Breaking it to the Parents

Or, the most uncomfortable conversation you will ever have, bar none.

January 7th, 2008

So I went home over Christmas, despite the cost (eighteen-hundred dollars) and my airplane phobia. Really, it's more of a death phobia than a fear of flying in particular -- the same imagination that furnishes me with endless fodder for fiction also handily volunteers a broad array of Ways That I Could Die whenever I step outside my comfort zone, and being hurled around the world in two hundred tons of steel at thirty thousand feet over the ocean happens to be one of those times. Fortunately my airplane phobia had ebbed significantly since I made my initial trip to Japan, which was good because out of the six valium I'd been prescribed to get me here, only one remained.

However, much as I'd been looking forward to seeing my friends and family again, this trip was going to be occasion for The Talk with my parents, and I was most definitely not looking forward to that. If God wants to punish homosexuals for their deviant lifestyles, I think being forced to have The Talk is it. Best case scenario, an hour or two of excruciating awkwardness while you sit there feeling like you've failed them for not being the perfect offspring that they can brag to their friends and coworkers about. Worst case, hostility and rejection from the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally.

The Trannie Thing and My Parents: Then

Now my parents had already been aware of the issue, so it's not as though I'd been saving this up to be a Christmas surprise. During my final year at UT I'd been coping with killer insomnia, and because I am evidently a moron it took me six months to connect my inability to sleep with the issue that I spent my nights grappling with. I'm fundamentally a proactive person though, so the moment I did realize, one sleepless predawn in January, I immediately took corrective measures -- I told my mother. Four in the morning, I slapped it down into a brief email and fired it off to an address that I didn't even know if she used anymore. Email may be a cop-out, but my parents lived in a different city and I was fucking desperate. I needed to get this off my chest now, and the alternative was a four AM phone call from hell.

The historic email is reprinted here, with names omitted to protect people who are not me. The "homosexual tendencies" business refers to the unique wording my mother used when she asked me about my sexual preferences, back in freshman year of college. At the time I left her with the impression that I was bisexual and largely disinterested in romance, which was the truth, if not the whole truth.

A week or so after that email, she drove up to Austin to see me and Shelley discreetly left the house for a few hours so we could Talk. We sewed five pairs of pyjama pants over the course of that discussion, which was about three more than I needed, but they provided an invaluable diversion for those moments when the awkwardness reached critical mass. My mother was supportive and non-judgemental, and I talked for hours trying to explain and/or justify myself to her. In the end nothing was resolved and she was the first to admit that she didn't understand what I was going through, but clearing the air was still a huge weight off my mind.

My mother was also the go-between for breaking the news to my father, and from the scant information that trickled back to me, he was unhappy with it but not vehemently opposed, which was about what I'd expected. Still, this being a horrendously uncomfortable topic, it was two years before my dad and I ever exchanged words on the subject directly.

The Trannie Thing and My Parents: Now

This past October when I booked the tickets to come back over Christmas, my mother delicately inquired as to whether I would look the same as I had when I left. It was an indiscreet away message of mine that had precipitated the exchange:

Mother: hello? are you there?
Auto response from Enkelien: For tonight we dine on POWERTHIRST!
Mother: where do you come up your away messages?
Enkelien: it's just random funny stuff I find on the internet
Mother: even the one about testosterone being cheaper than dirt in Tokyo?
Enkelien: er..... no. That one was all me, actually.

She was glad to know that I hadn't started without their involvement and knowledge, and although I told her frankly that it was only my job keeping me from it, the truth was that I knew I owed it to my parents to have a no-holds-barred discussion with them about the matter, face to face, before doing anything drastic. They were already losing a daughter; the least I could do was give them the chance to see me again before I started the change. She said what I'd already been thinking, that we needed to all three sit down and have a Talk while I was in the states for Christmas.

Then, because I'm actually terribly lazy and would rather just direct people to the relevant posts on my livejournal than explain the trannie thing over from scratch a million times, I sent my mother the same two entries I'd made my Tokyo psychiatrist read before shelling out 12k yen an hour for his professional expertise. And then, before I could reread them and think the better of it, I told her she could show them to my father too.

Despite my misgivings about sharing with my parents something that includes some fairly explicit information about my sexual history and interests, it turned out to have been the best thing that I could have done. Because my father, of course, hadn't been with me for the year and a half that I'd spent angsting about the trannie thing. To him it all seemed very unexpected and precipitous, and making decisions in haste is a recipe for making bad ones. My essays on the subject, irreverent though they might be, did a lot to reassure that I was taking this seriously, that I had given it a great deal of serious thought.

"I do disagree," he told me later over AIM, the first time that we'd ever discussed the subject directly. "But not for 'moral' reasons or any sh*t like that. We'll talk about it when you come home for Christmas, but whether we approve or not doesn't change the fact that we'll support you no matter what you do. Ultimately, your decision shouldn't hinge on our approval."

The Talk, when it finally did come, went as well as could possibly be expected, considering that it was the nail in the coffin of "you're losing a normal daughter and gaining a transfag son -- cheers queers!" I'd been expecting the worst, not in terms of parental disapproval, but that they would kick off the conversation with, "So start from the beginning, what makes you think you're a transsexual?" when the answer is that it starts in more places that I even know about.

I think my parents were somewhat resigned to the eventuality that this was what I would do, because at no point were they combative or attempting to talk me out of it. I related some anecdotes that I hadn't mentioned in the posts I'd given them to read, answered their questions about the technical aspects of hormones and therapy, and discussed my uncertain future when it came to juggling the trannie thing and remaining gainfully employed in Japan. My father didn't try to tell me that I wasn't masculine enough to be a transsexual (which I had been expecting, actually), and the fact that I wanted to be a GAY transsexual was scarcely mentioned.

On the whole, it felt like a test that I had over-studied for -- small surprise, considering the amount of mental energy that I've poured into this over the past two years. Anything they could ask, I could answer, and my father eventually conceded that he could find no rational grounds for disagreement. "I'm trying to look at this as a third party would, not as your parent, and come up with a legitimate objection, but everything I can think of is personal -- that I don't want this to be happening to you." (Or something to that effect; the problem with real life conversations is you can't screencap them.)

Unsurprisingly, parental validation has proved infinitely more liberating than the vacillations of psychiatrists who are unwilling to commit to any stance, lest I change my mind and decide to sue them for believing what I told them. I won't say we should have held The Talk sooner, because I don't think I was ready before, but I'm glad to have it done with, glad it went well, and there's nothing that I wish I'd done differently.

The ordeal was long and draining, but when it was over I had the green light. They packed me off to Japan expecting me to return with facial hair. Weird.

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