to be rude which is why we are all Fonzie about it. I will say I have listened to every single Gender Rebels podcast (all 51 of them) and have learned a lot so thanks to you and Kath!

    Love you both!