In talking with people who knew me before my transition, I have discovered a trend. Many aren’t sure how to act around me, at least not initially. If they knew my family, as well, they were sometimes even skittish, when they found me on Facebook or somewhere else online. Having lived at least two hours from my hometown since I was 19 has made it so most of my communication with people from my past is online, as running into them somewhere has astronomically smaller odds than when I lived in town.
I usually avoid talking about my past, especially as it relates to my immediate family. First, I do not like putting people in the middle of private family disputes. Second, I don’t generally talk about the people who have proven to me they are not family, because they are not an important part of my life, anymore. I had to move on in order to have a happier, healthier life, for me.
Eventually, in most cases, the past comes up, even if it is just a casual mention. What I keep hearing over and over is the same. I abandoned my family. To me, this implies the idea that I left them for my new life, like a presumptuous jerk, and never looked back.
Perceptions differ from person to person. What one person sees as abandonment, to another could mean escape or freedom. Typically, I address the issue of this as cautiously as possible. I try not to say anything that implies judgment and merely mention that I didn’t abandon anyone.
When everything started to go sour, it was 2003. It was both a good year and a bad year for me. In 2002, I started going by Dominick amongst my inner circle of friends. I hesitated to tell my family. My grandparents were old and my grandmother had terrible dementia. I didn’t want to break her heart. At the same time, I knew I’d have to tell them eventually. Around the same time, I started dating my girlfriend of 11 years, Ash. Our relationship has had its ups and downs, but she’s really been my biggest supporter.
It was never any secret my family didn’t want me dating Ash. I was told I had other priorities and love was not one of them. Ash also had a son, I was told I’d “get saddled with”, and she wasn’t welcome at my family’s home, when I got stuck after Christmas, and she was supposed to bus down to see me on my birthday. I threw a hissy fit (I admit it) and convinced my mother to drive me home, as not to waste money paid on a bus ticket, when they wouldn’t let her just show up in Toledo then drive her and Robert down with me the next day. You cannot choose who you love, and I picked a good one when I fell for Ash.
A family dispute led to me giving the woman who gave birth to me, P, an ultimatum, when she came down to bring my van back after it got stuck up in Toledo (she drove it back up with her after dropping me off on Christmas, the plan was to return it in a few months). She had a work appointment in the Dayton area, so it was the perfect time to return my van to me. Family members later told me she accused Ash’s son, age 8, who had Aspergers, of taking her keys from her purse without her permission.
The truth was completely different. She showed up to our small apartment, and Robert gave her his bed, the pull out couch. He planned to sleep on our floor, in the other room, in a sleeping bag. I also bought her dinner, and she was mad because we asked for takeout instead of going into the restaurant, even though she got whatever she wanted to eat. Robert was picky, due to his Aspergers, so I had her pick up Burger King after giving her cash for both meals. I later found out she told people we “couldn’t take him out in public”, which is not at all true. He would have been sitting at the restaurant with nothing to do, which is why takeout made sense.
He never stole anything. She was mad I let him hold an electric screwdriver, with no metal part (the sharp screw part) attached to it. He often felt comfort holding it. Holding it was all he did. It was smooth. The tactile sensation of it was appealing. She was also mad I let him have a set of old keychains I had linked together. P had snatched them away from him and yelled at him for “taking my keys”. When I came out of my bedroom where I’d been talking to Ash privately, I told her those were his, and to give them back. I told P it was a worthless set of keychains I let him hold. He just looked at her quietly like he wanted to cry. She didn’t have her keys for him to steal, anyway. She drove my van down and my older brother drove his car down to Dayton to pick her up. She had left her keys at home, because she didn’t need them.
At some point, she kept yelling at Robert, for anything and everything. This was a child she just met. He’d been living with his mom and I in my apartment for 3 months. It was his home. Ash was furious, but I told her to let me handle it. Robert didn’t react like we expected him to – like many kids with Aspergers do. He just hung his head down in shame and looked sad each time she yelled. I was actually really proud he didn’t have a meltdown. I gave P an ultimatum though. I told her this was Robert’s home. He deserved to be treated like a human being in it and it was not her place to discipline him. If she had a genuine problem to come to Ash or myself. I told her she could either respect his place in his own home or get out. My house, my rules. She was furious and chose to leave. I don’t regret doing it. I would defend any child unfairly being bullied, because that is what I believe she was doing to him.
I have heard multiple family members tell me she told them Robert stole her keys. I always tell them that is a lie. Robert has had many struggles and bad behavior, but I stand by the fact he was very well behaved that night and very polite to P. If he had taken them, I wouldn’t protect that fact. I have always been candid about his struggle with Aspergers, mood swings, and technology addiction. Getting in purses is something he’ll never do. I can say that with 100% certainty. His grandmother has only one rule. That is, don’t touch her purse. He has known that rule since birth and takes it seriously with everyone. Kids with Aspergers are creatures of habit. Purses will always be off limits, in his mind.
