…and she had a much more positive reaction than I could ever have imagined. For those of you interested in the nuts and bolts of these kinds of conversations, I’ll map out how it went.
First of all, I had chosen this particular week as the week that I was going to talk to her about being trans. She is coming to visit me in early May, so I figured I needed to let her know what was going on before she came and saw it with her own eyes. She called, and we had a normal conversation at first. Then, luckily, she asked me about my new name (it’s foreign-sounding and not clearly male, so I had told her it was a nickname when I first started using it four years ago). She brought it up because I finally took “a.k.a. [female name]” out of my voicemail message and because I had shortened my first name to just a first initial on my check to her. She asked me if it was just a nickname or if I was going to change my name. So I told her that I was going to legally change my name in the summer, and that I had been using it exclusively with everybody other than family for the last four years. I let her know that I had many friends who had no idea I had ever had another name. Then, I told her that she should know that I’d been living as a man for the last year. (This is a bit of an exaggeration, but I did come out to myself as trans in late April of last year and request that my friends use male pronouns for me soon after). She asked what that meant, and I told her that I’d asked everyone to use male pronouns for me and consider me a man. I added that, since August, I had been using testosterone to masculinize my body so that both myself and others would be better able to see me as a man. I said that, at this point, people that I was meeting saw me, without question, as male (also a slight exaggeration, since GLBT folks sometimes are able to read me specifically as a trans guy right off the bat).
Her reaction was amazing. She didn’t yell or cry, and she didn’t even pause in shock to process this. She simply said that this wasn’t necessarily what she wanted or what she would have liked, but that she respected my decision and she wanted to have a relationship with me whether I was her son or her daughter. Then, she offered to talk to my Puerto Rican family about the issue before I made plans to visit, thus protecting me from a potentially uncomfortable situation. Then, she asked a number of good questions about my name change, my experience at work, what bathroom I used, whether I was seeing a therapist, whether the process was hard, and whether I felt better now. She said that she was shocked (even though she wasn’t acting shocked) and said she would need some time to process things and to switch to using male pronouns and my new name for me.
I was utterly dumbfounded. This was not what I was expecting at all based on her reaction to me coming out as dating a woman (I did not say “lesbian”) 8 years ago. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the mom I came out to 8 years ago would have reacted very badly to me saying I was a man (“She did, after all, take me aside in a rage, asking “Are you trying to look like a man?” and informing me that “God made you a Woman, and He made it so that a Man’s penis fits perfectly into a Woman’s vagina”). Clearly, she has changed since then. But what changed?
Well, times have changed. Homosexuality has gone mainstream, and trans people are on the T.V. and on talk shows to much greater extent than before. Homosexuality and transness are certainly less freakish, even in conservative America, than they were a decade ago.
Perhaps she changed. We never talk about my queerness, and she certainly doesn’t discuss it with friends and family, so my assumption was that she had refused to process it. But perhaps she had come to terms with it in her own way. During this conversation, she told me a story about my coming to her as gay that was false (it was about respecting my lifestyle choice but asking me to keep it private), but the fact that she had concocted this false story says a lot about how far she’s come. It would have been nice if she’d informed me of this new perspective earlier, but oh well.
I’ve changed. I’m an adult now, and I’ve achieved things she can recognize as Success. Ever since I landed this professor job, she regularly tells me how proud she is of me and says positive things about how responsible and hard-working I’ve always been. I recognize that this is a matter of age and class privilege, but the decisions of an adult with a respectable Job are a lot less questionable to a parent than those of someone in their teens or early twenties or than those of someone who is an adult but is unemployed or has a job that doesn’t qualify as Success. I’m sure it was easier for her to accept because I am proof that one can be trans and still have a happy, successful life. That doesn’t change the fact that many, if not most trans people, encounter significant discrimination that prevents them, at least for certain periods of time, from having happy, successful lives, and there are many who, regardless of discrimination, are not middle-class, and their transitions should not be any more questionable than mine.
But I think part of it is related to the ways in which coming out as trans is different than coming out as gay. I don’t know my mother’s thoughts on the relative sinfulness of each, but I think she saw me being gay as something that I could reasonably be asked to hide and keep private, while it was clear to her that there was no hiding a physical transition. Based on her refusal to talk about me being gay, I had assumed she would be too ashamed to discuss my transition with the rest of the family, but clearly, I was wrong. Of all of this I am most astonished by her willingness to talk to the family about this for me (I had thought it would be my job).
Also, there’s always the possibility that she imagines I will now be straight and gender-normative.
Finally, she mentions that it did occur to her that I might transition one day several years ago when she met some of my friends, one of whom revealed himself to be trans, even though we never discussed either him or the possibility of me transitioning afterward.
Regardless, I’m amazed, and it’s a load off my shoulders. I think this might bring my mom and I closer together. When I think about how crazy and scary and bleak things looked last summer and compare it to where I’m at now, I can hardly believe it. I’ve been very lucky. Things have turned out really well for me in a very short amount of time. In the anxiety that I was in last summer, I could scarcely have dared to imagine that, six months after starting T, I would be read as male, all but through with gender dysphoria, and sailing smoothly by in the social world, much less that I would experience instantaneous parental acceptance. Let this sound a note of hope to folks early in the transition process. For some lucky devils, things do turn out very well, very quickly.