It was 2003 when I had the last meaningful conversation with my mother. Our relationship was antagonistic since my birth. In her journal about my early development, she wrote about how disappointed she was that I was not the child she wanted. Unlike my brother, I wasn’t super cuddly with her. I preferred to be held by my grandfather and father. I was too independent. I didn’t need her enough, and when I was diagnosed with my disability, it was devastating to her that I would not be “normal.
My mother was diagnosed with manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder, when I was 13 or 14 years old, after she had a nervous breakdown. I believe much of our problems stem from the fact that she chooses to self medicate on herbal supplements like St. John’s Wort, and the belief that I have supremely wronged her is what drives her. I fully believe that she truly believes that I am the problem, I have caused harm to her, and I am a bad person.
I don’t really talk about the loneliness and isolation that has come from being excluded by the only living parent you have. I haven’t really explained my side to very many people, and I often don’t mention my family, at all. My dad died when I was 20, in 2001. He was not there for the problems that led up to the ultimatum I gave my mother. She had long struggled with accepting me as a LGBT person. She saw it as a reflection on her and on her parenting. In her mind, I make her look bad, and she blames me for that.
When I started living as a man, she simply could not handle it. I was also declaring my independence from her. As someone with a disability, she always assumed I would live with her, and have to depend on her. My ability to live on my own, find love, and take care of myself compromised the idea that I would be dependent on her. It not only meant I could make my own decisions, but she could no longer hold me prisoner to my own disability. That is what she would do to control me. If I wanted her to put me in bed or help me go to the bathroom, I would have to listen to her. It must have been horrible to lose that kind of power over me.
I gave my mother an ultimatum in 2003, after putting up with continued abuse. I told her she could either accept me as I was, or she could get out of my life, because I simply could not handle the negativity. She chose to not accept me, and also told my family that I had abandoned her, so she didn’t have to explain I was a transgender person. Many people believed her, and not only did I lose my mother, but I lost other family. I was isolated to the point where I felt I had no one from my family, who cared about me.
Over the years, inconsistencies in her story led some family members to reach out to me. These people now know the truth. The final straw was when my mother prevented my dying grandfather, someone I was extremely close to, who accepted me as I was, from communicating or seeing me. I can never forget what she did to him, and I will never get that time back with him, as he passed away in 2013.
I am sharing this story now, because I have a dear friend going through something similar. They are also trans-identifying. Their parents are attempting to use emotional blackmail to get my friend to kowtow to their way of thinking. Listening to voicemails and phone calls my friend recorded of their encounters gave me chills, because the same words their mother used against them are those words my mother said to me, over a decade ago.
My friend’s parents have tried to emotionally blackmail them into conforming to gender expectations, going as far as to tell them they would kill themselves, if my friend did not call them, a call that resorted in my friend being berated and shamed. They expect my friend to dress a certain way, at an important family event, even though that does not make them comfortable. They also are angry that my friend prefers to stay with a friend, where they feel safe, rather than at their parents house, which is an extremely logical standpoint as my friend has good reason to not want to stay at their parent’s home given the way their parents are treating them. When my friend has attempted dialogue with family, their parents have called them a liar, blamed them for the situation, told them they are selfish, and said many other horrible things. Like me, my friend is having to make the hard decision to cut their family from their lives, for their own protection.
When parents try to use their authority over their children to dictate their gender identity or sexual orientation, this is wrong. Forcing your child to conform because you believe they are making you look bad is a problem with you, not your child. Often, people in the transgender community have to make the hard decision between keeping contact with their family and doing what is right for their own safety and protection.
We have an unrealistic expectation on the idea of family. Without family life can seem hopeless. Your parents are supposed to be the people that are there for you no matter what, and when you don’t have them, you often wonder what you do have. For me, this resulted in a lot of blame that I put on myself. Maybe if I had been a better child, my family would not have abandoned me for being transgender? I know that’s not true, but this is a common thought I’ve had, over the years.
This is not our fault. Parents need to realize their children are individuals. They cannot control them, without making them miserable. This is especially true for people with disabilities who are transgender. For many of us, because of our needs, we are more reliant on our parents and family, and if our parents do not have the best of intentions, they will exploit this dependence to try and get what they want. That is exactly what happened with my mother, and my heart goes out to all of the trans people with disabilities who are not as lucky as I am, who are forced to live with their family.
I have spent over a decade struggling with the fact that my mother does not love me. I have gone from blaming myself to putting the blame where it belongs, on my mother, who has chosen to not accept me. My friend is just beginning their journey of discovery, in terms of life without their family. I do not want them to feel like they are alone. I do not want anyone in our situation to feel alone.
If you are someone who is LGBT, and your family does not accept you, you are not alone. Reach out to me, and I will be there for you. We can make our own family, one that is full of acceptance, and allows us to be who we are. In the end, it is their loss. They will never know how wonderful their transgender child truly is.