P chose to leave. She took my van to a hotel and brought it back the next day. She had my brother return my keys, and he was quite rude and mean at the door. I just ignored it. I had no idea what would come next though. This was in the late winter/early spring of 2003. My grandparents were celebrating their anniversary in June 2003. They were together for 60 years, at that point. After P told them about Robert, I was told only Ash and I were invited to the party. Robert was not allowed to come for fear he would cause trouble.
In April, I had fractured my tibia and getting out of bed was hard. Even if I could have gotten out, there was nobody we wanted to leave our autistic son with for the several hours driving up to Toledo, the party and coming back would take. I tried to explain Robert was usually very well behaved in public, especially, but no amount of talking would persuade them to let him come. I had come out to them, as dating Ash, and my grandmother forgot repeatedly. My grandfather wanted me to rethink things, but didn’t seem to cast judgment on me. I still hadn’t told him I was starting to transition from female to male.
I ended up not going. This was my family. Had I not been trans, and my family was nuclear, they would have all been invited. Because of who I was and what P said, we were not considered a family. I was too scared to tell my aunt, uncle or cousins. I’d always been told everyone would hate me, so I said nothing to anyone and wasn’t connected with any of them, even online.
When we had to move up to Michigan due to my tibial injury in August, I got P to agree to drive us up. I had tried to amend things, but there was still tension. I paid for everything – gas, our meals, even though I’d lost my jobs, due to my injury. It was the least I could do. When we got to Ash’s house in Michigan, her mom was there and P went in to talk to her. Ash underestimated the house’s accessibility and we struggled to get me in. P decided the way to do it was to line me up with a step and rip my leg with the tibial fracture to PULL me in. I screamed and cried and Ash demanded she go in the house and not touch me. She went in and told S, Ash’s mom, that I was a baby and a whiner and she had no doubt they would kick me out within a year because they would be sick of me. She had only met S once before, briefly.
After spending the night, S buying her breakfast and washing her clothes, P went back to Toledo. It was the last time I saw her. Our relationship progressed down to nothing. My coming out as trans was the last straw. My grandparents didn’t understand and I hated putting them in the middle. They also urged me to reconcile with P, and I couldn’t. I only called them on holidays to keep them from being caught in the middle. I lost my van and my ability to travel out of my county. I was stuck in bed due to complications from the injury for over 5 years. I endured pain meds, home doctors visits and at home PT. Slowly I began to get my life back.
In the meantime, P was telling everyone I abandoned the family. I never got invites to parties, reunions or weddings so had no idea they happened until I talked to my grandfather and he told me. In 2008, my grandmother was very sick. We knew the end was near. I tried to call more, but she didn’t remember much. She’d cry and beg me to come to Toledo. P would randomly get on the phone and scream at me. At first, I’d scream back, but then I started hanging up on her. I had nothing to say.
At first, she accused me of lying about being trans. Then she said I couldn’t be trans. She said there were no signs. She told people in my immediate family it was Ash’s doing, that she’d brainwashed me. I told them, am I the type of person who could be brainwashed? I’m known for my stubbornness. I got tired of the yelling and accusations. I just stopped talking to her or giving her a reaction.
When my grandmother died, I told my grandfather I couldn’t get out of bed. I also had no way to get to the funeral as I had no wheelchair van or transport out of my county. He said he understood. I have no idea what the rest of the family was told. The next few years, I tried to stay in touch with him, but any time P answered, she’d scream at me. I asked him to call me, instead. We spoke less and less, but always talked on major holidays. In 2009, he told me he knew I owed WSU money for carpet. They claimed it had a wet dog smell. My neighbor had a helper dog who was allowed there by law, and the dog was in my apartment nearly every day saying hi. They wanted me to pay $1000. I disputed the charges. I lost. I didn’t have the money for it. I told my grandfather this when he called since he had been my emergency contact when I attended. They had called him to try and get the money.
I told him not to pay, but he wouldn’t listen. He settled with them. He was worried about my record. I never asked for a cent from him. He was the kind of grandfather who would do that. The kind of dad who would do that. I was so grateful. When I returned to WSU in 2010 to finish college, I saw him for the first time in seven years. We had lunch. P didn’t come. We had rented a van and stopped in Toledo on the way down. He adored Ash after finally meeting her. He loved Robert and said he was a very well behaved young man. Seeing him was the greatest thing. I tried to slip him money to try to repay him some for the school debt, but he gave the money back and refused to accept it. He told me to use it on college.
I tried to call him when I could, but college was demanding and I also still had to deal with P when she answered. When I was still in Michigan after my grandmother had died, I held an online fundraiser. Part went to help me get a new Hoyer lift. Part went to a charity, that was a Hospice in honor of my grandma who died in Hospice. We made our goal, but during the fundraiser, my brother got on Twitter and accused me of being a fraud and a thief. His proof was my name wasn’t really Dominick. My name change was pending with the state of MI. Respected members of Twitter defended me, telling him I never lied about being transgender. They all knew. One also confirmed my donation to the Hospice, with money I raised, went through, proving I wasn’t a thief. However, this caused MUCH more tension between P and I. It was the last time I spoke to my brother.
