My son told us he was transgender through a Facebook life event announcement that I read in the early morning hours of January 2, 2016.
At the time, I didn’t understand why my he didn’t come to us with this news. He and I have a pretty strong relationship, and this seemed like one of those things we should have talked about in great detail and hashed out until there were no more words left to say about it. Right? I was hurt that he had left me out of this part of his life, a struggle I would later learn he had been navigating quietly for many years. If I’m being honest, I was hurt that the rest of the world had found out before I had.
In retrospect, it was probably twenty people by the time I read the announcement, but at the time it felt like the whole of Facebook knew before I did.
After having three years to think about, and write about it, and process it all with my therapist, I think I understand now why he chose to come out on Facebook. Sometimes sharing big news can be scary and if you aren’t sure how the people you are telling are going to react, it can be even scarier. I’d like to think that my first reaction would have been loving and supportive but I have no way of knowing that. I know it would have been full of lots of questions. I know that there would have been some internal doubts and there is a good chance in emotional turmoil of the moment, some of those might have spilled out. If I could have had the opportunity, and the knowledge that I know now, what I would say to my son is this:
“You’re amazing. I love you. How can I support you on this journey?”
I’m pretty sure that isn’t how that conversation would have gone in person. So I can’t say that I blame my son for coming out on Facebook. It was safe. It had a predictable outcome. People respond well when they are given a chance to think about how they are going to reply and other people are watching.
If someone you love has recently come out as transgender, you may have blown that first reaction. Take a deep breath, and forgive yourself. Sometimes in the middle of emotional turmoil, we say things that we wouldn’t have said otherwise had we had a minute to collect our thoughts. That doesn’t make us bad people, that makes us human.
What you need to remember is that your loved one needs to feel supported by you right now. That looks like using the name they have chosen, using the correct pronouns, and being encouraging in their efforts to move forward in this next phase of their life. Don’t smother them, but regularly check in and see how they are doing and ask how you can be of help.
You may be having a hard time with the whole thing, and that is okay. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and sad and confused. It is a lot of new information to take in at first and your life is being transformed just as much as the life of your loved one is being transformed. You might feel grief, or anger, or even denial. It’s important to remember that those are your emotions and you need to process them with your partner or a trusted friend or a profession.
It is important that you do not process them with your loved one who is transitioning.
They will know that this isn’t an easy time for you without you having to tell them, even if it doesn’t appear they are paying attention. Remember that they have a lot going on in their lives right now. It’s not that they don’t care about how you are feeling, it’s that they are hyper-focused on all the things that are suddenly moving forward for them. Don’t forget that they have been planning and waiting for this moment for a long time. Maybe even years, if not longer.
There are no wrong feelings when it comes to having your life suddenly turned upside down. Your family structure might be changing. Or perhaps it’s a long-time relationship that is being reconfigured. You are a not a bad parent or sibling or friend for feeling all the emotions that come along with a coming out announcement.
I fully supported my son and his transition and I still do, but I still had a lot of emotions about it that I had to process as well. And that’s what they were. My emotions.
It’s hard at first. I found the first year especially hard. Find someone who can support you and help you process those emotions. Remember that you are doing the best you can, and that is all anyone can ask of you.
Finally, have hope. Where you are is not the end of your journey.