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Dec 23 2012

The last closet: Why I won’t be home for Christmas

“Just don’t tell grandpa.” It’s been my family’s constant refrain throughout the entirety of my out, public queerdom. It should be easy enough, right? We just… won’t tell him. But no matter how well you keep it, a secret won’t stay contained. It seeps from the black box where we tried to censor it out of our lives, growing little tendrils that infect everything they touch. Any other thing your secret would change is a secret now too. We always end up with more than we bargained for, until we’re desperately leaping across the chasms it leaves in our world.

My grandpa doesn’t know I’m a woman. How am I supposed to hide something like that?

Sure, it was easier when I was 19 and came out to my family as a “gay man”. As I tearfully hugged my mom and sister, I was so grateful just to be accepted that I probably would have gone along with anything in return. But it was my own cowardice too. It did seem safer, after all. What was the harm in letting grandpa – racist, Palin-loving grandpa who goes to church every morning and evening and gets mailers about the UN’s “homosexual agenda” – keep believing whatever he wants?

The holidays and birthday parties at his house, the weekly dinners together that had become a tradition for us since grandma passed away, the avoidance of politics as we barely concealed our disgust, everything continued as usual. It’s not like I ever had any boyfriends to hide, anyway. Maybe that should have told us all something.

By the time I first came out, I was well on my way to feminine territory. But breaking out of assumptions, especially big ones like what gender you are, can take some work. You’ve lived as a guy all your life, you find you have an attraction to men (even if not an exclusive one), you lean toward the effeminate, and that’s the role society offers you: gay man. It was just the nearest place I could find for myself. I wasn’t yet ready to consider that I might actually want to be a woman instead.

Timeline

Nope, nothing to see here

Sometimes I wish I were one of the people who had “always known” in some sense that they were really a man or a woman, the people who eventually have that epiphany all at once, and know exactly what their path is if they choose to take it. Sure, I knew what it would mean to be trans – and people who knew me online were already starting to see me that way – but I had to carve away at the space of possibilities until the only remaining option was too obvious to ignore.

So I spent two years putting myself together into what I wanted to be, for the first real time in my life. Two years of going by “he or she, either’s fine”, while being she’d and ma’amed in public more and more often. Two years of growing into something more than a gay guy. “Drag”, I jokingly called it. But really, it was just… me.

You’d think people would notice their child, their grandchild, their sibling becoming a woman right before their eyes. It’s obvious in retrospect, but you might not recognize what’s happening if you don’t know what to look for. For my little midwestern family, the idea that one of us could be trans wasn’t even on their radar. “Sex changes” were just some abstract thing that happened to other people, somewhere else, in the realm of Jerry Springer and Maury and bad comedy movies. When something is so utterly remote from your experience, you don’t even consider the possibility that it could happen in your own home. Not even if you see it every day.

And that’s how things stayed, with nobody really sure what was going on, not even me. I settled into what I had begun to call the “gender demilitarized zone”, not quite trans but maybe, definitely not a guy but still partially “he” for no reason other than the inertia of the years, not yet countered by enough of an opposing force to push me over the hump into outright womanhood.

Then I met Heather. We hung out in the same queer chatroom, but we hadn’t really noticed each other until we both ended up arguing with some guy who thought all LGBT people should come out, no matter the personal cost. She’d recently realized that she really was lesbian after all, and that things weren’t going to work out between her and her husband. And somehow, once we started talking with each other, we couldn’t stop. We marveled at having finally found someone we could talk to on the same level, who truly understood what the other was saying, who never ever got tired of being around us. We talked for hours each day, only parting when we had to, staying up late into the night, inexorably growing together. And she called me “she”. It felt so right, for both of us.

After just a few months of the closest friendship I’d ever known, we decided we had to meet. We counted down the days – 63, 62, 61… – until she arrived in Chicago for a long weekend together. We dreamed of what it would be like, of holding hands and holding each other, of looking out on the world from the top of the Sears Tower and promising we’d be together forever.

The top of the Sears Tower

I’m nothing if not oblivious. Maybe it runs in my family. Afterward, she told me she’d been afraid of telling me how she really felt and scaring me away. Me, I’d just never been in love before, not like this. I didn’t know what it looked like. I couldn’t put a name to it, even when it was right in front of me.

She ran to me and swept me up into a hug the moment she saw me, holding me tighter than I’d ever been held. It was like everything I needed in life came together as we embraced, bathed in the light of that moment we’d dreamed of, finally made real. We held hands and ventured off into the city, not caring where we ended up as long as we were together, stopping at whatever bookstores and sculptures and museums we encountered along the way. At the end of the day, we closed our eyes and leaned on each other in a dark room at the Art Institute, ignoring some black and white film about tunnels.

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in bed, lips against lips against skin against skin for hours until the night descended. Neither of us expected that. We didn’t know where this was going, and it didn’t matter. If this was where we’d been heading the entire time, then it was right. I never wanted to let her go.

Before she had to go back to Florida, she asked if I would be her girlfriend. Sometimes, all it takes is one question to put everything in perspective. I was not a boyfriend, I would not be a boyfriend, and we both knew it. We were nothing like a straight couple. And I was nothing like a guy. I cried as she got into her taxi and promised her we’d be together again.

