The Unsupportive Family Member: Two Truths and What You Can Do About It
People in the process of gender transition are often met with varied responses. One of the most influential groups in life is family, and their responses impact how we feel. Transitioning gender can include, but does not require, a change in name, pronouns, clothing, body appearance, voice, and demeanor. Family exists as a system of people with consistent roles. Transitioning gender changes a person in the system, which forces the rest of the system to change. Since people fear change, they may respond to a person changing with resistance. Oftentimes, one family member's resistance stands out among the rest. This can be a display of disapproval either through direct confrontation or complete avoidance. All too often, the negativity comes from the family member we were closest to. The pain of this shift in dynamic is intense for both parties.
Two truths exist about your interaction with this family member. The first truth is that your transition, your gender, and your identity are not causing them any pain. Their pain, no matter what is said, is coming from whatever is awakened in them by change. They see something in you that is directly connected to a part of themselves. This part of them may yearn for something they do not allow themselves to have. This part may make something you do mean something about them. Likely, this part does not even understand why it is scared which leads to inner conflict. Oftentimes, this same family member who gave you grief about your identity will tell friends of theirs that they are doing great and that so are you. Or they will be supportive one moment and angry the next. In my experience, this person donated money to my top surgery campaign and then said very transphobic and hurtful things to me right before the operation. Whatever my transition awakened in this person was powerful and terrifying. What do most people do when they feel scared and powerless? They fight or they flee. The anger, sadness, and guilt we experience when verbally attacked by a family member can feel stronger than the positive support we receive from others. The pain can affect how we feel about ourselves, our transition, and our ability to make decisions. The things they say replay in our minds, keeping us up at night and distracting us from our lives. There is a real, distinct reason for that. This is the second truth: When a family member says something that hurts, the reason it hurts is because the part of them that spoke the unkind words directly touches some part of us that already believes what they are saying to be true. That part of us is scared that they are right because it believes it is right. Beyond reason or rational, this part of us is terrified. This part of us needs to be heard and helped in order for you to let go of the pain. If you tend to this part of you in the right way, the outcome can be more peace, more freedom, and more happiness than you had before. Here are the steps to begin healing that part of yourself: 1. Make a list of things they say/said that upset you. Don't skip anything. Write it all down in a list format. Use their words or use your own. Notice all the feelings that come up when you list them. 2. Under each one, fill in the blank: The part of me that is hurt by this believes ______. There is something you believe about what they said or it wouldn't hurt. Be honest with yourself and write it out. No judgement needed towards this scared part of you. Just acknowledge that it is there. 3. Then, under that, fill in this blank: I would rather believe _______. This is what your higher self believes on your best, most confident day. This is the truth without fear or judgement. This is the belief that advocates for the highest good of yourself and everyone around you. It's ok if you don't believe this right now. If you have a hard time coming up with it, think about a pillar of love that you connect with (Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc) and write what you think they would say. 4. Then, fill in this blank: To get there, today I choose to believe _______. We call this a "bridge affirmation" in the biz. This is a step towards the belief you would rather hold from #3. This is the little nudge in your daily thoughts that can help alleviate pain and bring you more confidence. This is a belief that you can hold onto right now as you move towards complete self love and acceptance. Here's an example of this practice: 1. Family member said, "Can't you just know you are male inside and not mutilate your body?" 2. The part of me that is hurt by this believes that he may be right and that having top surgery is the same as body mutilation and knowing my identity inside should be enough. 3. I would rather believe that top surgery is a gift I am giving myself and an expression of myself that will increase the love I have for my body. I get to take up this space in the world and my identity is valid and celebrated. This is my path and my existence helps people expand their own sense of freedom. 4. To get there, today I choose to believe that being transgender is a valid identity and I can do what I choose with my body. Doing this practice can ease some of the pain you feel about the disapproval from your family member(s). This practice may not change them in anyway. If the person is abusive, disconnecting may be the best option if they cannot control themselves and respect you. What we can do is heal the parts in ourselves that are hurting us so that negative outside forces no longer reflect our internal beliefs. The paradigm shifts when we use these negative experiences as tools for growth that we may one day be grateful for. Good luck, and feel free to email me if you have questions.
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