I came out to my parents (about being genderqueer) last spring. I sent them a long email, both so that I could be certain I was saying all that I wanted to say, and also to protect myself from their more immediate reactions, which I knew would certainly be complicated and contain various kinds of badness.
I have been very lucky in the aftermath that they have directed most of their confusion and various feelings at my older brother (he had already known for quite some time, and I suggested to them that it might be helpful for them to talk to him about it). He’s been coming through for me in a big way ever since. It’s sort of funny, because he is genuinely pretty terrible about my pronouns, and has only recently really started working on fixing that stuff, but at the same time he has been incredibly on-point and tirelessly supportive of me in dealing with my parents. I am incredibly grateful, because he’s been doing an awful lot of the heavy lifting, not because he even really gets it, but just because I’m his sibling and he loves me. I have been reduced almost to tears of gratitude a few times, really.
But that’s not what this post is about. Over the holidays, my mom seems to have undergone a sea change in her acceptance of me, and particularly of my new name, which had been a major sticking point for her.
When we were first in contact again after my initial coming-out, one of the things that happened was that I reassured her that I wouldn’t ever be upset by being called by my birth name. In retrospect, I should have been more explicit about the fact that I meant I wouldn’t be upset by her *accidentally* calling me by my birth name. But, live and learn.
It’s actually not a giant deal for me either way, because we aren’t exactly in frequent contact. We primarily communicate via email, mostly because I’m not comfortable phoning home these days (drama with my father which I will not be getting into), and she doesn’t phone me, so.
Anyway, when I got an email from her in November addressed, like all of her previous emails, to my birth name, I included a quick note in my response about how I would appreciate it if she could put in the extra effort to at least call me Kasey in email format, since in writing she has the time to go back and edit in the way that is harder to do when talking.
The next email I got from her was not addressed to me by any name. Which, I mean, that’s fine. I accepted that at least she had received the message and was making a compromise that fit within her comfort levels. I appreciated the thought, to some extent, at least?
More importantly, though, is that this halfway phase appears to have passed very quickly. My xmas care package from home was addressed to me and my husband by our chosen names (he also changed his name a few years ago), including our new shared last name. And the card and etc were addressed to her “beloved child” etc. It was lovely, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more heart-warming (though the chocolate-covered Oreos she sent were also pretty wonderful).
Which is a thing that is weird, really. Because of course in general, if someone were to respond to being informed of someone changing their name, if they decided that the appropriate response was to stop calling that person anything at all, that would be kind of fucked up. It is, in fact, more than a little bit fucked up, in the general case. It’s downright awful, even. It is a pretty fundamental component of respect to call someone by what they tell you they prefer to be called. And not doing so is not ok.
And yet, I was perfectly willing to accept that from my mother. Because when it comes right down to it, I know her well enough to have a really good idea of the kinds of feelings she has been (and still is) having about my gender and about my name change. I was, to her, her only daughter. And now she has no daughters. And the name she and my father gave me is a very meaningful one, albeit through connections to my father’s family. There is, after all, a reason I’ve kept it. It is really more fitting as my last name anyway – it was my grandmother’s last name before she got married.
I know that it is hard for her. I that she is experiencing a great deal of loss. And I know that can’t be helped, really. More importantly, I know that it would be unreasonable to suggest that she could or should feel any other way about it. I also know that she is doing the right thing in that she has not dumped much of her pain on my back. She is getting support elsewhere, and while she has asked me questions about my gender and the ways I express it, she has done so respectfully and listened to my responses. And so she gets a sort of rhetorical space and compassion around these things that most people wouldn’t merit. We are, right now, both doing all kinds of work to make sure we continue to have a good relationship, and we are, really, much closer now than we have been in many years, because I am no longer hiding myself from her.
It is, however, endlessly strange to think about the fact that what I accept with a huge amount of gratitude from my mother is something I would consider to be the most basic human decency from a random stranger. There is something about being transgender in the world as it works today that flips these kinds of expectations on their head when it comes to certain kinds of close relationships. It’s hard to reconcile, but at the same time I know that it is right, and that this is the best way that things can be right now, in this world.