Children of Denial

A few days ago, I had the nerve-wracking experience of having a lengthy discussion with my MtF girlfriend’s mother about her transition. The whole thing started because Cupcake has been on hormones for several months, and is going to start presenting as female full time in about a week, but her mother has been expressing more and more disapproval about the whole thing, and we weren’t sure whether she understood what was going on.

Naturally, this is an extremely difficult thing for parents to deal with. I don’t expect her to just accept it, and I’m sure it will take a long time for her to come to terms with it. Even then, she likely will continue to have qualms about it. It’s just the nature of the beast: this is such a hard, scary, weighty topic and mother-child relationships are so intense and important, how could she (someone with no experience whatsoever with trans issues) simply accept it, and that’s that?

Still, it got me thinking about parents’ reactions to their child coming out to them, especially how frequently they deny what’s being told to them. One of my friends said that she had to come out to her mother as asexual at least three times already, and probably will have to do it again at some point, just because her mother didn’t believe her (or remember?), probably thinking it was just a phase. My own parents are firmly convinced I’m a lesbian, not asexual. They also don’t have any idea about M or Cupcake, and although it bothers me a little that when they learn about her, it will support their idea that I’m a lesbian, I don’t really care enough to tell them about M. And even if I did, they likely wouldn’t believe me anyway, or would find some way to dismiss it. It doesn’t really matter, because I don’t care what they think and it won’t make a difference in the way they treat me anyway. Which I suppose is convenient, but is also just a result of asexuality (and similarly, bisexuality) being inherently invisible, even if people knew and accepted it as a legitimate orientation.

For Cupcake, it’s very, very different. This is not just some invisible fact about her that only becomes a real issue within a relationship, and otherwise is just a mildly annoying social barrier at worst. Nor is it some issue with the partners she chooses, which can be a discreetly hidden family secret, or even kept from family completely. This goes right down to the very core of her identity. It is physical. Nobody who knows her, except apparently her mother, could possibly miss the changes she is undergoing. When she came out at work, nobody was surprised. I watched her tell someone she used to know (over the internet), and his response was just an, “Oh. That explains a lot.”

It is interesting to me that her mother could claim that she never saw Cupcake as being feminine at all. One look at her room screams, “GIRL!” When she said that, I picked up one of her hands, painted with glittery purple nail polish and asked, “Is this feminine?” She seemed somewhat at a loss, grasping for an explanation. “Well, if you knew him growing up…”

I don’t mean to be confrontational, but this is happening. Even if she missed it, even if it was carefully hidden from her, Cupcake is and has been trans, and even if she were to stop her transition and go back to presenting male all the time, she would still be trans–just hiding it. Her mother can’t accept that this is true, says that there are other issues that she’s blocking out, that her divorce and the issues that Cupcake has with her father caused her to want to “reinvent himself, and become a new person.” (“It has nothing to do with that,” Cupcake protested, “I knew I was trans when I was eight, and the divorce happened when I was twelve. How could it have been caused by the divorce if it happened prior to that?”)

Cupcake had a response for every single thing that her mother brought up, but her mother wouldn’t listen to any of it. She holds on firmly to her (largely ignorant, and willfully so) fears about the process, rather than letting those fears be assuaged. She clings to stereotypes to rationalize Cupcake’s experiences away, just because it wasn’t something she “knew” about her son from an early age. I echoed something that Venus of Willendork once posted about then, about how the stereotypical lesbian and gay experience has been repeated so often that there is now pressure on them to make their experiences fit with the mold, rather than speaking out about how it really was, for solidarity’s sake or perhaps just so that people will believe them, and not think their orientation is a phase. Really, there is an even stronger pressure in the trans community due to the Standards of Care, and the requirement of having a therapist’s approval in order to start HRT or get SRS, but I thought using an example from a different community would be slightly less confrontational. I hope it’s something she will think about.

Really, it’s entirely understandable that she would react this way. What mother would want to admit that she knew so little about her child’s pain? Even at this stage, I’m not even certain the immensity of that pain has sunk in yet. For Cupcake, it’s a choice between transition or suicide. If there were a magic pill that she could take that would make her cisgendered, she says she would take it (which, incidentally, highlights a very important difference betweeen transsexualism and asexuality, as the vast majority of asexuals are happy the way they are, and wouldn’t dream of taking such a pill–it’s societal pressure to be sexual that they want to change, not their own orientations). But there is no such pill, nor any other way to magically become cisgendered. Thus, she has decided (carefully, with full knowledge of how difficult it will be) to transition.

One other thing I wanted to mention (for my own personal reference really, as I am writing this post as much to note my own personal observations than for any other reason) is that she brought up something that Cupcake had already mentioned to me two months ago: the possibility that her depression would start (or had started) to go away since she had gotten into a relationship with me. What Cupcake had previously told me was that she had had some self-doubt about her transition, wondering if she had just been lonely, and that her trans issues would go away when she got into a relationship. This proved to be completely untrue, because even with me, she still has freak-outs about trans stuff, even though she is no longer lonely. Her mother seemed to have the same doubts, though neither one of us mentioned what had happened between us earlier (I wonder if perhaps we should have, but I certainly didn’t want to bring it up without getting Cupcake’s approval first). I wonder, personally, what it is about relationships that makes people think they are a magical panacea. I’m sure many of us have been told that we will start wanting to have sex once we’re in a (committed romantic) relationship (with the right person), as if we are just too immature right now, and need someone to “awaken” our sexual desires. But I’m in a committed romantic relationship and I’m still asexual. And Cupcake is still trans.

There are certainly parallels between the way that parents react to asexuality and the way they react to transsexualism, although the latter is much more extreme in pretty much every way. This is one reason I think asexuals should have a place within the queer community, even though we face very little discrimination (if it can be called that at all), compared to the GLB’s, and especially T’s. There are plenty of differences in the issues that need to be addressed, and the danger of banding together is that one group will be so concerned about their own issues that they’ll leave the others out, but there are still commonalities that allow different types of queer people to understand one another better, and parents having similar reactions is one of them.

The power of denial is certainly very strong, and it’s something I’ve run into a lot, especially with relatives. But the discussion we had with her mother seems to have done some good. Cupcake says that since then, she’s been super nice about everything, which is probably her way of apologizing. She seems to be thinking about everything we said, and although I expect it to take quite a bit more time, I have high hopes that she’s on her way to acceptance.


One thought on “Children of Denial

  1. Very interesting read…
    I’m gender non-binary (and have known this since I was very young, like many trans and NB people do) and have recently realised that I am asexual. I can’t imagine coming out to my parents about either of these things ever though…
    I haven’t really come out to anybody about my gender identity, just pushed it all down deep and told myself just to wait until later, deal with it later. ‘Later’ finally arrived when I moved out of home and away from parents, so that’s when I began to explore myself and discovered my asexuality. Honestly, this was a lifeline for me because being asexual really is considered much less of a big deal (than being trans or non binary) by most people, so it kind of gave me a way to come out about some small part of me to a few people who I felt safe with.
    I honestly never thought I would be brave enough to come out about my gender identity at all, but maybe coming out as ace will help me to achieve that some day. I really respect people who are strong enough to be themselves, it takes a lot of guts.


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