When you’ve already come out to your family as a gay guy, it can be kind of awkward to tell them you have a girlfriend now. It felt like taking something back, even if I was actually queerer than ever. But it would have been even more awkward to give them the full story, explaining the intricacies of gender identities and the true nature of our relationship. It wasn’t until months later, when I was about to move to Florida to be with Heather and her kids, that my famously non-confrontational mom finally asked if I was still gay. The most I could bring myself to say was “…yeah, just not only gay.” We were both content to leave it at that.

Adjusting to life as a stay-at-home mom was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but it’s so normal for me now that I can’t really remember what made it such a struggle. My family was worried that this was a big step for me, being so far away from home for the first time. Really, it was better for me than I ever expected. I was with Heather every day, and I was finally in a place where everyone had always known me as a woman. She’d even taught her kids about “girls in boy bodies and boys in girl bodies”. I didn’t know how valuable this kind of unconditional support was, until I experienced it firsthand and found out what I had been missing.

People who love me for who I am

Left to right: People who love me for who I am

Being with someone who had been through her own journey of self-discovery, who had dated trans women before, who saw me unambiguously as a woman, I knew that she understood me. I knew that I was safe with her. When I finally reached a point where I had to find a therapist, a doctor, to take the leap into starting hormones, to file for my name change, to pick out my first bra, she was there with me. And when I decided to call up my mom and sister and explain that I’d really been her girlfriend all this time, she held my hand as they spoke those same words: “Don’t tell grandpa.”

Where does this all leave grandpa, anyway? He never knew I was gay – back when I was the other kind of gay – so it came as no surprise to him that I have a girlfriend now, that I have kids, that I have my own family. We still talk sometimes, and he loves to hear about how we’re all doing. “It’s almost like you’re the mom”, he said as I told him about Heather’s new job. Yeah, almost. I don’t have to hide anything about my new life, except for this one little detail that could tear everything apart.

I haven’t seen my family for over a year. Even if we had room in our finances and our schedules for a trip across the country, I don’t think I could do it, not while I’m still some secret they’re keeping. Not if I’d have to pretend to be someone else. For all the ridiculous fearmongering about how any mention of transgender people will just “confuse” children, I’m certain my sons would be much more confused to see their stepmom treated like a man, called by a name they’ve never known.

I won’t put us through that. I’m not going to act like Heather and I are straight, I’m not going to be a “stepdad” or a “husband”, and I’m not going to hide what my body has become. When I see my family again, I won’t be the person they want to pretend I am. I won’t be someone else. This is too important to compromise, so until something changes, I just won’t be there. I can’t do it.

The family he won't get to see

Despite how scary it is, how likely to end in disaster, I still want to tell him. I’m convinced that he deserves to know, even if he hasn’t necessarily earned it. When Heather and I get married, I want him to be there. The alternative, the ultimate passive-aggression of leaving him out of it all or waiting for him to die without ever knowing who I really am, is even more unthinkable. I want him to know that he has a granddaughter, that I’m making the most of myself and I’m finally, truly happy for the first time. He’s our last connection to the grandma we all miss so much, who never got to see me grow up, and I know she’d want to be a part of my life no matter what.

I still keep putting it off, and I don’t know why. Maybe I just want to have as many days as I can where I know I’m still loved and appreciated, even if it’s on false pretenses. Maybe I don’t want to have it confirmed that my own grandpa would hate me for who I am. Maybe I want to hold on to the hope that it might not be so bad. But every day he doesn’t know is a day I won’t get back, and that’s the price I’m paying for this secret.

It’s not that big of a deal… is it? I’m still the person he’s always known. The rest of my family treats me just the same – it hasn’t changed anything between us. It’s just who I am, and it should be the least important thing in the world. Why does it have to matter so much?

This can’t last, and we all know it. Everyone in my family has always valued keeping the peace above all else, and none of us are looking forward to blowing the whole thing wide open. But it has to happen. Some things are more important than peace, and too valuable to hide away forever. What am I waiting for? Just courage – the courage to put that missing piece back into my life, to wipe out that spreading ink blot of secrecy. This time, I’ll be the one to fill it in with the truth.

58 comments

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  1. 1
    Lily Banyard-Fox

    Good luck, Zinnia. It’s clear family is important to you, else the solution would be much simpler. Personally, I don’t imagine I’ll ever tell my Dad. It would only confuse him, and be tedious for me to meet such a boring person again.

    I do really like that first image you use – four portraits coming into focus and colour as it approaches the present day reality. What a great way of demonstrating self-actualisation.

  2. 2
    Eddie

    oh my god, I am crying right now. :) good luck with your grandpa. I allways regreted not telling my father I was bisexual, having to hide all my relationships from my parents until I had moved out. The guilt that comes from a subconscious wish that your parents will die without “the dissapointment” you could bring is nothing to the guilt you feel once they actually die not knowing who you were. :(
    uhm. I am not much help am I ? sorry, I am full of bad advice I wish I had your courage. :) may everything turn out fine.

  3. 3
    Natalie Reed

    My mom wrote me recently about wanting to tell her father.

    He’s my last remaining grandparent. He’s a good guy. I’m not worried about any disasters or anything.

