I just had a long discussion with a friend about being a gender variant person in a family. Specifically the only gender variant person in the family. While it is not my goal to air out dirty laundry for the whole world to see or speak about my family in a conversation they're not involved with, what I can say is that there are certain patters that I see happen in most families with adult children who identify as LGBTQI2+. To those common experiences that queer (and forgive me, I use queer in the most broadest of terms) family members have to deal with, I don't need to involve my family and in no way does this blog represent anything they've done.
Also, I cannot speak to experiences of parents who are gender variant themselves. That discussion should be left to people who have lived that experience. I cannot speak as a parent, but I can sure as hell speak as a child.
However, no matter how tragic each family may be in their own way, the greater tragedy is to see your family in others. I still see common behaviors that families exhibit when confronted with a family member who expresses their gender or sexuality beyond the conventional cultural norms. There can be a mourning with said family member like people processing the stages of death. Although to reduce the trans and gender variant experience down to denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance loses the specific nuance only we in the community can feel. For my friend, everyone else in their family identifies and conforms to cisgender herteronormative standards. I have heard from other people that transgressing said standards is exhausting. How do we transgress those standards? Simply by living out as our authentic selves. That is the struggle that I see too often. The desire to be accepted and seen in the family as your genuine self is challenging because it is not something you see any other family member work for. The art of trying to fit in, pleasing the perception of your caregivers, all the while standing up for yourself often transforms from the gentle grace of a delicate ballet to the chaos of a monster truck rally. At least that's what it can feel like inside.
Ultimately I have seen individuals slowly but surely let go of their desires to gain the love and affection from their family. It is a liberating exercise, and allows oneself to come to terms with what is truly important. We spend so much time on fostering love in our families that we don't stop and consider that other qualities are more fulfilling: Understanding, recognition and respect to name a few. Love is a abstract and arbitrary word that is tossed around sometimes very poorly and without consideration. “I'm doing this because I love you.” doesn't sound like love to the listener, just an excuse for malicious actions. For this reason, I see people realise that love is unobtainable from their parents because the parents define love in a much different way than the child. Living up to the expectation of love from both sides is a recipe for disaster. Young people grow up but as adults coming out we feel the inner tension of drifting away from our family as well as drawing closer to a profound realm of self realization. And when your identity embodies such radical forms as trans, genderqueer, and pansexual, parents are left to wonder how they can reconcile this newly discovered dimension of you to the child you once were. Sometimes I hear about parents being stuck in a perception of their child from the past. What I don't think a lot of parents appreciate is that the child is going to grow at breakneck speeds and leave that perception in the dust. The tragedy there is the child growing into a more fulfilled human being who is more whole and capable, while the parents are left holding on to someone who doesn't exist anymore or at the very least exists in an entirely new capacity.
I notice that of all things holding desperately on to the past keeps individuals from growth. It keeps them from expanding what they're capable of and keeps them from challenges that uncover even more amazing potential they can contribute to the world. I know that when I kept holding on to the image of myself as a boy tighter and tighter, the deeper my anguish tore into me. At one point, I discovered that holding on to a past that didn't feed my well being was one best left forgotten. That was hard.
Most parents, I don't think, recognize that they hold onto those expectations so deeply. By proxy, us queer kids hold onto those exceptions ourselves. The beautiful thing is that you don't need your parent's permission to let go of that. While there is an understandable nature to parenting, that doesn't excuse any malicious, callous or downright indifferent behavior to a child's true identity. I don't think that most family members appreciate how difficult it is for us to come out to them. It takes a gargantuan amount of courage simply to have the first conversation. For people who have families that are disrespectful or worse, the courage comes from being consistent in your ability to express your true self. The sense of belonging from asserting your boundaries is a much healthier alternative than to have a sense of belonging through spiritual compromise. It takes work to come back to a family time and time again where you are finding a deeper commitment to your own truth that is different from their constructed view of you. It takes strength to dress how your feel comfortable, to explain your pronouns, to put your foot down when someone says something that makes your feel hurt. This is a strength drawn upon by us because cisgender hererosexual people have never had any of their norms questioned or challenged. By nature, any person in the queer community challenges those things simply by being. Simply by developing our character puts those who have the privilege to live never needing to justify their feelings in a challenging position. They never had to dig deep down inside to be sure of themselves. We do.
To the people who do struggle with the things I wrote about, I have and most likely said things that you've already heard before in some capacity or another. Even so, there are affirmations of support that bear repeating. I want to say to you that it's not your fault. There's nothing wrong with you, and it's not your job to figure things out for your parents or family. You live your life. You assert yourself when you're feeling wronged and disrespected. Wear what makes you feel comfortable. Talk about the issues near and dear to your heart without worrying if people are going to get it. You have the ability to engage with your family in a way you nor them ever could before, and there is real power in that. You live life with all the potential that comes with embracing your true self. If you struggle with that, trust me when I say the act of trying in and of itself is noble. For in that act, there is freedom.
To the parents of gender variant and queer children: I don't think it's the job of parents to challenge their children, but I do believe that it's the job for children to challenge their parents. Because, let's face it, if you took on the responsibility to raise a human life in an insane fragile world...you asked for the challenge. But imagine the challenge that we have to face in our daily lives simply to exist and be who we are. Sometimes it's a struggle for us simply to accept ourselves. The challenge that you have is to understand, support and embrace your child in all their unabashed self. All we're asking you to do is to step up to that challenge.