My Family Was Ready to Communicate, but I Wasn’t

I was so focused on making the coming out process as easy for my family as possible that I made it even more difficult for them.

Regard this statement as fact, rather than with pity: I have always been the outlier in my family. While every child feels like this at some point during adolescence, it seems to be a stronger feeling among those that grew up in the 90s until now. This stronger feeling must be provoking stronger actions if the complaints from parents and older siblings are true: teenagers and children today isolate themselves more than previous generations. 

Over the years, the stereotype of an angsty, explosive teenager among an otherwise friendly suburban family has evolved into a teenager that simply doesn’t express themself at all. Said teen’s family is completely out of the loop, unsure if their child is depressed, angry, wondering if they have any interest in the world at all. The child may get frustrated when their family attempts to reach out, seeing it as an offensive tactic rather than an action full of love and concern. I see those younger than I follow this trend daily. Rather than smiling in nostalgia or endearment, I find my stomach flipping. Unfortunately, I was, and am that child, even in my early-20’s. The effects of perfecting this negative behavior from a younger age persist, and frankly, it is getting quite old. 

Side note: As a disclaimer, I would like to state that I am in no way encouraging coming out before one is ready to, especially when fearing the reaction of one’s family. This is simply my experience and the patterns I’ve observed among other LGBT, particularly transgender friends of mine that are plagued by their own internal apprehensiveness rather than an aggressive family.

If you fear your family’s response to your identity, please consider contacting a local LGBT center or an online option, such as The Trevor Project, which features a 24/7 chat for struggling youth.

How Avoidance Furthered the Problem

I started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at the strange age of 18: old enough to legally make the decision on my own (via informed consent), but a teenager nonetheless. I plan on focusing on my experience with HRT itself in a later post, so I will spare the details here. Anyway, I told my father I was trans two or three days before my initial intake appointment. This type of avoidant behavior in itself should have been a red flag, as no one else in my family was aware of the situation either. My father and I, in spite of our differences, communicate similarly: we don’t. Not very well, at least. The night I came out to him he asked very little questions, and when he did, his curiosities were that of concern and worry rather than that of a naturally curious person. To have such an accepting father in my life, I am luckier than words could even hope to describe. Instead of focusing on how grateful I am, a rather large part of me wishes that he asked questions with stronger intent, that he was more honest about his confusion and inability to understand me. These tiny, basic questions persist to this day, slightly over two years of being on hormones, and I have no one to blame but myself. Much to my (humorous, don’t worry) dismay, my therapist often repeats that I cannot control how other people respond to my words, nor can I completely control my wording itself. The one thing that I have complete control over is attempting to start discussions. 

Empathy is one of the traits I’ve prided myself on for years. Avoidance empties empathy, making it yet another distant emotion. I was so focused on making the coming out process as easy for my family as possible that I made it even more difficult for them. I can’t imagine how my father felt driving me the hour to the LGBT center, then sitting in the waiting room for hours. I still have not asked him. He had no idea what was going on, really, and most likely still doesn’t. I am more than grateful to have a parent who allows me to live my life as I please without much question, but some discussion would have helped both of us more than I can imagine. When he did ask questions, I became highly defensive, thinking of curiosity and worry as aggressive tools rather than extensions of love.

My sister took a similar approach. About two years into my transition, my sister told me that she was aware of it. She wasn’t angry with me in a traditional sense, rather frustrated that I hadn’t told her sooner. Every time she mentioned this frustration, she laced it with a disclaimer about how it was all okay, how she understood my behavior. Being on the receiving end of these disclaimers is strange, but something that is unfortunately inevitable when you have a habit of avoiding serious topics for years on end. Even now as I’m typing this, I have this instinct to disconnect and explain the situation in the most simple phrases possible. It is difficult to explain feelings, to explain just how painfully uncomfortable and frustrating guilt and regret can feel. “It’s understandable,” I always want to say when someone tells me that my avoidance has hurt them. No one wants to hear that though, not really. They want you to fully understand, understand enough that it impacts your actions. I see this instinct to disconnect and speak from an outside perspective in so many of my LGBT and/or neurodivergent friends. The act of opening up about my avoidance was relieving, even if I didn’t reveal or discuss much at all about being trans. Communication helped us grow closer. Little by little, I am starting to mention things about myself in conversation. They don’t have to be significant aspects of my life, just small talk. Somehow, the small talk is what makes it easier to open up during the big talks.

My thoughts and behaviors are understandable, not favorable. When I imagine how I made my father feel by throwing such a heavy and convoluted topic onto him and expecting him to merely shut up and understand it, my heart breaks. He has always meant the best for me, and while he is not skilled in communication either, he would highly treasure it. That much I know. As I have come to realize through my own experiences and observation of other families, many parents are unsure how to communicate with their children in daily life, let alone when addressing their quiet child’s identity. It can be laughable, but it can also be devastating when it becomes greater than a harmless, endearing dynamic between family members. 

The best I can do now is work on myself and strengthen the current relationship I have with my family. I’m not sure if I am ready to spill my guts on how my gender or sexuality functions, I’m not even sure if I’m ready to spill my guts on anything at all, but I have to try.  While it was understandable in my teenage years to avoid thinking of how my parents and siblings felt about my actions, it is something I want to take accountability for now. I am entitled to all of my feelings and thoughts, this we should not shame ourselves for. Life is messy and we must accept that, especially when we are looking at family dynamics during our teen years. However, allowing ourselves to step back and weigh out the pros and cons of our avoidance may help prevent an active continuation of the problem at hand. 

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