    My biggest fear is it creating tensions and awkwardness amongst the REST of the family. I can handle myself, and I chose this for myself, but they didn’t choose it, and I don’t want to be a catalyst for any criticisms towards my mom or anything.

    1. 3.1
      Zinnia Jones

      When I came out to my immediate family, I pretty much assumed they would distribute that information as they saw fit. I do expect them to be able to handle whatever fallout may come of that, though. I’m not in contact with much of my extended family anyway.

    2. 3.2
      authorizedpants

      How do you handle it? The few family members I have told so far choose to ignore the issue other than asking me and my wife if we are doing okay. As long as we keep saying “yes” they don’t talk about it or ask any questions.
      I keep pretending to be comfortable with their attitudes and only wince internally when they still obviously consider me 100% still a dude.

  4. 4
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    A) Your love story is soooo sweet. Seriously. Better than anything Hollywood ever produced.

    B) I’m sorry for the gap you’re experiencing. I remember how my brither in law’s family was all about “don’t tell grandma that he’s gay” and I know the toll it took on his relationship with his boyfriend.

  5. 5
    Kels

    What gets me in your story is why do they want to keep your grandfather in the dark? is he a generally intolerant man? Is he someone who doesn’t like change? Or is it less about him than your family?

    Not that I don’t identify a bit. After I came out to my dad, I was suddenly not invited to his girlfriend’s family’s place for Christmas any more. Because, well, he didn’t feel it was his place to explain it but didn’t want it to be an issue on the holidays. Therefore, an impossible situation.

    I also identify a lot with not always knowing, it was the same for me. I did know something was wrong, and despite frequently saying I’d have made a better girl, the truth never hit me until my 30′s. And even then, family didn’t pick up on the physical changes (although a couple of cow-orkers did) until I was out and full-time with a shiny new name. It’s sort of amazing who figures stuff out and who doesn’t, really.

  6. 6
    internetpal2012

    That was a very moving piece you wrote here.I always knew you had talent as a writer and the more I read of your articles it becomes clearer for me and everyone else to see. I hope you include it someway in your upcoming book.If you feel you have to tell your grandpa about your new life before it’s too late one thing you could do is write him a letter and send him a picture of you with your family.Try to explain to him what this means to you and how you felt the need to share this with him.I’m sure he cares about you very much.If he does write back to you and if it is supportive please include it at the end of your book.

  7. 7
    Stephanie Zvan

    That caption on the wedding photo is the best thing ever.

    Family is so…strange. That overlap between blood and bonds that matter in the real world and all the places they don’t overlap. I hope your two kinds of family get to be a little more overlapping when you tell your grandfather.

  8. 8
    carlie

    I’m so glad you found someone like Heather. And your own strength is obvious, too. Good luck with your family.

  9. 9
    blogofmyself, writer of papers

    First of all, this is a really well-written essay (as always). The story of you and Heather meeting is probably the most wonderful love story I’ve ever read. I’m sorry that your family wants to keep you a secret. You obviously love them very much, or else this wouldn’t matter so much to you. I think you’re very brave for wanting to tell your grandfather. I see why you think it’s the right thing to do, and I wish you all the luck in the world for when you actually tell him.

  10. 10
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    I’m seriously trying not to cry, here. Oh, no, happy tears, for you and Heather and your cubs.

    *BIGHUGS* if you’ll accept them.

  11. 11
    Robert Nugent

    As a white male heterosexual who was born a white male heterosexual, I’m appalled. Appalled that anyone has to be apprehensive about being who they are around their family (extended or otherwise). I don’t have any advice about how you should handle the situation with your Grandfather, so I’ll just offer my congratulations on finding your new family. I’m happy you’ve found someone who accepts you for who you are. Reading this made me feel a little better about the world we live in. Happy Holidays (everyone)!

  12. 12
    MGoold

    Best of luck and I don’t want to sound intolerant, but what exactly does it mean to be transgendered?

    I can figure out “gay,” you’re simply attracted to the same sex. But whenever I try to figure out “transgender” I end up getting a bunch of stuff about “gender identity” and I can’t figure out exactly what “gender identity” means.

    1. 12.1
      WMDKitty -- Survivor

      Gender identity is… it’s kind of, how you “feel”, your innate sense of “I am male” or “I am female”.

      For transfolk, their internal identity is at odds with their physical sex.

      Zinnia, feel free to jump in and correct me if I’m wrong, here. This is my (admittedly limited) understanding of the matter.

      1. MGoold

        I don’t have an innate sense of “maleness” that transcends the physical reality of my body. That’s what baffles me about transgender…ness? Every time I hear it defined, it assumes that everybody has an innate sense of being a particular gender and “transgender” just means the innately sensed gender differs from the physical one.

        And that’s where I get stuck. I’m physically male, so I’ll tell you I’m male if you ask but it’s not like I have some sort of internal “maleness” as part of my identity. The notion that a person might “identify” with a particular gender (or consider it part of who they are) is where I get confused.

        By the way, are you the same WMDKitty who hangs out/hung out on FSTDT? I used to post as Maronan.

