How do I convince myself I don't need to convince them?
June 9, 2011 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Help me deal with the awkward fallout of telling my parents that I'm transgendered and want to begin hormone therapy.

I’ll try to keep this as brief as I can without losing too much of the history, but it’s likely to be pretty long; I’m not entirely sure what it is I’m trying to ask here, but I think that hearing others’ opinions would be helpful right now.

So, after struggling for years with the emotional push and pull of my gender identity versus the reality of my body, I decided this year to move forward and do something about it. This has been a completely scary journey that’s led me to a very awkward situation with my parents.

The necessary details, very briefly: I’m in my mid twenties, currently in nursing school and live with my parents. I have dealt with depression since puberty and have lived a sheltered life, wholly dependent upon my parents, until the past several years. I’m on the MtF side of things, pre-hormones and pre-everything. I live in an extremely isolated area with no support groups or resources aimed at transgendered individuals anywhere nearby, and I had been doing online therapy for several months until I received a recommendation for an endocrinologist.

I’ll be honest—the online therapy wasn’t a great fit for me, but it worked in providing me with information I could use and forming a clear plan for my gender transition. I don’t have any doubts that this is what I want, or emotional issues specific to my gender identity that I want to address at this time. I’m focused entirely on the medical and practical aspects right now. In spite of that, I feel I could use therapy for issues dealing with my dependency on my parents, but I don’t feel that it would be a wise way to spend my money and don’t want to embark on the most likely fruitless search for a nearby therapist who’s a good fit for me.

Now, my original plan had been to tell my parents about my being transgendered at the end of this past semester, help them navigate the resources and understand everything as much as they can and see an endocrinologist during my summer break about beginning hormone therapy before the Fall semester starts. I didn’t expect a big freakout or much anger, and I didn’t get any. My mother initially responded very positively, and gave me her support (although she expressed fears over the hormones). I haven’t spoken to my father directly about it, and don’t know how much he knows, but he asked to temporarily be dismissed from discussing it, so he doesn’t come into this at all. I am positive that he's not upset by it, but just has too many other things going on, right now.

The next day I thought that a follow up talk would be good. My mother’s concerns had inflated and she was rather angry about the online therapy for some reason. She had blown off the information I’d given her, which hurt me a little, but she has since read what I first gave her. She still has no knowledge whatsoever of the potential risks of hormone therapy and has an extremely poor understanding of what it means to be transgendered, so her fears are essentially ignorant.

During this second talk, she told me that she still supports me but insisted that I delay my transition for another year; she thinks that now is a bad time for me to be beginning hormones, because I’ll be starting practical nursing evaluations next semester, and may be stressed. I told her that there probably isn't ever going to be a "better" time, and tried to explain that being in a body that doesn’t conform to my gender identity is itself extremely stressful, but she showed no understanding of what I meant at all—her impression seemed to be that I “want” to transition, in the same way I may “want” an iPad. That my desire to begin hormones ASAP is rooted in a need to alleviate the disgust and fears I have concerning my body didn’t register at all. She’s also taken my emphasis that gender identity may have neurological causes too far, and found it strange that I’d be coming out to her in my twenties instead of simply behaving like a little girl (and believe me, I did plenty of this anyway) as a child. She didn’t seem to understand that this isn’t a delusion--I identify as a woman, but I’ve always known how I’d be perceived if I behaved like a woman all the time.

We both ended up crying, but she did end the conversation by telling me that she still supported me, but was afraid. That was almost two weeks ago, and since that talk she’s asked me one bizarre and insulting question that seemed to imply that she no longer thinks I’m “really” trans and down the denial hole we’ve gone—

--or so I’ve had to assume, because she’s suddenly stopped talking about it altogether. She won’t acknowledge it as a topic of conversation, no longer seems interested in reading and understanding more… Just nothing. Nothing at all.

