Coming out to Family: Setting the Stage

Now and then I hear or read about someone complaining about how this or that family member was mean or inappropriate. Personally, I don’t see how it’s OK to tolerate bad behavior from anyone … especially family. The healthy premise behind “family” is that these are people who are supposed to be more cohesive, warm, accepting, supportive etc. than complete strangers. A mean family member is the exact inversion of what “family” is typically supposed to do.

A mean family member is violating and negating the basic standard by which family is supposed to function, and deserves to be uninvited. Such a person cannot then validly claim “but I’m family” and expect the benevolence that they’ve just undermined.

Yet, many of us somehow gloss over all of that, and we put up with bad behavior by some family members, thus perpetuating it. If you’re a transsexual girl and you wanna set yourself up for a lot of misery, then go ahead and tolerate bad behavior from members of your family. Treat them as if they have a license to be mean to you — and they will behave accordingly.

For example, one t-girl blog explains how she dreads family holiday get-togethers since family members there are habitually mean to her. I don’t think it’s appropriate for a host or hostess to be unaware or tolerant of that. But, if such a lapse happens, then if the t-girl is tolerant of all that, then she chooses to subject herself to this sort of thing. Her presence says, “I’m OK with being here while people are being mean to me.” Doing so does not make any sense to me.

I’ve left family get-togethers when someone was being mean, and I’ve chosen to avoid events where someone mean had been invited. I don’t regret it.

Another t-girl friend of mine recently came out to her family. Her timing wasn’t great since several of those present were not exactly sober at the time she made her announcement, so not everyone was thinking clearly. The less-than-happy results were consistent with that. Even so, her comments inspired me to ponder how a t-girl might best approach coming out to her family.

Key point: She’s empowered. In more detail:

1. Her presence is a privilege that she can choose to withdraw — and that she *should* withdraw it if someone is being inappropriate, and yet remains present. It’s probably not a surprise to her as to who might misbehave, and so it’s fine for the t-girl to hand-pick her audience for her coming-out speech, and to make it clear to unwelcome people that they’re unwelcome. That includes telling them so when they show up or wander in — even though they know they’re unwelcome. This is something that rude people will often pointedly do, often aided by someone who’s “on the inside” lobbying for them. Their plan is to pressure you into accepting their bullying. If you let them bully you as such, that makes no sense to me.

I recommend making a point of omitting people who are likely to interrupt or interject. Anyone who’s homophobic, bigoted or unreasonable in any other way … is best left out of the conversation completely; they’ll just try to derail the conversation anyway.

Those who will argue for the inclusion of someone whom the t-girl chooses to exclude … should be excluded too. Coming out is a delicate process. Only a worthy audience should be present.

2. The information she’s choosing to share is a privilege. It’s her right to be willing to share it only if certain ground rules are respected in the conversation.

An example might be where the t-girl says: “I have some sensitive information to share and I’d like to present it without interruption. What I have to say is about 5 minutes long. Only if you’re willing to listen, and to neither interrupt nor interject, are you welcome to hear this. I’m not offering this information as the basis for a debate. I am telling you what I know. If you disagree with any or all of it, that’s fine but this isn’t the forum for you to voice that. You can debate it with whomever you like afterwards … though not with me.”

If she gets less-than-inspiring reassurances then it’s fine for her to say: “I needed to hear a good-faith commitment from you” to the relevant person. If a reassurance is grudgingly given then it’s perfectly OK for the t-girl to say “that doesn’t sound like a good-faith commitment to me” and then she simply doesn’t proceed until that other person isn’t around.

If that means she doesn’t have the conversation that day, so be it. Only when she gets good-faith assurances from every member of her audience, should she proceed.

Often in such a context she might be told to get on with it. Whoever does so should also be uninvited.

Coming out is stressful. If someone makes it harder for you, they shouldn’t be present.

3. When a t-girl comes out to some members of her family, word is going to spread anyway — including to the most negative members of the family. She doesn’t have to be the one to tell such people. Everyone will hear the news anyway, via the grapevine. The t-girl needs to include only the nice people in her audience, when she gives her “coming-out” speech.

4. A very empowering tool is … silence. Most people abhor silence. Make it your ally. If someone pushes you into any sort of conversation you don’t wanna have, they know it. If someone is being rude it’s by their choice. Such a person deserves no slack. It is OK to simply look at the person and calmly keep quiet as the seconds tick by. The other party is likely to become deservedly uncomfortable.

It’s fine to let the silence hang as long as you want. This approach is especially helpful when being badgered, offended or overrun by a pushy, impatient or bossy family member, especially one who tries to usurp the agenda and fires off questions on an unreasonable premise and/or in a demanding tone.

You don’t owe anyone an answer. If someone asks nicely, it’s OK to answer but you’re never obligated.

* * *

What a t-girl says when coming out is important, but it’s also important to set the stage.

1 thought on “Coming out to Family: Setting the Stage

  1. Timing is of the essence. This is such a vaulable blog post for anyone taking the step of coming out to family. Yes I got it wrong. Initial online responses were good and everyone was supportive. When it came to driving to meet them I knew they would annoy me and what they would be like. I felt angry and defensive before I’d got onto the main road.
    I think my family thought I’d turn up in “drag” hey presto…it’s trangender. Comment’s like “why don’t you look it up and research online about being transgender…” Really? That had never occurrd to me lol. The hundreds of hours online and meeting people ect ect. I feel as if some people’s initial thoughts are “how does this effect me?” not the person who’s made the choice to inform family/friends.
    I think it was a Doors/Jim Morrison lyric that went “prefer feast of friends to the giant family”
    C’est la vie folks…x

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