        1. WMDKitty -- Survivor

          Yeah, they banned me for “ad hominem attacks” after telling some jerkass to stop calling me paranoid and sexist for not being a mind reader and being wary around men. Funny, they didn’t ban a single person who harassed me… The place turned into a cesspit of “bash the women, excuse the menz, and ban the reasonable folks.”

          1. MGoold

            Oh wow, I didn’t know. :(

            It’s been ages since I posted on FSTDT; when I left, Yahweh was still in charge.

            As for transgender folks, I suppose I may never understand exactly what it means. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to change your gender I’ll be weirded out but hey it’s your body so go for it. And I’ll use whichever pronoun you want (at least until I succeed in abolishing gendered pronouns from the English language in the first place, which will happen right after I bring back the word “thou” and make everyone stop confusing “your” and “you’re”).

        2. Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

          Well, your brain is physical reality of your body, isn’t it.
          I’m cis as well, but I don’t need to grab between my legs to know I’m a woman.
          But I was a so-called gender-nonconforming child* and people often suggested that I’d better been born a boy or made a better boy than girl. And it hurt. And remember I was about 5 or 6, so, no boobs to look at and vaginas and penises were basically different ways to pee. Still I was always sure that I was female and that I never wanted to be anything else despite my tomboy appearance.
          Now, I don’t want to suggest that my little story is anything like being trans. But it gave me a glimpse of people questioning your gender-identity, and it somehow taught me that gender is more on the inside than on the outside..

          *I hate that term because it implies there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a girl/boy

          1. Michael Goold

            I don’t need to check each time, obviously, but I’m a man because of what’s between my legs, not because of a switch in my brain that may or may not have been synced when I was born. If a force as yet unknown to science were to transform me into a physical and genetic female tomorrow, I’d say I was a woman from that point forwards; there’s no inherent maleness in me that would continue to exist when the organs and/or chromosomes didn’t and while I’d be miffed at any large-scale body modifications happening to me overnight, I wouldn’t think of myself as the “wrong” gender.

            I’m not sure what “gender nonconforming” means, but from context it sounds like a matter of gender roles; that you acted in a manner society has arbitrarily associated with masculinity. I reject the validity of societal gender roles entirely, which may have something to do with why I’m having trouble understanding what transgender means.

          2. Hypatian

            There’s a pretty famous case with regard to this involving a boy who lost his penis due to a botched circumcision. The doctor decided that it would be less traumatic for him to be raised as a girl, and convinced the parents. This… did not go well. He expressed at a young age that he thought he was a boy, and ended up living as a boy again starting in his teens. Let’s see if I can find a link… Okay, the Wikipedia page on David Reimer covers it.

            So there is indeed evidence that this sense of what sort of person you should be occurs in cis folks as well as trans folks. I think most trans people would argue that it’s simply not something that cis people ever really think about or notice, because there’s no discord between this sense and their experience. Even trans people sometimes spend years trying to work out what exactly they’re feeling. When I realized that something was weird, in my mid-teens, I spent several months trying to figure out if I was gay, before coming to the conclusion that no, I simply was not attracted to men. I’ve heard stories from other people who are attracted to people of the gender they were assigned at birth doing the same thing, coming to the conclusion that “oh, I’m gay”, and then several months or more down the line realizing that there’s something else going on, too, because they still just don’t feel right.

            So, anyway: it’s a phenomenon that’s a lot like “privilege”. It’s a thing that you never realize is a thing at all until you’re on the wrong side of it, or unless you pay very close attention to what’s going on. Chances are very good that if you were magically transplanted into a female body, you’d start feeling pretty weird about it after a while. But because that’s not going to happen, you’re just going to go on feeling fine. And those of us who are trans just don’t feel fine in that way, to varying degrees.

            And yeah, it’s separate from gender roles and expression as well. I’m not at all a fan of traditional gender roles. And, I don’t particularly care to wear frilly stereotypically feminine clothing. But, I do feel at odds with myself. I have gone to sleep every night for decades imagining being a woman. I have spent years not letting myself look too hard in the mirror because it hurts too much, and ignoring medical problems simply because the only way I kept coping was to not think of my body any more than I absolutely had to.

            So, even for somebody who’s not really attached to traditional presentation, and even to someone who thinks of people more as their minds than as their bodies… I still have something else going on that I simply cannot cope with. I was alive and kind of doing okay… but mostly committing suicide by degrees through neglect both of my body and of my hopes and dreams.

            Still, it’s a very hard thing to understand, and a very difficult thing to explain–even from the inside.

          3. Hypatian

            Oh–and with regard to “transplanted into a female body” thing, that’s with the brain intact. There’s some decent evidence of differences in brain structure between trans people and cis people with the same birth-assigned gender. My best uneducated guess is that there’s something going on at one level with pheromone receptors identifying “what people should you be like?”, and also possibly some things involving proprioception.

            So if it was your mind in a cis woman’s body, including brain, that might not feel wrong. But your mind in a trans woman’s masculine body would, and your masculine brain in a female body would.

            The science is still out on all of this, of course. Until recently, being out as trans was pretty serious business (and still is for many people, and in many places.) Combine that with the rarity of it, and the difficulty of studying some brain structure in living subjects, and prenatal hormone influence, etc. in any subjects, and it gets messy. Still, people are trying, and I think it will be easier to study as attitudes seem to be changing and more trans people are coming out.