I can only assume that she now thinks that if we don’t talk about it, it’ll go away. I’m getting really frustrated, here. Since I live with my parents, I see them every day, and there are issues here that go beyond my gender identity. My parents have always shut me out of their lives and emotions—they’re basically disinterested in me or my life, and have a lopsided view of who I am, despite living with me for a quarter of a century. They do care--they just don't want all that much to do with me.

For my part, I’ve responded to being shut out by withdrawing into a depressive lull, but I can’t stay in this state forever and I really would like to move forward as much as I can this summer. I know that going ahead and making an appointment with an endocrinologist will upset my parents, but… Should I even respect their views here? I know that they won’t throw me out of the house in anger, and I expect to be financially independent in one or two more years. They’ve essentially just not reacted to my news and gone on as they always have—by ignoring me.

Should I try harder to help them understand gender issues and gender transition, or should I just let this go and move on without them? Part of my hesitancy is that I’ll have to drive to an unfamiliar city to see an endocrinologist--something I've never done before. I was (perhaps foolishly) hoping I would have their support simply so I could have a hand to hold through all the new and scary stuff that doing this will take of me. On top of that, by living with them, there isn’t any way that I can just up and do this—I will have to announce it a few days ahead of time at the latest, to make sure our plans all sync up, and while I don’t expect a big freakout, I know it will hurt them.

…But my mother’s fears are rooted in a more general hospital phobia and my father hasn’t shown any interest in being involved. Why do I even still care? Should I even consider my mother’s advice to delay my transition? I’ll likely have more financial freedom, but I won’t be in an emotionally stabler situation a year from now.

How can I handle this situation tactfully? I really would like to have my parents’ support, but I don’t know how to make them understand what the transgendered experience is like and where I hope to go from here; and I simply can’t talk to them if they won’t listen. Are there any books or films that would give them a better idea of what it means to be transgendered? Should I push for understanding or let it happen in its own due time while I move forward with my own life now?

How long should I be keeping my own plans on pause while all of this sinks in for them (or doesn’t)?

tl;dr version: I told my parents I’m transgendered. They don’t really care, but don’t really approve, either. Now what?

Thank you in advance for replying. Here’s a throwaway email, if you’d rather respond privately:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You've told your mother that you're going to be starting hormones. You've given her the literature to look at. She knows how to use the internet for more information.

Proceed as planned, I think as long as you aren't worried about possibly being kicked out of the house while in a financially precarious situation.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:36 AM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Congratulations on making the decision and talking to your parents. That must've been scary even if you knew they'd be supportive! I'd take a minute to congratulate yourself for that. We always forget to for some reason.

I think your mom's reaction is pretty normal. She's a good, supportive parent so her initial reaction was a happy one. You want the best for your kids. Well, I assume people do, anyway. But it's scary to suddenly learn that they're not happy with who they are (which no matter how little they had to do with it is always a bummer, for anyone in any situation if you care about someone)and that you have to go through some very, very significant medical treatments.

So your mother is worried because she just has general "I want what's best for my child" anxiety AND because she has general fears about hospitals/medicine/hormone therapy. That's understandable. Anxiety there leads to a defensive mindset. You know she's still supportive so just let her work it out. She is scared for her child even as she's happy that you're looking ahead to a better time for yourself, that's pretty normal, I think.

Here's what I'd do if I were making a similar life changing event. I'd tell my parents here are my plans, i.e. I am going to the doctor on X for Y, and then again for this other thing, etc. This is the concrete part of the talk, they don't get to say anything unless you ask for advice.

THEN I'd say "I'm open to questions on how I feel, or how I made this decision. I've thought it out quite a bit and I know this is right for me. We can either talk about it now or later." If they ask you stuff at that point, I'd respond. Don't try to explain it to them before you know what they want explained, basically. You said your mom isn't 100% convinced that you really WANT this so let her explain her fears before you respond.

