Talking to Teens and Coming Out to Mom

Gabrielle and MomLast week, Thursday was a day of teaching, personal growth, and another adventure in coming out. It started out with an early morning SafeZone presentation at a local high school.

Along with two other speakers, I was deployed by the GAGV, to educate teenage students about LGBTQ realities, share our personal stories and struggles, and answer questions. The school’s health teacher requested the presentation. There was a complete lack LGBTQ coverage within the standard curriculum in my school days (back in the 1980’s). This is, unfortunately, still pretty much the standard today. It’s promising to know there are such forward thinking teachers working hard to offer more of a real-world and well rounded education, above and beyond the status quo.

Talking, sharing, educating
Matthew (not his real name), a well spoken and very stylish gay man in his 30’s (who runs a local gay youth group) started out the presentation with a general overview things, and then we each told our personal stories. I went first, followed by Linda (not her real name), an attractive 30-something lesbian, and then Matthew. Having only met Linda and Matthew for the first time only minutes before the presentation, it was really interesting to hear their stories.

After sharing our personal stories, Matthew did a superb job explaining aspects of LGBTQ people that are often confusing to “straight” folk. The social structure in high school can be pretty brutal and restricting. As a result, teenage students may be reluctant to ask questions (verbally, in front of the class) out of fear of ridicule by their peers. We asked them to write down their questions on a piece of paper and place it in a basket that was passed around the room.

Getting shy teenagers to open up
During our first of two presentations, very few questions ended up in the basket. For the second presentation, I added, “I’d like everyone to please write down something and place it into the basket. If you don’t have a question, then write down the name of your favorite band.” That seemed to work better now that every student was expected to write something. There were several good questions submitted by the second class… and a few favorite bands.

Despite the fact that many of the students were reluctant to speak up in class, the presentations went very well. After each class, a handful of students eagerly came up to us, with more questions, comments, and just to chat. It was clear that they felt more free to do so after the rest of the class had left the room. These were the “thirsty people” – the ones who really appreciated our being there and genuinely wanted to learn more and share a little about themselves, too. I really enjoy interacting with the thirsty people!

An interesting request
After our second presentation wrapped up, two female students approached us in the hallway as we walked back to the school’s office. With much enthusiasm and smiling ear to ear, they thanked us for coming to talk. It really warmed my heart. Then they asked if they could take their picture with us. This took me by surprise.

I was rather curious – why would they find it meaningful to have their photo taken with us? We graciously stood with each of the girls for a couple of quick photos. It wasn’t until some time after, that it dawned on me. The social environment in high school can be pretty harsh and unforgiving. Conformity and popularity rule, and social expectations are heavily enforced by means of disparagement, humiliation, bullying, and other forms of ridicule. I believe these girls saw us as the anti-social-conformists; real, genuine, and most importantly free people, not afraid to be ourselves or held back by such ridiculous social restrictions. They probably long for a day and place in their lives when they, too, can be free from such things, or perhaps just in an environment filled with genuine people. Either that, or they simply wanted something new and interesting to post to their Facebook timelines about their day. Maybe a little bit of both. They were among the “thirsty people”.

This really does touch lives and make a difference!
The day after our presentations, one of the women who worked in the school’s security office emailed me. Her message was to let us know that because of our efforts, one of the male students went home and came out to his family. The next day at school (which was a Friday), everything went fine for him – it was an “uneventful day”, as she put it, and all was well. This news really touched me and my eyes filled with tears. I am truly honored to have played a role in this young man’s evolution: becoming a little more comfortable with himself and finding the courage to come out to his family.

Time to do a little more coming out of my own
Coming out stories and the difficulties involved, were a part of what we shared with the high school students. The truly positive experience of talking with teenagers about what it’s like growing up trans (for me) and coming out to my wife and friends, inspired me to finally come out to my own mother.

Would you like the blue pill, or the red pill, mom?
Before dropping in on my mom, who had only ever seen me in my male form, I gave her a call. She knew I had been writing about some deep topics online, and more recently, talking in public about things I struggled with when I was growing up. She just didn’t know the specifics. “If you’ve got some time to spare, I’d like to drop by and explain more about what I’ve been writing about and trying to help others deal with.”, I said to her. “I look a little different, though, so I don’t want you to be too surprised by that when you see me.” She told me she’d like to hear what I’ve got to tell her and to come over. She chose the proverbial red pill.

As a general rule, it’s not good practice to come out to friends, family or loved ones by just surprising them in your female form if they’ve never seen you like that, and aren’t expecting it. If you’re still switching back and forth from male presentation to female, it’s probably best to have the talk in the form they’re used to, with photos to share, rather than just show up.

