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Dec 28 2012

Well, don’t hold back or anything

“You will have the chance to prove that your soul truly belongs in hell.”

- Lucifer, Constantine

You can learn a lot about something by applying pressure to it. You get to see where its weakest points are, and where the first cracks form. You can find out what’s underneath it, what’s inside it all – what’s really holding it together.

That’s how I discovered the limits of my family’s acceptance and understanding, and the full extent of their ignorance. When I told them I’d be coming out to my grandpa, the one they had insisted on keeping this a secret from, I found out where they really stood. And it wasn’t pretty.

I’m sure everyone wants to know the details of how I finally got this over with, but to our surprise, coming out to grandpa turned out to be the least of our worries. Was it stressful, terrifying, and the most nerve-wracking 30 minutes of my life? Yes. Did it require thinking on my feet, using every last ounce of strength I could muster, and leveraging every last traditional trans narrative into which I could fit the events of my life? Absolutely.

But it was a success. He gets it, and it doesn’t change anything for him. Somehow, we managed to navigate through that vast space of unpleasant possibilities, and find the path that led to a Republican, racist, homophobic, devout Catholic octogenarian accepting that his “grandson” is a woman now.

The more surprising and disappointing event of the day was how unhelpful certain members of my family turned out to be when I told them I was going to get this over with. They’d always seemed entirely supportive, only wanting what was best for me no matter what. But on that day, I learned firsthand some of the more hurtful things that loved ones can say to you when you’re trans.

I recognize that a lot of this is simply rooted in a lack of understanding or unintentional insensitivity rather than active malice; my family has certainly never been overtly hostile to me, and the impact of certain attitudes can be difficult to understand if you haven’t lived this life yourself. But it’s insensitive and hurtful just the same, and it’s worth going over why some of these approaches to your trans relatives and friends are really quite insulting.

First, it certainly doesn’t help to tell me this is the most “extreme” thing I could possibly do with my life, or that it’s so “different” and “out there”. I already know it’s different. Obviously, most people don’t do this sort of thing. And I know that most people either don’t really understand it, or disapprove of it and are content to be huge assholes about it for no good reason. I understand the challenges of coming out – if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered to put this 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 with this, and that people like my grandfather in particular are less likely to be understanding, and more likely to view it as “extreme” and one of the worst things I could possibly do.

But it’s really not. Anyone who thinks this is as bad as it could get is severely lacking in imagination. Nothing about this is life-ruining, reckless, or damaging to those around me. It deprives no one of anything. It isn’t adversely affecting me, and it isn’t adversely affecting anyone else. There are a lot worse things I could be doing than, um, being a woman. I have a family of my own. I have a partner and children who love me. I’ve made a name for myself as someone with ideas that people like to hear. After such a long time, I’ve finally found what makes me happy in my life, and I’m feeling better about myself every day now.

This has come at the expense of nothing. I already have people in my life who are capable of seeing this not as something weird or disturbing, but as something triumphant. They would never in a million years expect me to regard myself as “extreme” or “out there”, so asking that much of me is seriously out of line.

It also isn’t particularly productive to go on about how not everywhere is “anything goes” – as though transitioning in the middle of Florida has been a cakewalk compared to staying in Chicago. Really, when you’re trans, there is no place where people’s attitudes toward you are “anything goes”. You have to stake out those spaces for yourself – tiny, cramped spaces – slowly, carefully, always keeping your guard up. The only place here where “anything goes” for me is in these four walls with my girlfriend and our sons, with outsiders only being let in after the strictest of screening. Do you have any idea how much of the world you have to cut off just to avoid getting hurt? The only reason this place is any better for me is that Heather is here, and the people who think this is asking too much of them aren’t. Just what would you have done if I did decide to transition while I was back home, anyway?

Speaking of which, it’s pretty lousy to hear you talk about how glad you are that I moved a thousand miles away where nobody knew who I was. I can definitely appreciate the value of having a clean slate, starting anew in a place where people have no attachment to memories of me. But when you tell me how happy you are that nobody will be looking at you strangely or talking behind your back, and how you just lie to everyone who asks about how I’m doing these days, that isn’t happiness for me. It’s happiness that you got me far out of the way before anyone you know found out that this is who I am, before I could make life difficult for you by being a woman. I don’t think treating a child that way is something to be happy about. And I’m pretty sure it’s a little too late for that, anyway:

Worst timeline ever.

