I Ache For My Trans Friends Abandoned During The Holidays

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Around 1:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day this year, I was crying in a blessedly secluded corner of New York’s bustling Port Authority. I’d missed my bus north by about five minutes and was inconsolable. Because I hadn’t gotten up a few minutes earlier, I’d missed my chance to eat with my family. I felt especially terrible because my grandmother was due for intense surgery in a few days, and nobody was sure what the outcome might be.

Sniffling, I called my girlfriend and arranged to meet her out on Long Beach for her family’s festivities. Although she’d had some difficulties over the past year with a few family members because of various aspects of her gender transition, by and large, you couldn’t ask for a more accepting family. Apparently, when you celebrate the holidays at a middle-aged lesbian couple’s house, queerphobia and invasive questions in general are kept to a minimum . . . and nobody talks about politics.

In fact, I’ve only met one family more accepting of transition — and that’s my own.

At last year’s holiday gatherings, even though I’d only been out to them for a month and change, I could count the number of times I was accidentally misgendered on one hand; my aunt, whose first words to me were “This will take some getting used to,” began correcting herself without prompting after just a few hours together. I was sad not to see them again this year, but happy to have found another accepting clan.

Acceptance isn’t something that often comes naturally from the families of those who are transgender. Scrolling through Facebook the day before, I scanned countless posts from friends who were nervous about (or resigned to) the familial horror show they were about to endure. Others talked about being cut off by their family members the night before Thanksgiving. “Holidays are the time I miss having family the most,” wrote one of my nonbinary friends.

Lest any cisgender readers think I merely have exceptionally depressing Facebook friends — well, maybe. But according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Transgender Equality, about one in five trans-identified people experience rejection from their families because of their gender identity. One in 10 suffer violence at the hands of family members after coming out. A quoted respondent said that after coming out, their parents “told me to leave and not come back. I spent the next six months homeless.”

Transgender people of color experience higher rejection rates than the average; 37% of Middle Eastern trans folks and 38% of Native Americans reported familial rejection. My heart breaks for all the Native protestors at Standing Rock, but especially the trans people who risked their lives in the face of frigid fire hoses and tear gas without even the love of their families to keep them warm.

Things are getting better; these numbers are significantly down from the NCTE’s previous survey, and 60% of trans people polled said they were supported. But when our families do reject us, they do it violently — and if nobody’s around to catch us when we’re pushed out, the fall can be deadly.

As we drove back to Brooklyn on that Thanksgiving, my girlfriend dozing in a food coma beside me in the back seat, my mind drifted to these kinds of numbers and how much luckier I am than so many of my siblings — my “chosen family.” I may be among those whose relationships ended as a result of my gender, but my biological family remains intact, and my ex and I are close friends. I thought back to this summer, when I attended my cousin’s wedding in Manhattan without fear of being cornered by some drunken uncle and berated for wearing a pink dress. How many ways could my life be endlessly worse than it is now?

For this reason, I reflected, I don’t often feel comfortable discussing my family with others in the trans community — especially my sisters, who are most likely to experience familial rejection. I’m touched that some of my closest friends count me as part of their chosen family, but every time that phrase is mentioned, I feel tremendous guilt that I’ve somehow held onto my mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and sundry cousins.

Well. I hung onto the ones on my mother’s side, anyway. After my father died almost five years ago, his side of the family fell out of touch with my mother and me, and nobody’s made much of an effort to get in contact with me since I started wearing skirts in public. I think four out of five of them voted for Trump anyway — but as much as I’d like to dismiss them out of hand as a bunch of out-of-touch white cisgender conservatives who don’t know what a cool chick I am these days, I still miss them. I know I won’t be welcome at my aunts’ houses anymore, so I won’t get a chance to play soccer again with my cousin, the athlete. I won’t have dinner at Grandma’s and hear her play lounge-lizard tunes on the piano after dessert. I can’t go back to the house in the country where I grew up.

But still, I kept more of my family than I could have hoped. Nobody hit me, nobody interrogated me every time they saw me, nobody adamantly refused to use my pronouns unless I acted or dressed a certain way. And so I find myself a privileged member of a group defined by its lack of privilege: a girl who cherishes her mother while her sisters long for their parents to talk to them like they’re people.

We have our chosen families — but how do you mend the hole your blood relatives make when they abandon you?

I’ve found myself trying to alleviate this (admittedly irrational) guilt by introducing my mother into my friends’ lives. When we talk on the phone, she goes out of her way to call me her daughter and tells me how angry she is that my friends “lost their mama bears.” She’s been dipping her toes into the waters of voice coaching, and I’m hopeful that she can help my community in a tangible sense, but I also just want the people I love to feel like they have a mother again. The winter holidays are about family and sharing, so why shouldn’t I share my family? As Hanukkah, Christmas, and other gift-giving holidays approach, can I gift-wrap my bloodline to share it with those I love?

Maybe these feelings are misplaced, and perhaps I should be focusing my energy elsewhere. I don’t know. All I’m certain of is that I’m one of the luckiest girls in the world, just because my biological family loves me — and that knowledge is enough to make me cry all over again.

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