        3. authorizedpants

          You do have a sense of maleness that transcends your body but since you are not a transgendered individual, you do not notice it.

        4. Vicki

          As far as I can tell (and I am not an expert on this), there’s a lot of variation in how strongly people identify with gender, both how certain we (they) are of our genders, and how much it matters to us. This seems to be separate from whether a person’s gender identity matches either external genitalia or chromosomes. A lot of people have a strong sense of gender identity, which matches their external genitalia, and assume that the two go together. Some of those people really don’t comprehend how someone can not care, or how someone born with a penis can be sure she’s a woman.

          Some of us are reasonably sure of our genders, but it’s not a big deal to us: ask me and yes, I’m a woman, but I don’t get upset if a stranger calls me “sir” when asking what sandwich I want to order or handing me change at the grocery store. (If it was physically dangerous for me to be called “sir,” I would probably make more of an effort to be seen as a woman, but that might not affect my sense of self.)

          I have nothing like enough evidence, even anecdotally, to guess whether “people with a really strong sense of gender” are more likely to be trans* or cisgender; among other things, cisgender people’s sense of gender identity seems to be taken for granted by almost everyone, there’s no cis equivalent to a trans* person’s saying “I’ve thought for a long time that I was female” or “I always knew I was male.”

          I suspect that if I, as a cis woman, posted somewhere “I’ve always had a feeling that i was a woman,” I would get a combination of “huh?” “of course you are” and a few people thinking I was coming out as trans*. We all spend a bunch of time thinking about gender—it’s in the culture—but the ways that cis people talk about gender tend to start with “she’s a woman, so she…” and “you’re a man, so you should…” rather than including “how do you know you’re a woman?”

  13. 13
    Abdul Alhazred

    {applause} Inspirational and heartwarming.

    Also: It may be that grandpa knows more that you think.

    1. 13.1
      WMDKitty -- Survivor

      They always know more than you think they do.

  14. 14
    EllenBeth Wachs

    Wanting to find something appropriate to say but struggling so I will just leave these words-
    thank you so very much

  15. 15
    Argle Bargle

    Thank you for the story about you and Heather finally getting together. I had to dab my eyes with a tissue when I read it.

    Good luck explaining things to your grandfather. Hopefully he’ll be happy to know he has a granddaughter.

  16. 16
    Eris Caffee

    Zinnia, I feel your pain, since I went through something very simliar. It sounds like you’ve made up your mind to come out but are still undecided about the timing. Whenever it happens I wish you luck!

    As perhaps a bit of encouragement, here’s what happened with my own grandparents:

    I transitioned in the mid 90′s. At the time my grandfather had throat cancer, and everyone told me not to come out to him. They said he wouldn’t accept it and that it would hurt him, and of course, I was also afraid of how he would react. My family are from Alabama, and mosy of them are Baptists. My grandparents were not really fire and brimstone types at all, and they didn’t really even go to church that much, but they always listened to gospel music on the radio on Sunday mornings, and my grandmother kept up with bible study classes in her later years, so I really didn’t expect them to be understanding.

    Since I was living in Texas at the time, it was easy enough to keep the secret, though. When I did go to visit, I just slipped into “guy mode” as best I could. Which meant that everyone thought I was gay, of course, though no one ever said anything.

    Eventually, though, my grandfather died, and he died without ever meeting or even knowing about the real me. My only consolation is that my voice was literally the last one he heard since I called him on the phone and he died right as I said hello to him. I still don’t know what to make of that.

    That left only my grandmother, and she was in her mid 70′s and her health not so good.

    And then the next year I made the really big steps in transition: name change, going full time, and getting things lined up for surgery. There couldn’t really be any hiding anymore if I saw my grandmother in person.

    I made the decision to tell her.

    I had already lost my grandfather without him ever really knowing the real me, and it hurt too much for me to let it happen again. Regardless of the consequences, I decided to come out.

    So I took some vacation time and went back to Birmingham. My grandmother and I went to a Mexican restaurant, and while we were eating our meal I told her that I was really a woman and was in transition. I cringed waiting for the hammer blow.

    She said “And?”

    I was confused, and explained things again. She said that she knew, or at least had strongly suspected for a long time, and that she had expected me to have some sort of news that she didn’t already know.

    I was floored, of course. No one had told her, she just knew anyway, and it didn’t make any difference in the way she felt about me. As we talked more she said that while she didn’t pretend to understand it, she had seen a lot in life and this was by no means the most unusual of them. Basically, she had just mellowed out with age, I guess. That happens with some older people. They just no longer get riled up about some things as much as they used too, even if they still disagree.

    So coming out to my grandmother proved to be a really good thing for me. In her last years I could have an open and honest relationship with her.

    I really hope that things work out with you and your grandfather. Quite honestly, his comment about you being like the mom makes me wonder if, like my grandmother, he already knows, but isn’t saying anything until you bring it up.

    Good luck!

    1. 16.1
      Abdul Alhazred

      Quite honestly, his comment about you being like the mom makes me wonder if, like my grandmother, he already knows, but isn’t saying anything until you bring it up.

      This.

