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.
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... SERIOUSLY...no 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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You can also check out the podcast we made about this topic. It's actually the 50th episode of The Gender Rebels!