I hope that helps. I'm not going through what you're going through, but I know about awkward talks. I think there is a book called Difficult Conversations that may also help you.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:48 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I will tell you a little bit of my story. 13 years ago now, or so, my partner decided to undergo gender transition. The year, year-and-a-half that followed was very hard for us, and part of what was hard was that he was ready and wanted to charge ahead, and I kept wanting time to get used to things. He wanted to start hormones, but I wasn't ready. He wanted to schedule surgery, but I wasn't ready. It went on like that. And part of the dynamic was that he would say, "OK, if you're not ready, I'll wait awhlie," and then he would come back and say, "You know what? I was wrong. I can't wait." And I would be all like "Waaah! How dare you!" It was honestly very hard for me.

And yet--it turned out best in the long run that he moved on his own timeline rather than trying to accommodate to me. I found that it was actually easier to accept something that was done than something I was only imagining being done--kind of like when you're terrified about getting a shot, and then you get the shot and are like, "Is that all there is to it?" The reality was always much less scary than my imaginings. And sometimes moving forward helped me understand in a way I hadn't before; I'll always remember going shopping with him for male clothes for work, and seeing him in a clothing store, relaxed and at ease instead of stressed and and unhappy--seeing how easy it was to buy clothes once he could buy the clothes he felt comfortable in was a turning point for me, a moment when I got how hard things had been and how much easier they were going to be.

I ended up being very glad that he had moved forward with hormones and surgery rather than waiting for me to somehow get comfortable with the idea, because to a great extent, it was seeing the person he grew into during his transition that helped me get comfortable with the idea. It did hurt me, at the time. But it was the right thing. Who knows how long it would have taken me to get comfortable with the hypothetical idea of him transitioning? Faced with a reality I couldn't deny, and seeing the positive effects of the transition on him, got me comfortable a lot faster.
posted by not that girl at 10:51 AM on June 9, 2011 [19 favorites]

You've described a long history of emotional distance plus at least one parent's medical phobia (and you studying nursing, that must be a non-stop fiesta), why are you expecting more from them now?

I mean, I totally get why you WANT more, that's totally normal and okay. But you can't make them act the way you want, you can't make them act any way except how they act, and on paper their behavior is not out of character.

Go live your life. They will catch up or not (and you've had a lot longer to think about this than they have, so cut them some slack to go through everything they need to go through in order to reach acceptance), all you can do is set your own boundaries of what you will and won't accept and what you'll do if those lines are crossed.

Help them if they ask, and be understanding if you can. It's hard when you assume your world is a certain way and suddenly it's not. It's even harder when the reality is something that most people have no (knowing) exposure to in day to day life.

They may surprise you, but they'll have to do that in their own time and their own way. You have to let them, and focus on taking care of yourself.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:53 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Remember, you have had pretty much an entire lifetime to get used to the concept of being TG, one small step at a time. A lifetime to read research, to learn what it's all about, to find out how it has affected other people, and to figure out what it really means to you. I expect at least some of this journey has been stressful or upsetting or confusing for you.

You didn't reach the stage you're at in two weeks and neither will your mom! Give her some time - I don't mean hold up your plans for her, but try to have patience while she works through it all.
posted by emilyw at 10:53 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

You are in a tough spot because you have excessive dependence on your parents. You depend on them both emotionally and for a place to live. You have not ever traveled to another city without their help and support by age 25+. This is not a good position to be in when you start transitioning; you will not only have to take care of yourself, you'll have to take care of them too.

If you can become reliant on yourself instead of them, I think it will be clearer to you, as an independent and fully-functional adult, what your next steps should be. You have more than one transition to make here: the transition to independent adulthood is the one you should probably tackle first.

