The Hoops We Jump Through

Some queer people are accepted by their families, others rejected. Then there are those in the middle.

Image courtesy of Gus Moretta | Unsplash

Before we start talking about this, I want to state that I know I’m privileged when it comes to this topic. I have a home and parents who say they love me. I’ve never been thrown out or physically abused. That aside though, I want to speak about my own experiences with conditional love and what it’s like to be queer with an unaccepting parent.

When I was in middle school, I got a crush on one of my friend’s older sisters. I knew it was more than friend feelings, and I worried a lot about what that meant. My mom and I were very close and I decided to tell her my feelings. Keep in mind this was around the time of California Prop 8, a proposition to ban same-gender marriage. I waited until we were in a public area (McDonalds) to whisper it to her. She couldn’t make a scene if we were in public, right?

My mom simply laughed and told me she knew. I don’t know how she knew, I still don’t. Maybe that was her way of coming to terms with how I felt and trying to understand it. We spoke more about it later and still have open conversations about myself and my gender to this day. Back then though, she told me not to tell my dad. With how he supported Prop 8, I understood.

I never got the chance to come out to my dad as bisexual. In high school, I dated a fellow transman (he was out, I hadn’t realized my own transness at the time). My then-partner’s father found out about our relationship and tried to devise ways to stop us from seeing each other. Still, we found our ways. One of the ways the father tried to stop us was coming to my home to tell my father about us dating. My then-boyfriend’s father viewed him as a girl and told my father that we were in a lesbian relationship. And that’s how my father found out I wasn’t straight.

Still I can remember exactly what we were eating. I had a bowl of chili. I can remember I was sitting at the end of a sectional. I was frozen, crying while the two adults talked outside about the relationship. My mom was there, trying to comfort me, telling me that things would work out and be okay. All the while, my head played past memories of my dad yelling at football players he didn’t like, calling them queers. I thought also of political conversations he had with his mother, angrily talking about how people in same-gender relationships shouldn’t be allowed to marry — but civil unions were ok if they had to have anything at all.

I was absolutely terrified the moment my father walked into the house. I couldn’t form words, only stare at him as he walked to me and hugged me, telling me he loved me.

Note, he never said anything about accepting me.

When I realized I was trans, I quickly texted my mom about my identity and asked if she still loved me. She told me that when I was a baby she made a promise to love me no matter who I am, as long as I’m not hurting others. And I wasn’t hurting others. It was a little hard for her to wrap her head around at first, but eventually she got with the program and called me by my name and used the correct pronouns. Sometimes she slips up with pronouns, never with name. I can’t fault her, she always corrects herself and it’s never done in malice. I was she/her for over 20 years, I knew I couldn’t expect he/him to be an overnight thing.

I didn’t tell my dad I’m transgender. I told him I was seeing a therapist about my gender, and that was that. I didn’t expect the need to come out to him. When I’d had girlfriends in the past, he was generally quiet about it and never said anything negative. It isn’t until I’m reflecting on this from now that I realize he never said anything good either.

My brother, who is younger than me, I never had to come out to as bi. He grew up with me dating people of different genders, it was just part of the program. I did have to come out to him as trans so that he’d call me the right name. At first he said, “I’m not calling you that, you’ve been [deadname] to me for so long!” Using a tactic I’d heard, I simply smiled and replied, “Then you’re going to look stupid when everyone else is calling me it, but not you.” It took him a few weeks but, almost overnight, he began calling me by my name as well. He’s quickly become my biggest advocate, as I am his.

My brother is an autistic individual. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell his tale for him, and I also asked him if I could disclose this fact before doing so, even ensuring I phrased that first sentence comfortably for him. This wouldn’t be something I disclose to strangers usually, or even to casual friends. But, there’s a reason I’m bringing it up.

You see, my brother was diagnosed at a young age. My parents (mostly my father because my mom doesn’t drive) took him to specialists purposefully to get his diagnosis. They could have done nothing, but they did do something. When first diagnosed, my father read up on autism from all sources of literature. He wanted to be sure he could accommodate my brother as best he could. To this day, he reads things here and there about it.

The reason I bring this up is because I was never afforded that. I know comparing autism to being transgender is like comparing apples to steaks, but I still feel incredibly slighted by my dad as he still hasn’t read up on trans topics. I’ve had him meet my gender therapist as well as attend a trans/family support group with me. Neither of those things helped him as he remained silent or off-topic both times. It isn’t as though I haven’t sent him sites to help expand his knowledge, but rather, he is simply unwilling to do anything other than remain ignorant.

Still, he hasn’t kicked me out or hurt me. He says he loves me. But sometimes when I correct people he yells. And other times, he sends me transphobic memes. There are also the times he argues with people about my identity behind my back, like yelling at my brother for referring to me by my name. He did call me by my name once, but only to please a group of people around him.

I’m always working to earn my father’s acceptance. I don’t dress effeminate around him so I don’t confuse him into thinking I might not genuinely be a trans man — not that effeminate trans men aren’t genuine. I always try to do more ‘masculine’ things with him, like working on cars or volunteering to go on fishing trips. At the same time, I try not to push him. Maybe he just needs time? Maybe he’s still processing it?

Yet, continuously trying to push myself into a hyper-masculine role isn’t just putting me in an uncomfortable place, but is also exhausting. I’m constantly being forced to act like someone I’m not in hopes that, after over three years, my father might say my name or use a single correct pronoun.

I was told a few days ago that my father wants me to get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a PhD. I already have a diagnosis from my therapist, which shouldn’t be necessary in the first place as not all trans people experience gender dysphoria. At first he only wanted a diagnosis, but after I told him I had one, he moved the end goal. I’m afraid that should I get a diagnosis from a PhD, he’ll simply move the end goal again.

I feel loved, I guess. But I feel conditionally loved if anything.

I know I’m not alone in this. I know there are others out there performatively jumping through hoops for what they think is parental acceptance. Maybe it’s a lesbian pretending her girlfriend is her roommate, despite everyone knowing otherwise. Maybe it’s a trans man like me, but he’s hyper-masculinizing to an extent I haven’t in order to gain acceptance. Know you aren’t alone, but know also that life is meant to be enjoyed.

Everyone should have parents and family who unconditionally love and support them. For far too many though, this isn’t the case. What I ask of parents, guardians, and family reading this is to educate yourselves. That special person in your life deserves to be understood. If they haven’t created an open dialogue with you yet, do research online. If they’ve indicated that they’re open to talking about their identity, take them up on that offer.

And if you’re someone who is on the receiving end of conditional love? Know that chosen family can be just as good as blood family.

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Amplifying voices from the trans community

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Oliver

Oliver

Oli is a 26 year old trans man from the US who hopes to assist in the education of trans topics as well as the amplification of trans voices.

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