I write a lot about coming out to our partners because of all of the people in our lives they are the ones that are most impacted by our gender identity and our wardrobe preferences. However, before we met our significant others, we had our family Our parents, our siblings, and everyone else we knew growing up. I remember so many moments growing up sneaking into my mom's shoe closet and trying on her heels. I remember this really cute red polka-dot dress my sister had that I wore whenever I had the chance. My childhood, my teenage years, were filled with moments like these.
It's a shock I was never caught. When I came out to my sisters and my mom it was the last thing they had ever suspected. I was equally surprised by their reaction as I was certain that at least once growing up they saw the lacy edge of my panties peeking out from under my jeans, or a dress that was hung back up in their closet a little haphazardly after I tried it on...and quickly put it back when my sister came home earlier than I expected.
We come out to others in our lives for various reasons. When I came out to my immediate family I had hopes that my sisters would embrace me as their sister from time to time. I had hopes that they would like to spend the day with Hannah shopping or having coffee. Those days haven't come and I doubt they will. Don't misunderstand me, they are wonderful, open-minded and accepting people, but it's a little complicated and it takes some adjusting when your brother wants to be your sister on occasion.
I came out to them shortly after I evolved from underdressing to who I am today. It sounds like a cliche but as I came to get in touch with my feminine side, or rather as I got to know my other gender identity, and got to know who I was when I washer. On my website I talk a lot about the people we come out to getting to know us as our femme side, but we are also getting to know her as well. It's a wonderful, if not overwhelming and sometimes disorienting time in our lives. We realize that we have two sides of us, and this realization goes beyond our wardrobe.
Not only do I move and walk differently in heels and a pencil skirt, I also...well, I AM different. I feel more vulnerable, I feel more honest, I feel more empathetic en femme than I do in male mode. These sides of me felt more distinct and separate at first, but over time these characteristics shifted over to my male side and although the sides of my closet are very different than each other, I feel that my person, regardless of the gender I am presenting as are more whole and complete.
But I digress.
As I came to get to know me as her, I felt like I was in some sort of limbo for a while. I started to see, and I mean REALLY SEE how binary the world is. Everything is either pink or blue, whether its clothes or shaving cream. Although it wasn't unusual to see family gatherings where all the men were in one room and the women in another, after I came out to my family this separation impacted me in a new way. I didn't feel like I fit in anywhere. Sitting in the living room with men watching football didn't appeal to me, and it felt like a bit of an intrusion, if you will, being in the kitchen with my sisters and mom as they talked about everything from work to relationships. Not that I wasn't welcome, I just felt out of place.
In addition to feeling this, I was also a little let down that my coming out to them didn't go the way I had hoped it would. I had dreams of Hannah being invited to my mom's on Christmas Eve, for example. I had always dreamed of wearing a beautiful sparkly dress during the holidays but the invitation never came. The first few holiday gatherings after coming out were hard on me. I felt disappointed Hannah wasn't as embraced, or even as understood as I hoped. I felt I wasn't either gender, but I also felt I was both. I went back and forth between the kitchen and living room as I tried to see where I fit in.
I still do that, sometimes, even after all these years.
Surviving the holidays isn't easy. Families can be difficult. We tolerate or avoid people we are related to, sibling dynamics can be complicated, and tensions can run high. Coming out to a family member, whether intentionally or by accident, can also change our relationships with them. When someone knows about this side of us, it becomes stressful as we hope that they don''t reveal this side of us to someone we want to keep this a secret from. We live in fear they may let this secret slip, either by accident or in a malicious way.
Even if we are not out to family members, it's not uncommon to feel like you don't belong on occasion. It was hard to be around extended family members where I felt that if they knew about me, they would tease me, humiliate me, or ignore me. I don't associate with people who don't have the same values as I do. I am not friends with anyone that is racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic. This is hard to do around family, though. As much as I would like to never see certain family members, I don't really have a choice.
So, how do we get through this time of year? It's a big question, but I want to focus on how I handle the holidays as a t-girl. Before I go any further, I want to be clear that every transperson is different. Where I am regarding my gender identity is probably different than where you are with yours. I live most of my life in male mode, and only a few people know about my gender identity. I happily go back and forth between gender presentations. I like having a choice as to which gender I present from one day to the next. I don't ever want to choose one gender to live as for the rest of my life. This is my journey. You have yours. Perhaps you live full-time, or are on hormones. Perhaps you are going to transition, but haven't announced it yet. Perhaps you are like me and live and identify as two different genders. Regardless, I want to acknowledge that I do not presume to speak for all of us, or assume I know how to handle every situation or family dynamic. Rather, this is how I get through the holidays and family gatherings, particularly in those early days after understanding I have more than one gender identity and coming out to my immediate family as such.
Coming out was liberating, but I also felt lonely. I was getting to know myself in a new way and understanding where my identities overlapped and where they ended and began. Some aspects of myself were very distinct from each other, others were a little more blurred. Once I embraced this side of me, I wanted others to get to know me, this time in a new light. Coming out to my family was awkward for all of us, and I felt a little rejected when Hannah wasn't as embraced as I had hoped she would be. I felt this rejection fairly strongly and for a long time but it was never more intense than it was during family gatherings. Weren't they supposed to love me? Weren't they supposed (at least try) to understand me? I would like to say that there was a magical way I got through these moments that could help you. But it really was a realization that although this side of me wasn't embraced, my family still loved me. This revelation did not cause them to disown me or shun me. It was just... never discussed. I did try to bring it up on future occasions but it was clear that it wasn't a comfortable topic.
...and that's okay. Eventually it was okay. Well, maybe not okay, but I came to terms with it. Coming out is hard on us, and coming out is hard for others in our lives. We are not easy to understand. We don't even understand ourselves, so I can't imagine how hard it would be for someone else to grasp why I have two different gender identities. To cisgender people the very concept of a gender identity is foreign. Trying to see this side of me from their perspective, and in time, I was able to (slowly) move on from a feeling of rejection. I still feel sad from time to time, but no longer rejected. I keep my chin up and my heels high.
Some of us dread the holidays for a number of reasons. It can suck the life out of us. It's stressful to shop, to cook, to prepare for house guests, to travel, and to be around family. Whenever a stressful time approaches I try to do something for myself or give myself something to look forward to. Yes, shopping for gifts isn't easy, but it's a lot more fun to hit the malls en femme while I look for a gift for my mom. As I get older there are fewer presents under the tree for me, but that doesn't mean I can't give Hannah a present. After a tension filled Christmas it's wonderful to relax in some new lingerie that night.
On a lighter note, underdressing helps. It sounds shallow but if I have to be around people who would mock or hate on our community, wearing cute Christmas panties makes me feel a little better.
It can be disheartening to live in a world that doesn't try to understand us. It's even more heartbreaking when our family, whether we are out to them or not, doesn't accept those like us. We can't wait for the world, or our family, to understand us before we can be who we are. That day will never come.
These are things that help me. What helps you?