A closer look at family dynamics
By: Jasper Scelsi, Columnist
Is it “blood is thicker than water” or “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb?” Many transgender people have a concept of “found family” as opposed to the normal definition of family by blood. Being close with many other trans people, I see the heartbreaking reality of unsupportive families.
In a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 43% of transgender people maintained most of their family bonds after coming out, while 57% experienced “significant family rejection.” The study mentioned that family acceptance had a protective affect against many threats to well-being. Without accepting families, transgender people have a higher risk of HIV infection and suicide risk, among other issues.
Many trans people in college look forward to the college experience, because oftentimes they get to be referred to by their chosen names and pronouns on campus. But the return to home has caused many to be forced back to their unsupportive families.
Even in what are supposed to be safe spaces, such as meetings of LGBTQ clubs, sometimes I’m forced to introduce people’s names and pronouns because they aren’t safe to share at home. So while this change is inconvenient to us all, to some it can be dangerous. Being a trans child of transphobic parents is terrifying, as you are in constant fear that they will find out and you don’t know how they will react. Many hope that having someone close to them will cause them to change, but this isn’t always the case.
What do trans people owe unsupportive family members? In my opinion, almost nothing. While I am lucky that my immediate family is genuinely supportive, I have some extended family members who still refer to me as “she” and my deadname despite being close to two years on testosterone. And I simply do not talk to them. If they can’t respect me, I don’t have to allow myself to be hurt by them.
What can you do to best support transgender friends and family members? One option is to join PFLAG, which initially stood for “Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays” but updated its name to include more of the community. I am lucky enough to have my mother in PFLAG and have seen some of the meetings. Parents talked about what it was like to have trans, pan, gay, and so on children, and they asked for advice. And they got advice and friendship.
In my experience, the members care deeply about their children and the entire community and just want to make sure every LGBTQ person has a supportive family. If that is not an option for you, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- First, always respect your loved one’s pronouns.
- Second, stick up for them when others do not respect them.
- And third, try to get knowledgeable in what it means to be trans, such as the difference between sex and gender, without using your loved one as your personal encyclopedia.
Over half of transgender people experience significant family rejection upon coming out, and as such make found families that love them unconditionally. I am lucky enough to have a blood family and a found family that all support me, but we must be sure to be supportive of our trans friends because not everyone does.