Note: I felt and wrote these words over a year ago. I had just come back from a trip to see my parents, as I was changing my legal gender in Mexico City. That process forced issues to surface, like the irony of going to great lengths to have my gender change officially recognized while my parents refused to do the same.
A lot has changed since then. Time has given me the distance, while progress has given me the resolve, to make my turmoil public, an offering of raw honesty in this collective processing of my journey.
This is the hardest post I’ve ever had to write. Because it’s not about me, it’s about my mother (except I promised I would never write about her, so I guess this post will have to be about me after all.)
Ever since my trip back home, I’ve been thinking a lot about coming out. To your parents. Specifically, the part that happens after you come out: having them come to terms with you.
My inbox is full of questions like “What is the best way to come out as LGBTQ?” or “How do I tell my family that I’m non-binary / trans / queer / questioning?” As I dole out untried (likely untrue) advice, I dutifully ignore the open wound I still hide: if success is measured in eventual acceptance, then I have utterly failed at coming out to my own family.
The plea that breaks my heart: “How do I make them understand?” I wish I had the answer, because it’s the one I’m still searching for.
Stages of Grief
They say that when a child comes out, a parent goes through the various stages of grief: Shock, Denial, Pain, Guilt, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Reconstruction, Acceptance. They can go through each stage discretely or may find themselves in many stages at once.
What no one told me was that, as a parent fails to progress through the stages towards acceptance, the child will, in turn, begin to experience these for themselves. Thus I find myself caught in the middle of this grief cycle, trying to navigate a process which I was not fully prepared for.
My mother’s unquestioned limitless love ultimately came with conditions.
She was not ready to understand.
She is not willing to understand.
I refuse to believe we will never get past this. But I don’t hold out hope that we can ever overcome this.
I am hurt.
I have lost my once fearless protector, my confidante; my safe, nurturing everything who enveloped my world with warmth and kindness and compassion; the one who told me everything would be ok; the one who would tuck me into bed every night, even when I was too old to be tucked into bed; the one who loved me when no one would.
She doesn’t love all of me, and perhaps never will.
As I walk through the front door of my childhood home, half-opened arms await me. Only certain parts of me are welcomed.
I’m proud of being a transgender advocate, but it’s tied to a questionable part of me. It’s not a secret, I just don’t advertise it. If there’s nothing wrong with it, why does it feel tainted?
Being transgender – being me – is not wrong. I believe this with all my heart. I just shouldn’t bring it up. It’s easier this way.
I shouldn’t be pursuing my own happiness at the expense of someone else’s.
Shame on me for feeling guilty for trying to be happy. I only have one life to live and that is mine. Don’t we all deserve happiness?
This assertion of my individual freedom is pure selfishness.
I am the worst person in the world. Even after infinite reassurances from my significant love that I’m probably not a bad person, much less the worst person, I can’t convince myself otherwise.
I’m angry at her.
I’m angry that my mother cannot see beyond what she feels. I’m angry that she cannot overcome those negative thoughts and emotions casting a dark shadow between us.
I’m angry that she hasn’t tried hard enough.
I’m angry at society, for leading her to believe that what she feels is, in some ways, the right way to feel.
I’m angry that she cannot see the wonderful person that others see in me. That I’ve learned to see.
She rejects the idea of who I am. For my entire life, she has refused to notice what has always been there, who I’ve always been. She doesn’t bother to get to know the real me. She’s too afraid to even acknowledge there is more to me than what she wants to see.
Our forlorn relationship will never be the same.
What drives me over the edge is that none of this makes any sense.
I’m confident that there is nothing I can do about it; it’s a lost cause. I’m confident that there’s still something I can do to make it better, some words or books or blogs or someone out there that can help. Both sentiments are quite grim.
Send another letter? Buy another book? I research to exhaustion, weighing out all the options.
Keep talking about it? Or ignore it, pretend like nothing happened?
I lose sleep.
I make myself physically ill.
We’re both still fighting each other, and our own selves. I sincerely hope she gets to the final stage before I do: before I accept that things will never change, before I accept defeat, before I finally bury our relationship and lay this fight to rest. I am ready to give up.
I tend to confront problems head on, while my mom may never want to talk about “it.” The rampant emotions encouraged me to push for progress. Only I didn’t realize I was really pushing buttons instead.
I thought books were the answer, because that’s where I usually find mine. So whenever I came to visit, I brought a stack of reading material with me, from detailed handbooks like The Transgender Child to the simplest explanation in the form of a pamphlet. They remained untouched, unopened. I insisted that, if only she read these, she would finally understand and all her reservations would disappear.
