I’m often asked how I can help my members who want to come out and tell their families. It’s such a delicate subject, and often these feelings rise to the fore at a delicate time.
Recently a 24 year old from Cincinnati asked me the question on my online chat on the website, “Fiona, I wish so badly to become a girl but I can’t figure a way to tell my family. Can you help me?”
I chatted with my member while on my tablet sitting in my garden and this is what transpired. First of all it became clear that my friend had told no one about this desire. Not family, not girlfriends. Additionally they’d never been out to a drag bar, never been out crossdressed and have essentially just gone through life so far denying their feelings of gender confusion.
The first thing I had to suggest is that without having discussed this quietly and calmly with others who either understand or are on their own journey into the centre space of gender they would be moving without reference point or real information. Being able to chat or talk with others in the same boat and hear their stories provides a little bit of a guide. There are, after all, right ways and wrong ways to approach this. To simply go with some preconceptions, which may or may not be realistic was not likely to be a good idea.
As I pointed out to Ali, my Syrian gardener, while I chatted if you’ve never been exposed to a group of people who are familiar with this, you really don’t know what the options are. He helpfully pointed out that in Syria the options are being stoned to death.
“That’s only one option,” I said.
“Well, you could possibly choose large stones or smaller stones. But that’s about it.”
I made a note to mention that where you are in the world also makes a difference. I am not sure that Cincinnati is a very liberal place, but I suspect it’s marginally ahead of Damascas, or so I am told.
When one takes a step into the gender queer community one starts to learn about others path in this difficult subject. There are many clues to be gained from their experiences. This is one reason I am so pleased my Whatsapp Group has taken off so well. It gives people a place to exchange stories, share success and reconsider steps that could have been done differently.
As much as we may take our ideas about gender and run them around inside our head, nothing is as powerful as sharing our thoughts and discussing them with others who are also going through similar feelings, and maybe have already gone through what we are considering. It may also be that we learn that what we thought we wanted was really just one option among many others. Full transition is where some people immediately go in their minds, while not realising that there are many other graduated levels of transition that need not be so irreversible and could be exactly what is needed.
Then of course we get to the awkward question of coming out to family and friends. There’s a very good chance your great auntie Millie in Miami doesn’t really need to know the details. Yet, you’d like to be able to share some of what you’re doing with close friends and family. So, there’s a need to come up with an idea of ‘who needs to know how much?”
Just going out and telling everyone is not always the best idea, although some people feel coming out spectacularly and irreversibly has worked for them. I generally suggest a more measured approach, partly because, frankly, not everyone wants to know. If you’re going to share your thoughts it’s not a bad idea asking yourself what purpose it serves. Some people simply don’t need to know. Your weird Klan member uncle Jed in Georgia may not think it’s cool for a man to wear a dress. On the other hand, he wears Klan robes so you may not want to take his advice on this particular issue very seriously.
I’ve heard some very critical voices respond to members with phrases like, ‘you’re only doing this to get attention!’ Apart from being neither true nor kind, this type of criticism at a very key moment in a persons development can feel pretty lousy. It shouldn’t be taken too seriously as the person spouting it probably has no concept of what gender dysphoria is and has no idea of what you’ve been through to get here.
So, building up connections, stepping gently into a new world and proceeding with good support and information is the first part of figuring out a way to tell the family. Of course, if you family includes members of extreme Islamic sects, you may find yourself with a fatwa on your hands, though again I don’t think this happens often in Cincinnati. Of course, you never can tell.
“Ali,” I said at length. “I’ve been thinking. You know you have friends in your community who probably have a lot in common with the Klan.”
Ali looked up from where he was trimming the roses.
“My community?” he said.
“Yes, you know. Your lot have some pretty serious opinions about some things.”
“You mean the curling club, down at the community center? Mrs Lovelever is quite argumentative on the subject of begonias, but it doesn’t… Oh, that’s not what you meant.”
“Your Islamic friends.” I said trying to clarify.
“Oh yes,” he said. “Some of them are a little hot headed at times. Especially since they put in the bike lane outside the mosque.”
“No, I mean about gender issues. They are not generally considered liberal on such matters. Just like the Klan.”
“Maybe we should arrange some sort of exchange…” mused Ali, and went back to his work.
I returned to chatting online and pointed out that going for gender reassignment was not as simple as going to hospital one day and coming out a woman, immediately wearing floral dresses, and having intermittent attacks of the vapors.
At length they agreed that learning a little more about the process, the psychology and people who had experienced both successful, and unsuccessful transitions would be wise. I am pleased to say my friend is now in the Premium Program and loving it.
As in so many things, education and communication really is the key.