Talking to family members about transphobia can be an incredibly difficult task. So often, our family members, who should be pillars of support, are the first to turn away and close their minds and hearts to our identities. This can be incredibly painful emotionally, and can also involve emotional, verbal, or physical abuse or disownment. With these hard truths in mind, how do we talk to our families about transphobia?
1. You Don’t Have To
The most important thing is that you don’t have to talk to your family members about transphobia. If it’s safer for you to remain in the closet or remain silent, then it is absolutely fine to protect yourself. It can be incredibly difficult and damaging to listen to family members’ ignorance or transphobic comments. If it is more hurtful to listen than it is to try to talk to them and change their views, then it might not be worth it to have a conversation with them. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons, and know that there is nothing wrong with protecting yourself in difficult and painful situations such as these.
2. Use Existing Resources
It can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to introducing your family to transgender ideas or to explain to them why something is transphobic. These conversations can be high intensity, and it can be difficult to marshal your thoughts at such a stressful moment. Seeking online resources or printed materials can help take some of the burden off you and create a common ground of knowledge on which to begin having a conversation with your family.
3. Try Online or One-on-One Conversations
It may be easier to begin these conversations one at a time, or by sending an email and some resources to read. That way, your family members can have time to absorb the information you are giving them without immediately needing to respond. Online conversations can also give you a chance to step away if need be, or to take time to draft a response to their questions or reply.
One-on-one conversations can also give you the chance to seek support from a specific person who can then help you communicate with other family members. Often just having one person who supports you in your family can make the task seem less daunting.
4. Seek Support From Others
It’s a good idea to start with a friend or family member that you think will be most receptive to your words. It can also be scary and stressful to be the only person in your family to bring up this difficult topic, and having another person there to back you up can be helpful.
5. Take Care of Yourself During and Afterwards
Either by taking breaks from an online conversation or by stepping away in person, it’s important to take care of yourself as you have these difficult conversations with your family. If you feel yourself growing upset or being hurt by a family member’s reaction, its okay to leave the conversation and try again another time. Communicate your needs and feelings and have a space set up ahead of time for you to retreat to, if need be. One option is to have a friend ready to go out with you to talk over the experience and debrief. If a conversation goes well, its still important to take care of yourself afterwards, as talking about these issues with family can often be emotionally taxing. Get a treat, talk to a friend, or do whatever self-care will help you recuperate in the moment.
6. It Won’t Be Better In One Conversation
Often, our families don’t completely change their views in one conversation. Just like us, they have been raised in a society that casts transgender people as “other,” and there are lots of hurtful misconceptions and ignorant ideas that are taught to all of us our whole lives. It will take time to undo those lessons and to learn better ways to think about and refer to transgender people. It may take several conversations spread out over months or years before our families begin to meet us where we are. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t immediately turn around after one talk, and seek support from people outside your family as you deal with this complex process. Know that you are loved and supported and that your identity as a transgender person is a beautiful thing, no matter how much work your family might have ahead of them to see it as well.[Headline image: The graphic shows the outlines of two people against a beige background. The figure on the left is filled in with vertical white and beige stripes. The figure on the right is filled in with horizontal turquoise and beige stripes. Between them is a black circular scribble pattern. A line goes from the mouth of the figure on the left, into the scribble pattern, and then into the ear of the figure on the right.]