Worst timeline ever. Also, worst closet ever.

Yeah, I’m sure our friends never suspected a thing. Thank goodness they won’t have to see me changing so much.

And really, as if nobody’s ever going to be talking behind my back because of who I am? In the land of “NOBAMA” stickers and gun racks on every 4×4, I’m going to be dealing with this for a long time. Forgive me if I’m not all that sympathetic.

I also wasn’t too keen on the idea that I could just stay down here forever, precluding any need to come out to grandpa. That’s a hell of a sacrifice to make for a secret. I don’t intend to walk away from everyone I once knew. I’m not going to cut myself off from my parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends, and everyone who’s known me my entire life. What I want is for our families to be together, to get to know each other, and be on good terms without concealment or deception. That’s important to me. It’s so important to me that I was willing to take the risk of telling grandpa I’m a woman now, so that one day we could all be united. That’s how much this is worth to me! I don’t have a problem with people knowing who I am. Let them talk behind our backs – if we love each other, if we’re there for each other, none of it should matter.

Likewise, it’s just not accurate to suggest you would have had to deal with everything and I would have been isolated from any fallout if this went south, simply due to physical proximity. Whether I see grandpa every day or not, what my family thinks of me still has the power to hurt me, which is even more obvious to me now. I certainly never stopped caring about any of you just because we’re far away now, and I know you haven’t stopped caring about me.

And I really don’t appreciate the assumption that I was just going to “drop the bomb” on him in the least tactful way possible, purely for “shock value”. That definitely isn’t how I came out to the rest of the family. It’s not something you lob at people like a grenade. I know you haven’t been on my side of it, but this is typically accompanied by abject terror at the possibility of losing those who are closest to you, because what you are is often considered so bad that it can even destroy a family’s love. I was scared half to death just to tell any of you! There’s no way of knowing what people are going to make of something like this. It isn’t something to approach casually, and I’m pretty confident that my success with grandpa demonstrated that I was serious about doing this as delicately, gently and effectively as possible.

And on the subject of just what this is, I hope you can understand that it’s not actually “a sexual thing”. I know things like sexual orientation, gender identity, being gay and being trans get jumbled up a lot, and most people aren’t exposed to this enough to tell them all apart. But it’s only a sexual matter in the same sense that not being trans is a sexual matter, in the same sense that being a person is a sexual matter. Using those terms makes it sound like who I am is on par with the TMI of what people like to do in bed, like my mere existence is unnecessarily sharing some sexual fetish with everyone around me. The difference is that telling grandpa what we do in bed is inappropriate, but grandpa knowing whether someone is a man or a woman is not.

Finally, while I recognize that tact is called for when telling elderly relatives that you now live as a woman, demanding that I omit any reference to attire, appearance, or even my name is simply not realistic. it’s pretty tough to explain your true gender identity without some concrete details as to what this entails in a practical, everyday sense – and grandpa knows that just as well as I do. So what should I have said, when he asked if this is “like crossdressing”, and when he asked if I was still [old name]? By the end of our conversation, he’d learned that I’ve been dressing like this all along, even if he hadn’t noticed at the time. And he knew his granddaughter’s name. And he had no problem with this.

I might be even more irked about all this if coming out to him had gone as poorly as you predicted. But as is, I’m really happy to see that every expectation of doom was proven wrong – not just for my own sake, but for yours. I’m hoping this is something that people in my family can learn from and think about for a while, before they try to hide who I am ever again.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    Anthony K

    I’m sorry that your family was so hurtful, but I’m glad your grandfather understood.

  2. 2
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    I am glad your grandfather was understanding Zinnia.

  3. 3
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    I can’t really add anything to what Anthony K said.

  4. 4
    Eris Caffee

    It sounds like you got the “selfish” treatment. As in people telling you that you are being selfish for not thinking about how much you embarrass and hurt others by having the audacity to try and live a happy life instead of hiding and repressing yourself. Those kinds of people always shock with me their utter lack of self awareness.

  5. 5
    Eric Saveau

    John Scalzi has a timely and relevant post up right now –

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/12/28/on-transfolk/

  6. 6
    Francisco Bacopa

    It’s interesting how a crisis or confrontation can show where people stand. Sounds like some of your extended family were concern trolling you. And for nothing really. Your final closet is empty without too bad a fuss.

