Choosing to “come out” to your family as transgender is possibly the most terrifying thing a person can do in their journey to accept and live their truest life. It is a leap of faith that the people related to you by blood will embrace the individual that you know yourself to be, and when the response is positive, can make all the difference in the world towards self-acceptance. What happens when the response is negative? How do you cope with adverse, mocking, or even hateful reactions from family-the people who are ideally supposed to be programmed to love and support you unconditionally?
No matter what age we are, we never seem to grow out of the need for approval of family for our major life decisions. For many, the decision to reveal their true gender identity is just the last step in accepting the reality that they have always known…therefore, it’s inconceivable when the ignorant suggest that being trans is a choice. A 2015 article in USA Today details young Hunter’s journey to happiness with the acceptance of friends and family. Born Olivia, he declared, “I am a boy” as a toddler in the bathtub. When his parents asked him if he wanted to be a boy, his response was “No, but I am a boy.” That “nuance with words” makes all the difference when trying to explain the reality of being transgender. It just is. It has always been. When a person reveals him or herself to you, it is an act of trust that you can handle the reality that your loved one has been wrestling with for their entire life. This can be too much to handle for some folks. Even though their misconceptions are ultimately what makes them uncomfortable and that shouldn’t be your problem, rejection still hurts and makes you question your worthiness as a human being.
While acceptance can protect you against depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts or actions, rejection can increase those instances if you are not careful to prepare yourself ahead of time. This can mean professional counseling, group therapy, or even daily affirmations. Another 2015 article in Everyday Feminism, offers some wisdom from the author who has been there. Kaylee Jakubowski preaches self-love as a kind of inoculation against the haters., “It’s okay to practice loving yourself unabashedly and without shame. Being disowned by your family is not a reflection on you and, to some degree, isn’t even a reflection on the goodness of your family. Instead, it’s a reflection of the culture that we happen to exist in.”
Cut yourself a break. You have experienced legitimate trauma, which mental health professionals warn can lead to serious PTSD. Assuming you are a kind person, try treating yourself as you would treat your very best friend or even a crying stranger on the street—with care, encouragement, and sensitivity. Maybe your biological family has failed you, but it is THEIR failing. It helps to remember that family can be in the eye of the beholder, and that there are people out there in the community, both the LGBT community and otherwise, who will be more than happy to embrace all that is wonderful about you.
Of course, the first step in forming that make-shift family is to reach out to others, risking further rejection. It can be a daunting prospect for adults to come forward, but with transgender youth culture on the rise, that rejection often leads to kids being forced into homelessness, risking black market medical procedures, and increased cases of sexually transmitted disease and suicide. While some adults may have the resources to seek help, those opportunities are even fewer for teens and young adults on their own.
There have been some strides made with in the scientific community to promote acceptance by family of children in the LGBT community even amongst religious families that are more likely to struggle with acceptance of trans youth. “At a time when the media and families are becoming acutely aware of the risk that many LGBT youth experience, our findings that family acceptance protects against suicidal thoughts and behaviors, depression and substance abuse offer a gateway to hope for LGBT youth and families that struggle with how to balance deeply held religious and personal values with love for their LGBT children,” said Dr. Caitlin Ryan, PhD, Director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. However, this is not just an issue that LGBT youth experiences, but trans men and women in every stage of life face when coming to terms with the facing the denunciation from family
By creating a community of support, understanding, and acceptance, much of this trauma and anguish can at least be addressed and hopefully alleviated. Family can be recreated from within that community of brothers and sisters- from peers dealing with the same or similar experiences, and mothers and fathers- from mentors who have been already through these events.