Last night, I reached a point in “Dancing in Hellfire” where it was time to discuss coming out, and, of my experiences, one in particular is notable. The rest don’t matter and are all being lumped together as “Fantastic Friends,” but one is unique: my sister. By an incredible margin, this was the most difficult one to address, and by all rights should have brought me the most relief once it was over, since most people would look back in hindsight and think “Well, of course my sister wasn’t going to have a problem with it! What the fuck was I thinking?”
But I can’t look back and say that, because my initial fears–shared by a friend who knew my sister pretty well–proved correct. In the cognitive dissonance that rose because I’m transgender and she’s a fundamentalist Christian, she actively chose unacceptance and ignorance. Strangely, this is something that she more or less openly admits. And, to make matters worse, I happened to see her a few hours ago when I was at the bank, and she reported that she’d just taken her son back to the doctor. That’s three doctor visits in 5 days, and during none of those did she do what she’d told me she would.
I knew it would have to happen eventually, and, sure enough, the content I wrote last night on the matter was aimed more at dissecting and rebuking my sister’s long and fucked up text message. I had to get it out of my system, though, because I haven’t actually sat down to examine it and point out every little thing that’s wrong with it. So here’s another excerpt from “Dancing in Hellfire.”
Accepting that I’m transgender was only the first of many difficult battles—in fact, there are still battles that I fight, and I don’t expect that I’ll have the war behind me for many years. I would even go further than that and say: accepting that I’m transgender was not the first of many battles; it was the declaration of war.
The first step in this, of course, is coming out to people, and that has been extremely easy and extremely difficult. I still haven’t told my grandfather, grandmother, and father, but, in honesty, I don’t intend to tell my grandfather at all. I love him to death, and he’s very old—I don’t want him to spend the last few years of his life supremely disapointed and under the impression that I’m going to hell. There’s no need to burden him with that, since I don’t see him that often in the first place—not as much as I’d like, for sure. My grandmother and dad will have to know, but, as the time of writing this section, I still hadn’t told them because, again, I don’t see them often enough for it to be a problem.
The most difficult person so far to discuss it with has been my sister. I knew that it could go one of two ways: either she wouldn’t care, or she would care immensely. It’s that damned internal conflict, that cognitive dissonance, and her reply, I knew, would depend on which of the two things were more important to her on a fundamental level: her religious beliefs or our relationship.
When I discussed this with a friend of mine, he told me that I was crazy for telling her and that she would never have anything to do with me again. As I thought more and more about it, though, I decided that wasn’t true, and that all of the bullshit we had gone through together ensured a more powerful bond than that. Because we really did go through a lot together, and we always have had each other’s back.
So I just told her one day, after wrestling with it for months, by bringing it up randomly while we were in the kitchen. I showed her a picture of myself as a female, and said, “That’s me,” or something to that effect. She replied that she already knew and that she didn’t care. We discussed it for a few moments, but nothing substantial was said, and I broke it to her in the same way that I’ve broken it to others: “For now, just think of it like cross dressing. It’s not cross dressing, but that’s a good way to think of it for the time being.” And, most critically, I explained that the reason I was finally bringing it up was because I wasn’t content to continue dressing as a male when I was at home. She said that she’d have to discuss that with her husband.
I knew that she knew I occasionally wore women’s clothes, and she knew that I knew that she knew, so her response to the whole thing was pretty much unnecessary. It was an open secret, an elephant in the room that we never talked about. Something like “So you’re finally getting it out in the open? That’s great. I’m happy for you” would have been nice, but, as I would soon guess, that was not her feeling about it at all.
I waited about a week to hear back from her on discussing it with her husband, and then I asked her if she’d talked to him. She said that she had not, because he had been pretty busy at work. This was the first indication that something was amiss. I had stressed to her the entire reason for bringing it out into the open, after all, and made it a point to mention that it was all very important to me, though I didn’t then go into specifics. I did explain then that I’m not into guys, and that my love for women hasn’t changed at all, and I explained that I have no interest in SRS, so it’s not like nothing was said that day.
After several more days, I began to suspect that something was amiss, and nearly a month passed before I asked her about it again, though by this point I was already starting to sense that my initial impression—and my friend’s impression—was correct, and that she was going to hide behind her husband (who she probably hadn’t even talked to) as an excuse to stop it. And, sure enough, when I asked her again, she said that he wasn’t comfortable with the idea.