      I was surprised my family were not surprised.
      “Just plain” gay myself, and I thought I was good at hiding it.

      1. Kels

        Haha, when I first showed up at my friend’s store wearing a skirt, her immediate response was “It’s about time! I’ve been waiting four years for you to do this!”

        My mother’s response, which I expected to be troublesome, was “So it’s Kels, right?”

  17. 17
    The Nerd

    My 6-year-old lives with my ex, and I was afraid of how he would respond when I finally got the chance to tell him in person. “I’m only a tiny bit girl and a tiny bit boy, but I’m mostly queer. Sometimes people change, and that’s okay.” He seemed to get it right away. “Oh, so that’s why you wear those boy clothes.” I hear the way he calls me Sweetie (because Mommy is a girl’s name) and I really can’t think of why I’d even want to be around anyone less understanding. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

  18. 18
    osmosis

    Give gramps more credit, he’s probably not as clueless as you want to think. Maybe the fact that he’s said nothing is his way of exercising tact. He might not understand it, but that doesn’t mean he’s against it – not everyone fears the unknown.

  19. 19
    paullawley-jones

    Is it better for your grandfather to hate who you are or love who you aren’t, to love a lie that everyone tells him, and that you let him believe? If he knew who you really are (as you now do), he’d be able to start to come to terms with it. Maybe being transgendered wouldn’t be so abstract to him once it’s attached to a real person that he knows and loves. Right now, you’re denying him that option because you think you know what’s best for him.

    I suspect, like others have mentioned, that he may know more than you think, and be more tolerant than you imagine. I suspect also that your family may be afraid that he’ll be angry at them for trying to hide it from him, for lying to him all these years, and for assuming that he won’t be able to handle the truth, for assuming that he’ll react a certain way.

    We always end up with more than we bargained for …

    … but sometimes in a good way.

    Please don’t take my comments as a criticism of any past, current or future course of action you might take. I wish you and your family nothing but health and happiness.

  20. 20
    Ichthyic

    Tell gramps.

    In the end, the people that you really need in your life, you already have close to you. Amazing story with a rather happy ending, AFAICT.

    It simply doesn’t matter what your gramp’s response is to reality, but if you want honesty in your relationship with him, you’re only hurting yourself by not telling him.

  21. 21
    didgen

    I. too think you should tell him, I can’t imagine anything that my grandchildren could tell me that could change the way I felt about them. Especially if it was causing them to feel that they could not see me. But I could never have conceived that my own mother would tell me that I was welcome in her home, but the bi-racial child I was expecting would not be. It took a while for her to understand that it would mean the end of any relationship that we had. Family can hurt you like no one else. Hopefully he values you as much as you do him, be patient with him us Olds, we are slow.

  22. 22
    NonStampCollector

    That was a great read. Thanks for clearing up some of the confusions **I** had about you. You are whoever you say you are, and I hope your Grandpa can see it that way if you decide to tell him.

  23. 23
    Ivar Husa

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am an ally, and still learning. You have my respect and admiration. Merry Christmas!

  24. 24
    Tom Blacklock

    Zinnia,

    I just wanted to thank you for your blog and tell you that you are already braver than you know.

    I also wanted to let you know that there is someone else who’s story is like yours. I came out as a lesbian when I was 15 because being a tomboy, wearing boys clothes and being attracted to girls made me feel like that was the role for me. I lived as as a lesbian for 20 years and it was only after meeting my wife 5 years ago (who still identifies as a lesbian) that I had the courage to admit that I am the man I always really knew I was. My biggest regret is that my racist, homophobic, bigoted father never got to know his eldest son before he died – don’t let that be your regret with your grandfather

    I wish you and Heather much happiness as you deserve it

    Tom

  25. 25
    brucemartin

    Dear Zinnia,

    Thanks for a great blog post. My only quibble is on the caption of the wedding photo, where you say “People who love me for who I am”. It should actually start with the word “some”, because in addition to all of the folks in the photo, you shouldn’t forget all of your readers. Even though we haven’t met you in person, we have watched your video essays and read your posts over the years. For many of us, I think it is fair to say that we also are people who love you for who you are. Please don’t forget that we care.

    I don’t know the right thing to do about your grandfather. But he might enjoy knowing more about his new great-grand-kids. And he might appreciate the chance to do the right thing.

    If/when you do decide the time is right to let him know, I had one idea of a method. You could arrange to contact him by Skype (maybe your mom could set it up if needed). Start the call with your camera focused tightly on your face. Talk for a minute so that he can be clear that he is talking to the same person he’s known for over a couple of decades. Then, widen the field of view so he can meet your fiancee, and see that you are a confident adult woman.

    That gives him a diplomatic way to ease into accepting your newly clarified reality. He can talk with you and your fiancee Heather, and choose to focus on those issues. Or, he can ask for further clarification about you (i.e., what he would have known if he had read this post already). Or he can decide to wrap things up. If he does the latter, you can just invite him to contact the two of you again soon, so that he can Skype also with his great-grand-kids. And then he can take it from there, when he’s ready. Just one possible suggestion.

    Best wishes to a long and happy future for you and Heather together. The world always needs more romance success stories. Thank you for providing a good one by just being clear about who you are, both with Heather and with your readers.

