It was during the holiday season two years ago that I came out to the rest of my family. Among the last Janis and I told were the children, who were eight and five at the time. We had gone through what to say to them with the therapist over and over again. We had scripted carefully chosen talking points about "feeling like a different person on the inside than you are on the outside," "making the outside match the inside," and such.
We got blank stares and cocked heads; like puppies staring into a gramophone.
Finally, Janis lost patience with the process, and blurted out, "What we're trying to say is dad is really a girl." This produced gales of laughter, and questions about when I would wear sapphire blue ball gowns with sequins. "Only on special occasions," I promised.
Less than three months later I transitioned.
This Christmas is a lot less nerve wracking than the one two years ago. It will be celebrated quietly with our little group that my oldest calls "The weirdest herd ever." I can easily say that the best thing about this holiday season is that it will be celebrated with the same people I was with two years ago.
The gift of family is a rare one for transgender folk. Most people in our community know how often LGBT youth are rejected by their families, but I've found it far harder to find studies regarding familial rejection of adult transitioners. The results of rejection are almost as devastating. Two of the most successful, amazing, transgender women I know have children they haven't seen in years, even decades after their spouses took them away. It will always be an open wound for them.
The frequency of this experience is evident in the December Project, run by Jennifer Boylan, Mara Keisling, Helen Boyd, and Dylan Scholinski. The project aims to make sure transgender adults get at least one positive human interaction in a month of holidays, running from December 1 through the New Year. Every year, they are overwhelmed with the number of people who have no one else.
There are times when I feel something I can only describe as survivors guilt. It comes crashing down on me every time I post on Facebook some funny / crazy / destructive thing our three year old boy did that's making us insane. Almost invariably, someone will remind me that they used to have a little boy wrecking their house when he was three. They would also give anything to have their child back in their lives now, holes in the drywall be damned.
I cannot say that I did anything to deserve being with my family. My situation has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with having a partner who believes in being a family no matter what.
I have had missed birthdays and holidays many times while on deployment with the Navy. The last Christmas I missed due to deployment stands out as my least favorite. (Yes Mom, even worse than the one I spent in the emergency room when I was three after an unfortunate run in with a coffee table). That seems trivial, though, in comparison to what much of the transgender community faces, because in 2005 I knew I'd be with them the following Christmas.
Unlike most of the other things I usually blog about, though, family rejection isn't something we can change with a bill, or fix with new regulations or policies.
This was highlighted during a recent phone call with another transgender activist. I was diving deep into legal details when she stopped me. "That's not how we win. Not in the long run anyway. We can get all the policy changes we want, but until we're accepted, we're going to be dealing with the same old problems."
She was right.
Until people are willing to love a transgender person as a family member, we will still be visited by the same Ghosts of Christmas past every year. We will still be plagued by all the statistical ills that seem to define the transgender community.
I hope people who aren't transgender read this. I hope that folks will hug their children, parents, and spouses a little tighter after reading this, remembering that having a family isn't truly a given.
Most of all I hope people will take the season to heart, and work throughout the year to make this world a place where being yourself doesn't mean losing everyone you love.