I hadn’t seen my aunt for the better part of five years when she came up from California with my cousin, to see my father last year. I had already been transitioning at this point for two and a half years, but after a particularly bad fight between my mother and my aunt, no one really communicated much anymore and since they didn’t have us on Facebook, I guess they didn’t really know all that much about my transition. I was, at the time, right in the middle of my name change, and already living full time, so when they pulled up, I looked as I often do, in capris, a comfortable top, and made up, my hair in a ponytail. I think I opted not to wear heels on this particular occasion, or a dress, because I knew we’d be walking around a lot, and because I feel like a dress could be a lot to take in on a first introduction to your family after five years.
My cousin, who had always been more like a sister to me than a cousin, was wonderful, she remarked on how happy I seemed, and it was as if no time had passed since we’d last seen each other. In her defense she had been away at college when all of this was going on, across the country, so I actually hadn’t seen her for about a year or two before everything went down. My grandmother wasn’t there, though I knew from her arriving at my portfolio show a year prior that she wouldn’t comment on it.
Then there was my aunt, the middle child of my father’s sisters (he’s the oldest and my other aunt is the youngest), she had a lot to say about it. My name is cartoonish, SRS is mutilation, and what’s the deal with this, gesturing vaguely to me. All that I can handle. Growing up as feminine as I have always been you learn to deal with people’s ignorance at an early age. You also learn the art of sarcasm and shade, although in this case, my complete and utter lack of preparedness for the conversation (given that I hadn’t seen this woman in five years), left me a little dumbfounded.
I tried to be polite in my explanations, because I expected it, and honestly, I’d much rather hear an ignorant comment from members of my family than flat out silence. Because whether they realize it or not, silence does in fact make a statement, and it’s far more hurtful than saying the wrong thing. Because I haven’t changed. I’m still the same person, and if you know me at all you know that really the only thing that’s changed is my fashion is better. I always used to dress up in my mother’s clothes, my grandmother’s clothes, any ‘girls’ clothes I could get my hands on.
Transitioning is a confusing time for all involved. For yourself, and for those who have known you from the beginning, particularly family. It’s new and the phrasing can be tricky, and I don’t begrudge them that. But saying nothing isn’t the way to go about it either.
In the off chance that someone from my family is reading this, please know, that while it may seem like the better option to say nothing rather than say the wrong thing, saying nothing is far worse, because then it feels like you’re not even willing to make the effort, because you don’t care. I don’t expect the name and pronouns to be easy right off the bat. But talk to me, ask me questions, and even if you screw up, it’s okay. Because at least your trying.