  26. 26
    Crissa

    You life is like some sort of dream-fulfilling fiction. I wish you happiness and luck.

    My family was easy; my SO’s family is filled with potholes and incomplete intentions and not-so-closeted racists. So I know someone close to me I have o hold and hug while she cries out for another disappointment like your story above about your grandfather.

  27. 27
    Sylvia Sybil

    I came out as bisexual to my heterosexist grandmother about a year ago. Her response was the single sentence, “I love you anyway.” Ever since, she has dealt with it by pretending I don’t have a sexuality. Since her previous method had been to nag me about being too fat to catch a man, this is actually an improvement.

    I’m not out to my great-grandmother, and I don’t think I even could be. She’s so old and set in her ways I don’t think she’d understand how it’s an identity and not just a behavior.

    Of course, I’m single and not looking to settle down any time soon, which makes my sexuality almost invisible. If my great-grandmother is still alive when I have a girlfriend, then I’ll have to figure out how to approach her. Introducing a girlfriend to the rest of my family but not to my great-grandmother would not be an option. I think – I hope – she’d take it in stride and treat my girlfriend just as she’s treated my brother-in-law.

    ~~~

    To balance the depressing stories, my mother and brother accepted me instantly when I came out. Both of my sisters already knew, although one was relieved to hear the word “bisexual” because she’d thought I was a lesbian faking interest in men to stay in the closet.

    My mother was the one I was most worried about, as she had been very heterosexist. However, she flipped almost immediately. Me being queer didn’t change her opinion about me, it changed her opinion about queer people. From then on, tolerating heterosexism wasn’t an option for her, because “that’s my daughter you’re talking about.” She has always been clear about her unconditional love for me. If that means she has to quit her heterosexist congregation and vote for same-sex marriage, then she will do it – because I am her precious child and I deserve equality.

    1. 27.1
      Dafy

      Like you I am very blessed to be surrounded by family and friends who accept me for and what i am it is just me who cant fully find who I am lol

  28. 28
    Molly

    This is the second time when I’m reading one of your posts and I end up crying, Mrs. Z.
    Nothing makes me happier than a LGBTQ person gets accepted by the people they love and care about. And nothing makes me sadder than a LGBTQ person getting rejected by the people they love.
    I hope everything works out for you!
    Good luck and much love, and a happy winter solstice!

  29. 29
    davidgentile

    Zinnia,

    You’re so courageous, I hope you get whatever you need from this scenario. I wouldn’t bother trying to “flip” grandpa – as a straight guy I haven’t had to make those choices – but I hope I’d take my family to task for trying to stuff me back in the closet. You deserve more than that.

  30. 30
    helenaconstantine

    You’re not a woman. You’re a man who has been castrated (I suppose), had some surgery and hormones and wears women’s clothes. If you want to do that I have no objection, but if you were to be called a woman, language would pretty much collapse (and I’m not even a prescriptivist).

    1. 30.1
      Michael Goold

      What makes them “women’s clothes?” As far as I can tell, clothes don’t have any discernible sex; after all, they don’t reproduce.

      And exactly how would calling her a woman lead to the collapse of language? That’s a rather extraordinary claim; surely, you have the evidence to support it?

      Redefinition of the word “literally” would lead to slight annoyance and the occasional misunderstanding, which is a lot more than would happen if you called Zinnia a woman.

    2. 30.2
      Zinnia Jones

      That’s funny, because this is exactly the result of hardheaded insistence on definitions of gender that are fixated on at-birth assignment: a decline in meaningful language. See http://freethoughtblogs.com/zinniajones/2012/07/definitional-nonsense/ . Yours is in fact the mindset that pointlessly insists on calling women men, and men women.

    3. 30.3
      Ingdigo Jump

      Wow and you’re not a person you’re a jackass that wears clothes and walks uprighthank you for beautiful story Z

    4. 30.4
      Eris Caffee

      And a Merry Christmas to you too!

      I’m so glad you took time out of your Christmas Day celebrations to come and share your love with everyone!

      PS – Language would not collapse if the meanings of words changed, since the meanings are constantly changing as it is. I’m afraid that you really are a prescriptivist.

  31. 31
    joelj

    Straight senior, wiping my eyes. Grief for the pain and joy for the joy.

    Thank you for your touching story.

  32. 32
    Naomi Bell

    My wife and I got married in October (and now that Washington passed ref 74 we get to be married for realsies, yay!), and I invited my grandmother knowing that she wouldn’t be okay with it. I told her in person and she acted mildly, while taking a big gulp of her margarita. When I sent her an invitation by email she replied pretty strongly, telling me that there was no way she would go to our “Lesbian wedding” and that I “have a good head on my shoulders and should start using it.”

    As the holidays roll around family gatherings are inevitable for me, and I was wondering if I should even bother with the Christmas dinner at her house. There was no way I wanted to bring my wife into an environment that was hostile that would make her feel awkward or sad. Her being trans also doesn’t help, as half of my family knows, but my grandma doesn’t. But I decided stick it out and go (letting my wife stay at home), and it was super awkward and a bit painful, but she’s getting over it.

    Families can be pretty resilient. It’s probably not going to be easy, but you will figure out how to manage it. And whether it works out or not, you at least won’t be leaving him with a lie. I wish you luck and strength, and I hope when it comes down to it your family will have your back.