Whoa – this feels weird!
Sitting in my car outside her house, I paused for a moment. All of a sudden, I felt really weird and nervous about what I was about to do. There was no turning back, though. I fixed my hair one more time in the mirror, exited my car, and started walking up the driveway toward her home. When I got to the door, I rang the doorbell, knocked a couple of times, and waited. A brief moment later, she opened the door saying, “Come in, come in, come in…”, her voice quieting slightly as she got a good look at me. I was nervous, but wearing a big smile. “So I guess you’re not surprised to see me like this?”, I asked.

She didn’t freak out or anything. In fact, it was rather anti-climatic.

“No, no…”, she replied, her voice continuing to soften and drop slightly in pitch.

“Is it because of that day in the spring of 1983?”, I asked, using the specific date when I spoke.

“I don’t remember the date, but yeah.”, she replied.

The “coming out” talk with mom
We sat down at her dining room table and began talking. I explained that this is how I’ve always felt inside, but was never allowed to be, held back by the world around me. As a child, I thought I was possessed by demons, and/or just really, really crazy and mental. I shared that the day she caught wearing one of her skirts when I was 12, was the most traumatic day of my youth.

She cried a little at first. I asked if she was disappointed, to which she replied no. She said she felt like she was loosing a son, but gaining a daughter, and, “…I always wanted a daughter.”, she added. Her son was nothing more than a facade; a learned and carefully executed set of behaviors I attempted to fool people with. It was a survival skill, I explained to her. She understood.

Having a little fun in the moment
About 10 minutes or so into the talk, my step father arrived. Wearing a large, mischievous grin, I stood up to greet him. “It’s so good to see you! How have you been? Do you remember me?”, I jokingly asked. His “deer in the headlights” face and forced smile was indication that he didn’t recognize me. I was enjoying the moment. “You probably remember me as a man named ‘Gabe’.”. He made the connection and realized who I was. To my delight, his face lit up with a great big smile. He said that he’s so happy for me, and gave me a hug.

I continued talking with both of them for a couple of hours or so. My step father took the news very well, showing acceptance and an earnest approval of me. My mother also took the news very well, letting me know how much she loves me and always will.

Female pronouns, please
They both referred to me by my male name and as a “him” several times, which was understandable. I politely corrected and reminded them that when I’m in my female form, to please use my female name and female pronouns, and to refer to me by my male name use male pronouns when I’m in my male form. “For the foreseeable future, it will be necessary for me to continue working and attend to certain things as a ‘man’, but my plan is to transition and live full time as a female.”, I explained.

Honest questions
“Will you be taking hormones and getting the surgery?”, my mother asked. I clarified that there is no single surgery, and that feminizing body modifications are very expensive. The first stop on my transition roadmap is electrolysis to remove my facial hair, an expensive and lengthy process itself (I have my first electrolysis session TODAY as of publishing this). Hormone therapy is something that won’t take place until I’m a little closer to living full time as a woman. I’d like to become as “female” as physically possible, given the current state of medical technology… and expense I can afford.

A new addition to the family photo album
After sharing and answering questions, mom wanted to have her picture taken with me. We both combed our hair, checked our makeup in the same mirror together (an interesting, new experience), and then stood outside her front door while my step father took a couple photos. It’s definitely not my most flattering picture, but that is my mother and I in the photo at the top of this post, published with her permission.

Filling in friends on the day’s events
Later Thursday evening, I joined up with several friends at a local coffee house, where a weekly social gathering of “gender variants” was taking place. Everyone was so happy to hear about my talking with high school students, and also very happy to learn that coming out to my mother went very well.

High (as a kite) hopes
Thursday was a very good day for me. I was on an adrenal high for most of the day, which made it rather difficult to make it through the next day at work as my body required far more rest than time allowed for, but it was a small price to pay.

There’s more family yet to come out to, and I don’t have any formal time table for that. Perhaps with any luck, the next time I see my family for the big, annual family Christmas gathering, I can finally attend as my true self, Gabrielle, rather than put on the usual “man act”. If things work out particularly well for me, perhaps I can begin living full time as a female before year’s end. That’s more wishful thinking than a likely reality, but I’m going to stay positive, hope for the best, and help things along best I can.

Your turn
Do you participate in an outreach program and educate about trans-realities? Would you like to? Are you out to your biological family? How did coming out go for you? Thoughts, questions, or stories to offer, please take a moment and share what’s on your mind! :)


8 thoughts on “Talking to Teens and Coming Out to Mom”

  1. That was a wonderful post of two events that are clearly significant in your life but also small steps forward for “T” folks everywhere. There will not be a single major event that blasts open doors for all of us but each small event makes the path easier for all.
    Great blog.

  2. I am glad you made it through coming out to your mom. Telling my parents was probably the hardest thing I ever did.

    As you said that you are going to start electrolysis, I have some suggestions based on my experiences. (if I may be so bold)

    As I am sure you have already found out electrolysis is painful. And if your facial hair is as thick as mine was, it will take at least 1 hour per week for over 2 years go get rid of it. Also you need to let it grow out a little for them to be able to do it. (I do not know of any beard cover that will work over 2 or 3 day old stubble.) For the
    pain, you can get some over the counter topical creams that will help (still hurts but not as much)

    But I really have to suggest going with laser removal. Much faster and less painful. For it to work your hair has to be dark and your skin has to be light (so the light heats up the root of the hair and not your skin) I have had success with both professional laser hair removal and the little home units. Using the home units costs only about 10% of what it costs to have it done professionally.