I thought stories might sway her, because if she wasn’t looking for information, maybe it was about emotion. Every once in a while I would send a link to a blog post or a news article that was sure to be a tear gusher. Accepting parents, successful children, young transgender children, all praised for being brave and facing the world despite its dangers and opposition. “It’s different here” she would say, “it’s different for me.”
For someone whose journey has been based on embracing differences, I was not doing a very good job.
I don’t want to end with sadness, because that conclusion is no longer reality.
The coming out process began in my family over a decade ago, bringing a swirl of downs with very few ups. That September I left deeply hurt, more shaken up than usual. My mom is most definitely not at that place anymore. Neither am I.
We’ve rebuilt our relationship. I’ve learned to accept that my mom’s process is different than mine. She deals with things her way, at her pace. She may never understand me in all the ways I understand myself, yet all I need is to be embraced as I am. I think she’s doing that now, in her own way.
I honestly don’t know what changed her, or what has changed in her. I wish I could write more about her process, but hers is not my story to share.
I also want to publicly share the support I had from my friends: everyone who patiently listened, who gave me advice, who comforted me, and especially the ones who reached out when I couldn’t muster facing this. It’s important to remember I cried, I hurt, and I did not go through this alone. Thank you ❤
12 thoughts on “Grief”
You expressed your emotions so powerfully in their simplicity. I am so sorry you had, and are having, to go through what you did. You deserve your mother’s unconditional love, as does every child and adult. I hope you can see this again someday.
I am envious of your strength and ability to go through with that. To give her a chance, to tell her, and then give her a chance to sort it out on her own time. That is a long time to be hurting but not giving up. So glad to hear that it did end up working out mostly alright for you and her. Such a difficult and painful journey, seems like.
Two years into my medical transition, over 8 years after I acknowledged I wasn’t female and no amount of force could make me so, and my family still doesn’t know. I don’t dare tell them. There is me and my life when I was still talking to some members of my family, and then there is now, and there is nothing that I can see that will ever be strong enough to bridge the two ever again.
Every time I post about it publicly, I get parents telling me “give your mom a try” and “she will understand and love you anyways” and “its not fair of you to not even give her a chance” and “all mothers love their children”. After every such comment the guilt tears at me a bit more, buries its poison a bit further into my heart. I can’t ever adequately explain why I don’t dare give her a “chance”. But I can’t. And it hurts, so much. I never stopped wishing and hoping for a loving family. I just don’t have that. I never had a loving family, at least not one that went beyond superficial performances of “familial love”, and there is nothing I can do to change that.
Thank you for sharing. This is a very hard situation, moreso because as you point out, many folks are not sympathetic.
I can understand being at the point where you feel – you know – your family is beyond hope. I think it’s equally important to recognize this situation so you can begin coping with it. At some point it’s not healthy to keep trying when the result is unlikely to change, and will only continue to hurt you. It doesn’t mean you close yourself off entirely, but sometimes it’s the hope that causes the most hurt.
Thanks very much for sharing your journey. I know I have experienced total silence since coming out as Agender to my sister and her family. As for my mother she never completely accepted my being gay so this second coming out is probably beyond her comprehension, she is in her nineties after all. I am treading on somewhat new ground for my generation. I have not come across too many non-binary gender identified people in their 50s and 60s. Still I am grateful to have figured it out while I have time to be part of this ne movement or perhaps I should say rediscovered movement as indigenous societies have recognized multiple genders for years.
I’m agender and soon to be 51. We exist!
Thank you so much for sharing this; my mother is still having a difficult time with accepting me, which is painful because she’d have no problems if I were literally anything besides trans and asexual…neither of which she can understand. At least she’s trying somewhat now, and I don’t think I’ll have to come out a third time to her, but thank you for putting this out there so I can remember that I’m not alone.
Thanks for sharing. My mother told me that she cries every single day since I told her I was trans. I know she’s just being honest but it really hurts that she is so hurt. I feel like I swapped my crying every day for hers.
I’m over 60 and recently worked out I’m non-binary. OK, that’s slow, but 50 years ago I was “a pervert”, hid everything and went into denial. I never came out to my parents but they knew I was, at least, a crossdresser and it just wasn’t talked about beyond my mother tutting a bit if she thought I was too feminine (I’m AMAB). In the end, I decided it wasn’t going to change and now my parents are dead, I’m going through the same process with my beloved but baffled wife. Plenty of allies, but they’re not that much help with spouses, I’ve discovered, beyond giving one confidence. Is there anything to do but keep buggering on?