Your new relationship with your parents, as peer adults, is one that you will both have to work on. But their feelings will be separate from what you choose for yourself. Your mom's fear of hospitals should not be relevant here. Whether your dad's too busy to talk should not be relevant here.
posted by fritley at 11:02 AM on June 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

the town you have to travel to for your appointments - is there a good trans support system there? the journey you're officially beginning isn't an easy one (as i'm sure you know) and as you're already prone to depression, it could be difficult for you to have a bad day in the face of not-really-acceptance from your folks. having people who are going through/have gone through what you're going through now could be really, really important for your mental health. i'm not talking about group therapy (although, an in person group therapy might be nice), i'm talking about finding some people you can grab a cup of coffee with and commiserate.
posted by nadawi at 11:05 AM on June 9, 2011

If you are for some reason in Minnesota, feel free to memail me - I can get you some resources about MPLS/Rochester/etc trans support groups from friends.
posted by Frowner at 11:12 AM on June 9, 2011

Seconding emilyw. Would it help to think of it as a grieving process--not for you, of course, but for her mental conception of having a son? Whether it's fair to you or not, that is a loss that she has to work through, and there's little you can do about that fact except trust that she will do so eventually. In the meantime you can set your boundaries and take care of yourself.
posted by animalrainbow at 11:28 AM on June 9, 2011


Starting hormones won't get you out of that house and on your own any quicker.

You are conflating 3 separate issues here.

- You need to get out of your parent's house and be on your own this instant. I suspect that means doing what all folks like us have done throughout the ages - moving to a metropolitan center or other place where sympathetic and like-minded folks live. (No excuses, ok? Just make plans and do it.)

- You do not have an adult relationship with your parents. Guess what? The longer you stay dependent on them, well, this strategy isn't going to magically morph them into the loving caring parents you've been missing all these years. Really.

You can examine your issues with your parents once you get some distance and clarity on your relationship with them. You can heal the past and find peace in your heart. See first bullet point to begin this process.

- You are transgendered. Yay! There are so many ways for you to explore this and express yourself. Stop trying to get your parents to be your only audience. Get out there and start living. (I don't see being transgendered as a problem. You will feel a lot more comfortable when you are amongst like-minded folks.) Start hormone therapy whenever you want to - you don't need mommy and daddy's permission - and you WON'T need mommy and daddy's permission if you are no longer living with them.

Do you see a theme here?

Move out and start living your life any way you want to. Continue to live at home if you want to continue to feel confused, helpless as an adult, unaccepted as an individual, and (possibly on some deeper level inside you) unloved by your parents.

If you can transition genders, you can live on your own and become a full fledged adult. Guess which one I recommend you do first?

Best. I hope this helped because I want you to succeed in life. I really do!
posted by jbenben at 11:30 AM on June 9, 2011 [14 favorites]

In terms for things for them to read, when I came out to my Mother, I had a copy of True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism to give her to read.

As I came out to my Sister and Father, they all read the book, all of them said it helped them understand, giving them a nice overview from an independent perspective. I'd also recommend Juliet Jacques transition blog.

I'd also say like emilyw said you've had a long time to get used to being trans, it will have been a shock, they may just need time, so don't overload them with books or other things to read.

Do you have a plan for your transition? Hormones aren't the be all and end all, I'm thinking of voice and hair removal in particular, both need a fair amount of time. It also not not just about the physical aspects, do you have a plan for what you want from life?
posted by Z303 at 11:53 AM on June 9, 2011

First of all, you should be so proud of yourself for taking the very scary steps you have already. You have done a lot of work to find peace in your life, something a lot of folks are too afraid to even begin. You are going to have more challenges ahead, certainly, but in many ways you've already tackled some of the most difficult pieces of this transition: recognizing and making peace with your gender identity, taking the steps you need to to explore this and what it means, gathering the information and resources to move forward in a healthy way with the transition and also lovingly sharing this with your parents.

As others have pointed out above, this has been your identity for your whole life. Though it's taken some time, you have always had the realization somewhere inside that this is who you truly are. You are moving from feeling confused and lost, to feeling like the whole person you have always been inside. It's important to understand that your parents are coming at this from the opposite direction. To them you have always been male, with all of the meaning and expectations that are packed up with that gender identity. In a way, they probably are experiencing this like a death. In their minds they are losing the son they think they have known and loved all these years. They probably don't have the ability to see yet that they are still going to have "you" (and what is really a more authentic you), albiet with an outside that looks different than before. They are grieving that son and all of the hopes they had attached to that male identity. Anger, denial, sadness, etc. etc. etc. are what you are seeing from them now. They need some time to work through that grieving, and given that they are still saying they support you and are still keeping communication at least a little open suggests that they will accept this down the road. It's going to take work and it's going to take time.