I still had no van, so no way to travel to see my grandfather. In 2012, I decided to interview him for an audio documentary. We rented a van and drove up to Toledo. It was a breakthrough for my grandfather. He truly realized what being trans meant to me. He saw my love with Ash. He told me he was proud of me. He poured his heart out, and I did mine. It was after this I got my first card labeled to Dominick – not just the address – inside the card. The audio doc was very special to me and is something I treasure.
In the spring of 2013, I finally got my van and decided I would try to come up to Toledo to see my grandfather as much as I could. He was 94. He made vague statements on the phone about not lasting much longer. My friend, Beth, drove me up to see him the weekend after I had my first big film shoot. It was a few days later he had a heart attack. During our meal, my grandfather thanked Ash for being so good to me and loving me. He thanked Robert for helping him, as he held his hand when walking and opened the door for him. He told me he was proud of all I had accomplished.
Finding out my grandfather had a heart attack was devastating. Ash supported my decision to go to Toledo to see him in the hospital. It was the last time I was allowed to see him. When we arrived, P left without a word. My grandfather called me both Dom and my old name, his granddaughter and various other things. I joked with him about confusing his nurses because he told them his granddaughter had Muscular Dystrophy and they asked Ash, amazed, if she had MD. I joked about my beard confusing them. My uncle showed up and we made small talk, but I had no idea what he’d heard about me.
A cousin, my grandfather’s niece, showed up and seemed shocked I was male. Apparently no one told anyone in the family I was legally male or named Dominick. She was very nice to me though, but I suppose I gave her quite the shock.
After returning home, I decided to go up on Father’s Day to surprise him. He was at Hospice. When I arrived I was told I wasn’t allowed to see him. I found out I had been put on the ‘no visits allowed’ list. I left a note for him, but do not know if he ever got it. Crestfallen, we drove to Michigan for a week. We decided to not try to get back in the Hospice as we had planned to do the next time we drove through Toledo, on our way back home.
The entire family stopped talking to me about him. It was clear P was running the show and I was banned from contact with him. My friends started a movement and hundreds of get well cards were sent in my name. Finally, since she was angry about the cards, P made him call and he begged me to not send anymore because he thought he had to reply to them all and thank them. I cried on the phone and told him I loved him. The cards were sent to show him that since I didn’t know if I’d ever be allowed to talk to him again. It was the last time we ever spoke. Nobody would update me on his condition until he died.
Upset and hurt, I unfriended my aunt and cousins from Facebook. I was heartbroken. Ash asked me not to try to go to his funeral. I figured I’d be kicked out anyway, so I agreed. I went to neither of my grandparents’ funerals and hate that I couldn’t go. Both times were for reasons out of my control. I know how it looks. I never went to family gatherings after 2003. Other than my grandparents’ anniversary I chose not to go to, I never was invited. I know how that looks. I took my time in reaching out to family on social media for fear of rejection. I know how that looks.
I can never forget what P put me through or what she did to me. Reconciling will never happen after what happened with my grandfather. My life is better with less drama, anyway. It makes me wonder though. How many LGBT people go through this? How many escape a bad family situation and lose contact with other family who are fed lies about them only to make that family suspect the LGBT person is to blame for the family falling out? Family disputes are always more complex than that.
Being LGBT makes it hard to reach out. It makes it hard to go up to family on social media and say hey. I have to consider how people will react to my transition every time I find family online and choose whether outing myself again is truly worth it. I have to wonder if they have been told lies about me and what those lies are. That weighs in on whether I choose to tell or not, too. Nobody should have to face these decisions. My heart goes out to anyone enduring something similar.
In the obituaries for my grandparents, my old name is listed. No mention of my beloved Ash or my son, Robert, a child I chose to take on, as my own, after years helping to raise him. That hurts. That is discrimination. It is not surprising, but it keeps the lie going. It is transphobic, bigoted and also denies a major part of my being. It speaks for the hatred certain members of my family have for me.
After the funeral, my aunt reached out to me. We spoke about what happened, and she told me she never meant to hurt me. I believe her and have let her back in. No other immediate family members have reached out to me since then. If they do, I will listen to what they say with an open mind and heart. Except for P. P will never say anything to make what she did right. She denied a dying man the right to see the grandchild HE loved and accepted for her own selfish motivations. I don’t care what she did to me. I care what she did to him and how she made him suffer. I can forgive, but I won’t forget.
Did I abandon my family? That is up to all those reading to decide. Do I agree I removed a lot of negativity from my life? Definitely. I am happier and healthier for it and I won’t apologize. I did what is right for my family and if that makes me wrong or a bad person, then so be it.