  33. 33
    Granny Weatherwax

    I don’t have any advice for you on how to deal with your grandfather; I never told anyone in my family anything while I was struggling with my sexual identity (rather like you, I assumed I was lesbian for a couple decades. Finally I discovered Asexuality and came out last year, yay me!). Now the family members I cared about are all dead and the ones who hate me are out of my life. I do want to say that this is a beautiful post, and I wish you, Heather, and your children the very, very best of luck. Know that you’re very brave, even when you don’t feel particularly so. Stay safe.

  34. 34
    janiceintoronto

    Why is it that family is always the biggest problem?

  35. 35
    Alasandra Samantha

    Honestly, I read the article, then started reading the comments, the comments win hands down for the creation of tears. Its like each one was a small piece of my puzzle, someone had stolen it and now was in town square laying my life down one piece at a time until you stand back and see yourself as explained and seen by others and they very closely matched somehow. As you peer thru the words if you take the time, you will see pieces of inside myself, and for many of my friends inside themselves.

    I am a trans woman 56 years old, the parent of 7 ages 16 thru 29, 2nd marriage of 6 years now and 1 year into transition. I went full time in life just 9 weeks ago at home, in public, at work. My mom as well asked me what had taken so long she had expected the call many years ago, I love you mom. My wife struggles daily with the mourning of the mane she married, and is tentative about the woman she now shares life with. A brother of mine got lost amidst religion and the words of the pastor who knows me not and so cast me out of my brothers life so easily a year ago this month. I do this for the way my self image and self esteem reacts. When I stop the Test blocker my anger, quick to judge, all come flooding back, resume and they just go away, I am patient, kind, and so open hearted today that I cant see myself living in any other light. I forgot how to smile in life, now I just can’t nor want to get rid of the smile that is always there now. My wife misses her husband, and finds so many ways that life with Ali provides. We have so much fun in life are the physical differences enough to break us up, time will tell in a year I will have more choices to make, I consider myself a pre-op at this point in life, my birth defect correction is within sight. It is my hope that my wife who will be with me thru all of this will continue to be much more then the best friend I have had in this life. She is just that, my best friend and this will never change that between us. Thank all of you for your responses, it helped feed the need to understand or the attempt to understand a part of the turmoil inside of me now clearing up on a daily basis.

  36. 36
    Divizna

    On a practical note, maybe a letter could seem like an easier way to do this? You know, that oldfashioned sheet of paper with words on it, written with a pen. A thought through and carefully worded explanation. Because if you fear that he’ll need time to come to terms with the situation, this would give it to him. You wouldn’t be there for immediate confrontation. He could take his own time and then call you.
    Just a thought.

  37. 37
    Dafy

    Zinnia I would like to thank you for this posting, what you have described in it is so close to how I feel and what I have and am going through, the identification of gender and sexuality seems to rule so much of who we are, I have very often been caught up in fitting into the ideals of how people perceive me whether it is straight, gay, queen, girl and such like and acting accordingly that I had lost who I am in reality. I would love to talk to you more and see if I can learn about myself more from someone who has gone through very similar things, most of my friends are straight men or women, gay men or women, or bi men and women but none really identifies themselves as something other than the gender they were born as and this can be frustrating, scary and a little lonely at times.

    Good luck with your grandfather no matter what you are who you are and he may even surprise you :)

  38. 38
    Marion Wilson

    Hi Zinnia,
    Good luck!
    The local writer’s/gaming community has had a transgender woman who has recently had to go through this with her family. They surprised us all in being so accepting and even happy for her. They were a bit stunned that she had kept it hidden for seventeen years! However – I would definitely say, if it means that you can’t have your grandfather at your wedding when you marry, tell. If it means that you can’t be there at that last Christmas before he dies, tell him. I have another post-op transgender friend. She had an abusive father as a child, and her mother died when she was 14. She wouldn’t want her father around anyway, even if he would talk to her about it (he wouldn’t). It sounds like your grandfather has multiple issues and is a product of his environment – he doesn’t like black people (even though most Christians today say there is nothing in the Bible to back this up, and that Black people have no control over their skin colour), and he probably is a little bit mysoginistic and very homophobic. Maybe try talking through some of these issues with him first, before going for a visit? Whatever you decide, good luck!

  1. 39
    Time with those we love is too often taken for granted » Pharyngula

    [...] It does, however, make me sad that not everyone gets the full and desired consolation of family. [...]

  2. 40
  3. 41
    Post-Christmas Cheer – The Stray World

    [...] Best wishes to Zin­nia Jones, and con­grat­u­la­tions on writ­ing an uplift­ing art­icle which sub­verts the title The Last Closet: Why I Won’t be Home for Christ­mas. [...]

  4. 42
    Well, don’t hold back or anything » Zinnia Jones

    [...] off for so long. I would have told grandpa when I first came out to everyone, instead of spewing 2,000 dramatic words about how much this makes Christmas suck. But I recognize that people tend to have difficulties [...]

  5. 43
    Trans stuff roundup » Zinnia Jones

    [...] Family closets: Why I can’t go home for Christmas [...]

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