This last weekend we joined my husband’s side of the family for a reunion. Nearly 30 of us took over a cul-de-sac of vacation homes and cabins on the Oregon Coast. My children got to see their cousins and reunite friendships, but this time there was a big elephant in the room. That elephant was anticipated but we weren’t sure how it was going to go. My Trans son was going to have to endure three nights and four days with family who we weren’t sure would be accepting or willing to use his correct pronouns and chosen name. I feared how my son was going to handle being dead-named and misgendered.
The weeks leading up to this reunion I waffled about going and if we should avoid family who was misinformed and very opinionated about the state of the country regarding the recent political upswing of anti-Trans legislation. Some of my beloved in-laws are very conservative. What was the best thing to do for our son? Not going would surely only isolate him more in some respects, but going would definitely lead to feelings, discussions, and the need to prepare for crucial conversations.
The first thing I did was have a hard conversation with my son. I wanted to know what he wanted to do and what his concerns were. I’m sure this would be different for every Trans person, but the reality is we had to make a choice. We had to decide if we were ready to request that these less accepting people use the right pronouns and avoid dead-naming our child or risk losing contact with them; that’s a big reality check as we feared that some of the family would not comply and would do so anyways and ignore any requests or bits of education we would provide.
The last thing we wanted to do was to put my child in the spotlight or have him be the center of family drama. However, my son wanted to go, and he felt ready and comfortable with where he is at to be his authentic self with family. So, my husband, our other three children, and myself agreed that we would, in solidarity, use the correct name and pronouns and gently correct those who did not, but to not make a big deal out of it.
This is not the approach that I would suggest is the best way for everybody, but we happen to have enough family who was knowledgeable enough that would likely join us in nonchalantly being consistent, and that is exactly what they did. Maybe it was the accepting nature of the alcohol buzz going around, but by the end of the weekend there was just less and less correction and more and more people just using the right name. Sometimes people would slip up, but they learned to correct themselves and move on.
Even the one person I was the most concerned about eventually loosened up and began to go with the flow after the first couple days. At first this person kept their kids away and kept a distance but that was the beauty of having kids; the kids wanted to play and hang out like teenagers do, and so this person had to also give their child space to bond with their cousin and just be kids! In fact, this one person would have actually been more isolated than we were if they hadn’t come around too.
We were pleasantly surprised this weekend and my son had a very positive experience. Interestingly, we didn’t have to do any educating, but other family members did that for us at appropriate times. We had no idea we had Allies in our conservative side of the family. Part of the acceptance was that over the last two years we have had a chance to answer some peoples’ “whys” and “hows” and make our supportive stance known, but we had to get through that hurdle to get to this point. This experience has made me very curious how these situations go for others. I invite our readers to reach out and tell me how this experience was for them as a Trans person or parent of Trans child. What would you have done differently in our situation? What advice do you have for others going through this? This is such an important time for our families to prepare to build Allies and acceptance as so much of the country tries to dismantle the hard work of our LGBTQ+ elders. How do we plant the seeds of communication with those who are less accepting of our Trans children and how do we protect our children without coddling or isolating them further? You can email me at [email protected]