In the meantime, it's so important that you do have support as you take these next steps. If you are ready to begin hormone therapy, do it. You're right, there is never going to be a "perfect" time and you've done a lot of work to get this far. Ask your endocrinologist for resources. If he/she is experienced with the medical side of this, chances are they may be aware of groups or counselors or other resources that are more local to you. S/he may also know of some parent support resources that can help your mom and your dad come to terms with this. Keep working connections online and ask for support there. Also, are there any friends, cousins, classmates who may not understand the ins and outs of the transition but who can give you more logistical support? Rides to appointments, someone to vent to?

I truly wish you all the best as you move forward. Keep taking good care of yourself.
posted by goggie at 11:54 AM on June 9, 2011

Your Mom is expressing valid emotions; respond to them. "Mom, you're worried about the effect of this transition on my studies. Let's talk about that. What do you think might happen? What do you think I might be able to do to make it work out better?" Reward the behavior/response that's helpful "Mom, this is a pretty big piece of news to assimilate. You are being really loving in your response, and you're really listening. I'm so happy you're my Mom. thanks."
posted by theora55 at 1:28 PM on June 9, 2011

I'm inclined to agree with jbenben that maybe you should focus on getting a social support network in place before you start your transition. It doesn't look like your parents are going to give you the support you're going to need to get through this (from your description, it seems frankly out of character for them to give you that support), and the situation at home doesn't sound very healthy for you. I would second the idea of moving somewhere less isolated, trying to connect with the trans community there, then going forward with your transition. Even if your parents could support you emotionally through this, they aren't going to have the information or experience with the process that a group of trans friends would.

Only you can assess the pros and cons of all this, though, as I don't know all the details of your financial, job, and school situation. I just keep thinking how much stronger and happier you would feel with a supportive community around you.

All the best to you. You're going through lots of stressful transitions now, but I can see a highly intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful person through the words of your question; you'll get through this.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 2:06 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why do your parents have control over your transition? Your body, your dysphoria, your treatment. It sounds like your troubles with them are more related to being co-dependent than related to transitioning. I'd encourage you to move out and be an adult foremost, while also building a social support system for yourself (if not in person, hunt around the internet).

I know I never would've been able to transition if I had stayed at home. My mother would've flipped out and tried to control me into obedience to be the daughter SHE wanted me to be. It's very hard for parents to accept that their children are actual people, with real ideas and dreams and motivations... and this gets much harder when their child does something drastic like transition. You do not - and should not - need to go at their pace, it's your life. Take control of it. Do something about it.
posted by buteo at 5:46 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't know much about gender transition, other than the gut feeling that it must be damnably hard. But I do think that you have the advantage on your mother of having had a good long time to focus on & sort out your feelings and your conclusions about who you are and what your plans are for the future. Unless I'm reading this wrong, your mother is only just finding out. Kudos for her for starting out with her 'supportive mom' face. She gets a gold star from me right there.

But this is only the beginning of the journey for her. It's going to be a time of confusion and pain for her. Confusion because because you are literally proposing to turn the world inside out: Boy becomes girl/Girl becomes boy. You can't get much more about-face than that in life; it would be completely unreasonable to expect there NOT to be a level of emotional turmoil as she tries to re-order a significant chunk of her universe.

Pain, too, because this is going to have to be a time of goodbye for her. I'm a mother. From the time you first touch your growing belly, you start to have dreams for that child. And then someone tells you, It's a Boy!/It's a Girl!, and those dreams and hopes & expectations & imaginings from that day forward are permanently colored and informed and shaped by that sure knowledge of gender. And now you're telling her that the gender ID was incorrect. And all the joy and hopes and dreams she attached to that gender now need to be packed up, held one last time, and put away, forever. Tell me that isn't pain.