  7. 7
    Comrade Svilova

    I’m so glad that your grandfather was open to getting to know his granddaughter as she truly is. But even if he hadn’t responded well, it seemed that you needed to be honest. Congratulations and best wishes from a constant reader, infrequent commenter.

  8. 8
    deja

    (am still looking for a “like” button … i’d hit that sucker a bazillion times) happy happy i am for you. see how much stronger you got from this little trial?

  9. 9
    poxyhowzes

    {{{hugs}}} for what you’ve gone through with your family over the last few days.

    Oh, Zinnia, it wasn’t the “last closet” after all, was it?
    Cis, White, Old, Male, that I am, I’m pretty much convinced by now that there never is and never will be a “last” closet.

    But look at what you’ve accomplished in the past week or two, accomplishments you’ve wanted, accomplishments you’ve achieved.

    Your grandfather is no longer a closet case, and your whole extended family — everyone who matters and some who perhaps don’t matter so much — NOBODY in your family can continue to counsel you to STFU.

    You are engaging your family (and us!) in discussions that matter. You are extraordinarily well equipped with both the skills and the ‘guts’ to engage in those discussions.

    To your own self you are true.

  10. 10
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    I has a confusing mix of happy and sad for you. Happy that Gramps is so accepting. Sad that the rest of your family isn’t.

    Regardless, I’m sending you *hugs* and *headbonks*.

  11. 11
    internetpal2012

    That was a very emotional story you just told.Please don’t let the opinions of others get you down.There will be times when the actions and words of others will get you down,just shine them off and move on.It’s always best to have hobbies and work to occupy your time and mind and energy.

    On another note I guess you’re not going to respond to that p.m. I wrote to you Christmas day.I’m not mad.After reading it you no doubt processed it through your own personal BS detector where the results showed it to be positive.I want you to know a lot of thought went into writing it.I’m going to figure out some way for you to write back to me.Where there’s a will,there’s a way.

  12. 12
    Karen Locke

    *Hugs* from me, too. Glad it worked out so well… but then, grandparents have a sense of things that their offspring often don’t get. And many people, when they’ve lived a long time, have seen/heard/read more than they’re given credit for.

  13. 13
    Randomfactor

    “You can learn a lot about something by applying pressure to it. You get to see where its weakest points are, and where the first cracks form. You can find out what’s underneath it, what’s inside it all – what’s really holding it together.”

    Yeah, but it’s often not the same afterwards. Here’s hoping for better.

    –just another old, white, cis-male rooting for your happiness.

  14. 14
    PatrickG

    Echoing what others have said re: grandfather and family, and also just wanted to say that this random person on the internet thinks you’re very brave for being so public and open about your experience. I’m not in the same boat, nor even a boat as severe*, but I’m far less able to speak about such personal issues. At the end of reading your post, it just really struck me that y’know, talking about stuff publicly is kind of a big deal…

    Sorry if that rambled. Trying to put an emotional gestalt into words isn’t my strong suit. :)

    *Yes, I realize that made no sense, but once you commit to a metaphor…

  15. 15
    richardwade

    Zinnia, your courage, patience, tenacity, and the optimism that keeps flowing underneath even during your moments of frustration are inspiring. The challenges that I dread are petty compared to what you have faced and overcome, and I keep stories like yours in mind to bolster my sometimes flimsy spirit. You efforts have a positive effect on lives other than your own, even on people you’ve never met. Thank you.

    I think that you and your grandfather will gradually lead the rest of your family to more enlightened awareness.
    Richard Wade (of Friendly Atheist)

  16. 16
    sheila

    Oh dear. I hope they get nicer when they’ve had a bit of time to get over the fright. Hugs.

  17. 17
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Well, I hope everyone learns a lesson from Grandpa.

    And good for you. You’re strong, smart, and obviously respect your loved ones very much.

  18. 18
    mikmik

    It must be pretty ironic to you when there is so much emphasis on ‘being yourself’ as the path to growth and happiness. Yeah, right. Lot of unspoken qualifiers when the advocates are pushed.
    I commend you on your courage, in the face of those that don’t.
    That’s what defines you, your courage and honesty, and I can’t even imagine the depths of yours. And on top of this, you aren’t running to the needle to hide. That is so impressive to me it’s not possible to express.

