I mentioned earlier that my mom doesn’t have a great track record of using the right pronouns for me, even nine years (almost to the day) after I started asking others to make that change. Before her brief visit in the spring, I was worried I’d have to deal with that again, but happily she didn’t slip up at all when she was here.
I just came back from a roughly week-long family vacation with my partner, my parents, and my brother and sister-in-law. It was a lot of fun, as we all get along well, but a few days in I realized my mom had slipped up on my pronouns several times. It really hit me on a hike Thursday afternoon and I slipped behind a bit while I cried a little and felt like a useless lump and a Bad Trans Person.
Because here’s the thing: I just can’t bring myself to talk to her about it. I know I should. I have always had a hard time confronting people in the moment, but now that I’m home I should be writing her an email to say “hey, after all these years this really hurts, can we talk about it?” And I haven’t done it yet, plus I’m pretty sure I’m just not going to. It makes me feel like a coward, probably because it’s fucking cowardly to avoid the issue for so long.
My mom’s a private person, and I know she doesn’t talk about personal things to others very often. A couple of years ago, she told me that my old band director from high school (who she sees fairly often and subs for, as she’s a music teacher) still doesn’t know me by anything other than my old name and pronouns as she feels like it would be awkward or weird to bring it up. So he asks how [birth name] is, and my mom apparently says “she’s doing fine.”
It makes me wonder how many other people in her life she’s avoided the issue with. What does she even call me when she’s talking to my dad?
I came out to my parents in an awkward and painful way – I was at a family reunion in July 2005 and my dad cornered me alone and badgered me until I came out to him. I literally said “I have stuff to talk to you and Mom about, but I’m not ready, and I don’t want to do it like this” while crying but he pushed and pushed until I broke down and tried to explain things to him. But of course, since I was off-guard and upset, my explanation was probably pretty jumbled. I tried to talk about being genderqueer, not being particularly male-identified but wanting the changes that come with testosterone, etc. and I think that was confusing for him.
He insisted that he tell all this to my mom the next day as they drove home, instead of waiting for me to call her after the trip or talk with her before they left, and while I wasn’t ok with that situation I had no fight left in me. I really don’t know what he said to her about me, and I’m still upset when I think about how that all happened. I am unsure exactly how he presented my gender identity to her.
It became easier, as time went on, to just be a guy for them. I tried this in general, the first few years after I started medical transition, just because physical changes came slowly and I felt like I had to change my clothing and mannerisms a bit to coax the general public into seeing me at all how I hoped they would. I’ve not tried to talk to them about genderqueerness, or the thin like I walk between “trans guy” and “ugh, I am really not male-identified at all,” and for the most part that’s ok, I think? My gender confuses me a lot of the time, and I’m comfortable giving them a more simplified version.
But as I’ve become a little freer in my gender presentation lately, I worry if it’s having an impact on how they’re seeing me, and on my mom’s language problems. As important as nail polish is to me, I agonized over painting my nails for the trip this past week. I think I’d had toenail polish on once before when they were around, but not, to my recollection, fingernail polish. I eventually decided it was silly to worry so much and went for it, but when my mom kept saying “she” did this and that about me… I became a lot more self-conscious about it. I’m going to see them again this weekend for a quick trip and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep my nails naked while I’m there, this time.
Mom and I have a pretty good relationship, as far as I can tell; while we don’t talk a lot about gender stuff we are able to have pretty personal conversations, especially as her mom’s health is getting worse and she’s trying to deal with that. When I moved across the country she talked a lot to me about her own loneliness and struggles to find friends when we all moved to Tennessee when I was in elementary school. We go antiquing and hiking together and have a good time.
I thin I’m afraid she’s secretly really not at all ok with who I am now, and that if I tried to bring it up I’d learn that for sure. It’s hard to feel like she accepts me when this keeps happening, even though in all other ways she seems to be supportive. But it’s been nine years. I had a friend who I mostly cut out of my life when he kept fucking up my pronouns a year or two after I came out. I don’t think I’d tolerate this from anyone else, after so long.
Somehow it seems easier to keep quiet, though, and I’m upset with myself that this is the case right now.