I do understand that the soul is the same, just the body is different. The fact that your mother is able to talk about it (as your father is not), suggests to me that she has got the concept as well. But it's a lot to process. And just as your journey has been (and will continue to be) hard, there is a difficult journey ahead of her, as well, as she learns to reconcile what she thought would be with what is going to be.

I am sure, from what you have said, that she is trying to support you. And understand you. But she does have her own issues that are bubbling to the surface. And yes, there will be new memories and new hopes & new expectations that can be attached to the new you that is emerging. But her little girl/boy is going away. someone new is coming back instead; someone she knows & loves but at the same time, *everything* will be different. It's a hard, hard concept. Please be gentle with her and give her the benefit of the doubt as she questions and challenges and yes, acts out emotionally. In a perfect world, she would be your rock; but right now, you may need to be her rock as you try and help her understand that her world is NOT falling down & that, whatever skin you are in, you are still that little spark that squirmed & kicked under her bellybutton for 9 months.

That said, I do agree with the people who say you should move out. This will be a time of re-learning your world and how you interact with it. Conversely, this will be a time of re-learning her child and how she interacts with you. Not being under the same roof will give you both the space you will need to grow. Not to mention a safe, unchallenging place to retreat to on the hard days.
posted by Ys at 7:14 PM on June 9, 2011

While you have probably needed to think about this every day of your life for a very long time, you mother has no context in which to examine these new ideas you have given her. Her immediate response was one of support for you and that speaks well of the eventual outcome. She will have to learn a great deal that she might otherwise have lived her entire life without knowing. She is ignorant of this very large area of knowledge and that certainly means she is frightened. Be gentle with her and be patient but expect her to learn about this and give her time to get her head around it. Steer her toward good information.

There is a six-part series here that might be of help to you in talking to her about the social terrain ahead.

I hope and believe your parents will continue to love you and support you but they are your parents. They will have their own struggles as they come to terms with this and they will have to work through all that noise in their heads. Your father's timetable might even decide he will just not be involved and, for a while, treat the whole thing as some inexplicable eccentricity of yours.

You also need to begin developing your own support network. Maybe this is not in your plan but is unrealistic to expect your parents to be your emotional support as you go through this transition. They will be either in shock or in denial off and on for a while. You could use a friend or two who has been there and with whom you can talk things over and who can, at least virtually, hold your hand.

You have to make your own decisions and you can't wait until you have transitioned to live as an adult. That also needs to start now. I wish you courage and happiness and a wonderful life.
posted by Anitanola at 7:49 PM on June 9, 2011

Only one thing that eventually convinced my parents of my need to transition -- although it was a little moot by that point as I'd already started -- and won them round to supporting me because they thought it was necessary, rather than in that "we love you and we'll support you no matter what crazy stupid stuff you do" way.

Over the course of a few weeks and many upsetting conversations I was able to put my teenage years in proper context. This was the most painful thing to go through with my mother, but it was ultimately (far more any of the medical evidence I accrued, and which she collected from writing to doctors) what convinced her that my transition was important, inevitable, and required. I tried all sorts of metaphors and ways to walk around the subject -- like, "transition is like finally starting to breathe properly after years of holding my breath," and other nonsense -- but only the truth worked: I transitioned because I was running out of reasons not to kill myself, and it was honestly taking more effort to stay in this world than it would to exit it. It brought my mum crashing down to reality and allowed her to put all those times when I'd hide in my room and scream and cry into context. It also utterly ruined her memories of my childhood and teenage years -- "If only I'd known," she said, over and over again -- and I hated doing it.

Before that I'd tried talking about what being trans is like, but it's brutally hard to get cis people to understand and to this day I haven't found a way to do that reliably.

It was a simple fact: every day I spent without transitioning brought me closer to suicide, and the pressure of not killing myself was something I'd been living with since I was fifteen. While over the years they may have upset me a few times ("Obviously we'd love it if suddenly you were to become a man, but we understand that can't happen.") after that they never questioned the need and they supported me as much as ever I could have wished.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:18 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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