    I also suggest starting at least a low dose of hormones before transition. If this is the correct path for you to travel, you will feel so much better emotionally. If it is not the right path, going on estrogen will have the opposite effect. Hormone therapy should really be used as a diagnostic tool to see who should transition or not. Please note the emotional effects are amazingly fast any physical changes take many months to even be detected by you.

    As I do not want to sound like I am trying to plug any products, please e-mail me offline for more info on my experiences with home permanant hair removal products and obtaining hormones through a doctor but not to the WPATH SOC guidlines.

    1. Thank you for your wonderful advice, Jennifer! :) As I write this, I’ve had about 3 and a half hours of electrolysis. It’s painful, but not as bad as I was expecting. Unfortunately, my face blew up like a balloon, though! Not very attractive looking like a blowfish, but it’s just termoprary.

      I looked into laser, which definitely seems less harsh, but I do have a lot of light color facial hair. It comes in multiple colors.

      I expect the electrolysis will take about two years or so, based on conversations with other trans women and my electrologist, and also cost thousands of dollars. :( I wish there was an easier, and more cost effective way, but this seems to be what provides the more permanent results, based on research. I just hope my face can take the treatment without any permanent damage. I have very sensitive skin.

      I may try to do a post or two about my experiences. I’ve been taking detailed photos.

  3. Wow congrats on coming out to your mom!

    I’ve been out to my brother and sister-in-law for a while now, and they’ve been very supportive. I’m planning on coming out to my parents soon, and I’m really nervous about it. They have some pretty conservative religious views. But I know they love me, so hopefully it all goes well…

    1. Thanks, Ashley! :) It was long overdue.

      I completely understand the whole “religious family” thing. I grew up in a strict Catholic home, where religion was treated more of a standard of conformity and control, than anything else (imo). As a child, I even believed I was possessed and/or was going to hell for not feeling like a “boy”.

      My mother is a little more open-mined now than years ago. My father on the other hand, is now a pastor at his town church (non-Catholic Christian faith). Coming out to him may be a rather interesting adventure indeed!

      One of the terrible things that can often result from growing up in the proverbial “religious home”, is a strong sense of guilt and shame about oneself. It used to be huge in my life, but no more. I’m rather proud to be who I am, regardless of any mis-guided religious *interpretations*. The biggest sin of my life was my years of hiding my true self and pretending to be a “man”, when I was born trans.

      When the time comes for you to come out to your parents, try not to focus on what they might think or any negative feelings they may initially have. You’re a beautiful person, proud to be who you are, and proud to be trans, right? SHOW them the beautiful, proud person you are, and make no apologies for it! You’re no ashamed because you have nothing to be ashamed of in being yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you, so make sure they understand that.

      Coming out ain’t easy, but going into it with the right vibe (a positive vibe) can make a big differences in how your parents (or anyone else) takes it. Go in looking ashamed and embarrassed, and you’ve set the stage for a negative reaction. Go in with a smile and a joy-filled heart that is happy to share this beautiful gift you have to share, and you’ve set the stage right! :) Wishing you all the best in coming out to your parents… when you’re ready. :)

  4. Congrats on the successful outing to your mom Gabi. I did not have the chance to do so with my mom before she passed in 2005. Would like to think she would have been as accepting and supportive as your mom. I did however come out to my sister and her family a lot the same way you did. I told my sister by text message that I had something important to tell her earlier in the week, that way she would be pressing me and would make it harder for me to back out. The next weekend, I sent her a pic of me dressed and asked if she knew who it was. She said”It kinda looks like you”. I said “It is me! I’m TG!” Lol.So after sharing more pics and fielding the usual questions(you know which ones!), I told her that it would be nice for her to meet my femme alter ego. So, a month or so later, whle in her state on some business matter in Chicago, I called her from her local Wallyworld and asked if she would come meet me for dinner or something. She told me to just come over to the house and that nobody else was home. So I did. Shortly after I arrived my BIL pulled in. To his credit, he didn’t treat me any differently and just went about his own business. Now it is common for me to come and go in either mode.

  5. As always, Gabrielle, you are such an inspiration to all of us! I tried having that talk with my mother a couple of times, but never quite got to the heart of it (and she passed away over 3 years ago). And your presence at the high school…I am so envious of that, and have dreamed of doing something like that myself!

    1. I’m sorry your mother passed away before you were able to come out to her, Suzy. Perhaps one day you will end up talking publicly about trans issues and realities. The more people understand us, the better change we all have of gaining acceptance. :)

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