Dealing with family is complicated. I’m not out to my mother but out to my father who refuses to use my name and pronouns. I live a city away from them and don’t like to visit because it means that I need to change my appearance and expose myself to more violence. In my normal life, I generally present as flamboyantly femme.
I’m mixed race. My mom is Chinese, my dad is white. They’ve been divorced for over 20 years. My mom experiences severe mental health issues due to the systemic racism and sexism she faced in the workplace while trying to raise me without much financial support from my dad and additionally supporting her parents who sacrificed their pensions and came to “take care of their poor disabled grandchild” from China who spoke very little English. She eventually became abusive and highly unstable. My dad on the other hand is a white, cishet man from a small town middle class family who is Wiccan and has gay friends that he’s introduced me to.
I choose to not be out to my mom and my laolao (laoye passed away in 2011) because it’s not safe for me. I put up with comments like, “you’ll never find a wife unless you lose weight and not dye your hair like that, when are you having kids?” But that’s better than having to deal with the potential of violence. I love my mom and laolao dearly, but I’m afraid of what they’d do if I came to them and said that I was a girl and I liked boys (which isn’t totally accurate). I fear my mom will get physically violent and will be used to justify further violence in the mental healthcare system which she is forced to use because her racist, sexist workplace made her. I fear that I’ll lose my only connection to the Chinese side of me and the knowledge of my laolao.
I came out to my dad and he seemed supportive initially, but he won’t use my name, Bridget and still refers to me as, “his son” whenever he introduces me to his friends. He’s supposed to be the progressive one because he’s Wiccan, but I feel like I can’t talk to him either about who I am and what I do. I think he’d have an easier time accepting me if I were just a femmy gay boy. I’m not out to the rest of his family because they don’t want to have to a relationship with me (likely because I’m the only queer, trans, mixed race, disabled, poor person of my generation). Behold, the failure of white Liberalism’s supposed acceptance of queer and trans folks.
Every time I go home, I try to butch it up a bit. I honestly don’t try that hard because I don’t really own much boy clothes anymore and I’d rather not have to deal with more dysphoria than I have to. I try to think of it as an extended drag performance to make it more bearable. I bind with a sports bra I scrounged one time so it’s not obvious that I have (hyper sensitive) pointy trans girl tits. It makes it harder to breathe and swallow and I know it’s not good for my body, but it’s what I need to do in order to survive.
Visiting family is always triggering. I never expected it to be this bad prior to transition, but ever since I socially transitioned, I can’t stand being referred to as male or as my dead name. In public while with, I generally fail to pass for male which amuses me. But it’s also dangerous because I’m no longer able to consistently pass for a cis woman. And when I’m with family and they refer to me by my dead name and as male, it only makes things worse because my gender presentation still fails to fit with the expectations people expect with a male.
I have white passing privilege. I can generally pass for a cis woman in my life or at least people will refer to me as not-male. I chose to be more feminine because it gets me more of what I want. People are less likely to see me as sexy or validate my gender if I looked more genderqueer as I used to. The violence I experience has definitely increased since I started to present a lot more femme. Pre-transition, I passed as a fat, white person of indeterminate gender (usually transmasculine) yet didn’t have the desirability cred of skinny, non-transfeminine genderqueers. When I was in the middle of transition, I experienced more violence because I was recognizably transfeminine and didn’t readily pass as a cis woman. Now I deal with street harassment, employment discrimination, and reduced opportunities. Most of the issues I experience are around being a disabled person and the stigma attached to it.
When I visit family, I have to be a lot more careful than I am in my own home. Unless I’m in queer space and/or with my own friends, I’m more careful than I usually am. Since my name/sex marker change hasn’t gone through yet, I try to pay with cash if I’m buying something. Thankfully, I have people to walk with me at night (including my dad if I’m with him surprisingly; I guess he recognizes who I am on some level…) I use old coping techniques when dealing with hard situations. I tone down my personality so I’m quieter and less noticeable. I try to spend as much time away from family or on tech. I use the excuse that I have many people to visit (which is true) to reduce the stress from a particular situation. I keep a change at the bottom of my backpack so I can more consistently pass for female when I’m not with family. But at the end of the day, I’d rather deal with all of this than the fall out about being out to family.
I may eventually come out to the whole family. I support everyone’s decisions to choose to come out to or not come out to whoever they want. I think I won’t until my three living grandparents have passed away. By that point, I won’t care if they accept me or not. I’ve clawed my own little spaces with the wisdom and support of my chosen family and community and I can be who I want there.
**I use the culturally specific (Mandarin Chinese) pronouns ta/tade and they/them**
Feeling deep ambivalence about how we dress is something the trans and gender non-conforming communities experience acutely, but it’s not just about us. We’d love to hear from everybody about how they navigate self presentation each day.
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