  19. 19
    Jonathan

    My father told us that she’s transgender about 3 weeks ago. I’m happy for my father. She no longer has to deal with the depression that comes with keeping this secret. She can finally be who she has always meant to be. I look forward to the relationship I’ll have with my father moving forward.
    However, this for me is “out there.” I’m doing my best to understand our relationship moving forward. I’m doing my best to realize that I won’t have my father in the traditional sense any longer. I’ve had 30 something years with my “dad”.
    And so yes, I might say that this is “out there.” I might say something deemed insensitive. But I don’t do it because I’m narrow minded or unsupportive. I do it because I too am trying to understand a new reality, one that I look forward to as fruitful and fulfilling. But in the meantime this is different.
    Thanks so much for your blog. It has helped me tremendously. Im happy for you and your family. But coming at this from a different angle, I know I would appreciate grace as I try and change 30 years of one relationship for one that is very new and still unfamiliar. Thanks again .

    1. 19.1
      Zinnia Jones

      I can understand that. It’s been about six months since I officially came out to my family – assuming they *really* didn’t notice anything amiss before that. I realize it’s probably also difficult for them to adjust given that they don’t get to be around me and see me every day, or notice the changes (insofar as there are that many changes to notice). In contrast, my partner and children were able to get used to my new name in a matter of weeks just from everyday use.

      I know not everyone’s transition is like mine, either – my therapist told me that many of her trans woman patients first come to her when they’re still fully presenting as male, and haven’t yet started doing anything that most people would associate with “transitioning”. In a situation like that, I can totally see how it would come as a bit of a shock and take some getting used to.

      I’d like to think that I eased my family into it to some extent before I ever came out – they knew I was “Zinnia Jones, Queen of Atheism” online. Because, you know, presenting as female all the time and taking a female name is totally something that guys do. This was not quite something I sprang on them out of nowhere. I do my best to keep lines of communication open with them, to be available to answer their questions about this if they have any. I keep them in the loop about what I’m doing with my life, so they can see what this entails even if I’m not there.

      I’ve realized they can be a bit idiosyncratic about their support. They do accept me for who I am – but they seem to struggle with how best to fit this fact into their lives. When we run up against that, this is where the gears start to grind together. I know they’re okay with the idea of me, with the idea of this, but perhaps only as more of an abstraction – they don’t seem at all prepared to cope when it has the potential to impact their own lives, when they have to do something so simple as tell anyone what I’m doing with my life these days. That’s the sort of awkwardness and concealment that can make you feel like the family’s unspeakable secret.

      I’m sure you and your family are doing your best, and I know there’s a learning curve. I know she’ll appreciate your willingness to learn, as well.

  20. 20
    Abdul Alhazred

    … the most “extreme” thing I could possibly do with my life …

    Maybe not how it was meant, but freedom to be yourself can be very “extreme”.

    Carry on. :)

  21. 21
    left0ver1under

    I read both prior posts on this topic. I wanted to say something supportive, but didn’t feel I had anything constructive to say. On this I do (might?).

    I read once (who and where, I don’t recall) someone talking about racism in the US, back in the bad old days when the KKK could operate openly in large numbers. The writer said that in some ways (not all, but some) bigotry in the northern US was worse than in the south.

    He said the southerners were overt in their bigotry. You knew who was and who wasn’t, and how they’d treat you or speak to you. The people in the north were more subtle, and bigots might speak “tolerance” but act differently.

    The point being: You can never really know who’s your friend or enemy until you speak to them. You can’t know who’s going to help or undermine you until you need or ask for their support.

  22. 22
    Rory

    I’m happy for you that your grandfather surprised you. I’m also sorry that it contrasted so badly with the rest of the family. I can sympathize, I still have never been able to tell my grandparents I don’t believe. I don’ think my grandmother is capable of believing me. I tried once and she refused to understand or accept it, so I just went along with the lie.

    Also, FL isn’t all bad. There are blue counties, and plenty of groups of accepting people, like little islands, in the sea of redneckitude.

  23. 23
    Das

    Thanks. I’m going through some similar stuff and reading about your experience helps me articulate it better than I was doing on my own, both where our experiences are alike and where they’re different.

  24. 24
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I’m sorry that your family disappointed you.
    I think with children being gay or trans, they often project their own prejudices and fears onto that one family member who “mustn’t know” and when that family member is in the know they are suddenly confronted with with it.
    As a mum I would want my children as close to me as possible for the rest of my life, and I know there are many things in life that may prevent that. Pushing them out wouldn’t be one of them.

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