That… struck me as strange, because he had lived with a drag queen before, when he was younger. They weren’t romantically involved or anything like that, but I still have a hard time believing that he had a problem with it. He had never said or done anything that indicated an unwillingness to accept homosexuals or transgenders, and he had once been roommates with a drag queen; that’s a pretty big change of heart, and in a strange direction for someone who describes himself as an atheist.
Meanwhile, my sister’s biggest “thing” is a deep and pervasive fear of death and oblivion. She willingly admits that the reason she is a Christian is because she is scared of oblivion and wants to believe in an afterlife. During that month that I waited patiently for her to do something she should have had the decency as my sister to do immediately, I thought a lot about her motivations, and I realized that accepting me would come in direct conflict with her religious beliefs, and her religious beliefs gave her the pacifier of immortality; asking her to accept me was to ask her to accept oblivion.
She lies, because she’s a coward and won’t say to my face the things she says in text message. She has done this repeatedly, and it’s infuriating. Still, she was noticeably uncomfortable discussing this sort of thing in person, even though she had just a week or so before given me a ton of clothes, jewelry, and makeup that she didn’t want or need. I languished for about another month, wondering how she would react if I simply dropped it on her as an ultimatum. I realized my mistake—I was asking her permission to by myself, and that was the wrong way to handle it. I didn’t need her permission. Instead, I should have said, “This is what I’m doing. You can accept it or not.”
One thing that motivated me further was my knowledge that they simply don’t have the money to survive without me paying them that $500 monthly that I was giving them. Shortly after they had their second child, they fought constantly about whether [my sister] was going back to work. Surprisingly, [my sister] wanted to go back, because she accepted the reality that they simply didn’t make enough money, the way they burned through it, to make ends meet on only one income. Keeping in mind that they had a six year old child and a two month old baby, as [my sister] drove to work, [her husband] informed her that if she went to work, then he was leaving her.
Let that sink in.
So she quit her job, and they’ve been white-knuckling it since, even with the money that I gave them monthly and the random cigarettes and stuff I purchased here and there because they were out. And there was constant tension for me, because if they were broke it was always my fault. It didn’t matter that I paid them exactly what they asked—if they were broke, it was because I hadn’t paid them yet. There was so much tension that there were several nights when I simply sat in my room, needing to use the bathroom but holding it, simply because I didn’t want to deal with that horrible tension. Meanwhile, I paid them regularly, and they had a steady influx of money—as they were creating this oppressive vibe in the air.
I accommodated her still and wrote her a letter. For one, she had consistently written it off as “wanting to wear girl clothes,” and I had already corrected that. That first time I asked her if she’d talked to [her husband] yet, I clarified that and explained that I’m transgender. So she only believed that I cross-dressed for a few days, a week at the most; after that, she knew the full details that I’m transgender and that it’s a pretty big deal. But she continued to characterize it as “wanting to wear girl clothes,” and writing it down would leave her totally unable to misconstrue it. It couldn’t be interrupted—something else she is bad about doing—and it couldn’t be misunderstood.
My letter basically said that being forced to live the lie constantly, even when I was at home, where I was paying a substantial amount of money to rent a bedroom with drafts all through it in a house that was in poor condition, was destroying me. And it was. The only other time in my life that I had been that suicidal was shortly after my separation, and on that occasion I was admitted to the hospital for slashing my wrists open. I told her that she could accept it, or I could move, but I wasn’t asking her permission to do it, and I wasn’t going to continue hiding it. I explained that her 6 year old is the least likely person in the world to care and that at most he will think it’s funny at first, and then will ask if he can play one of the games on my computer, and then he will never think about it again.
She responded just a few minutes later with a text message that I can’t let myself read right now, because it will infuriate me, and probably make me cry since I’m on hormone. I was going to post the screenshot, but it’s kind of difficult to read, and it wouldn’t be legible in black and white anyway. So here’s the message:
“I love u and for 29 yrs u have been my brother so I just block it out bc I can’t even come to terms with it so my 6 year old isn’t going to have to either. I would rather leave it to deal with when he’s older so no I won’t b telling him now. We, as a family, are not comfortable with you dressing up as a woman in our home. I’m sorry. But it’s my family. These kids mean more than anything to me. I do want u to be happy and not depressed but I guess that does involve u moving. [My son] is still full of innocence and I am not going to destroy that. I know that this world will do that all by itself but [my husband] and I have decided to raise our sons the way we think. This is a topic obviously that I try to avoid bc I’m not comfortable with it. I can’t look at u in any other way. I will tell [my son] anything but the truth right now. He will miss u but he will get over it. I just can’t explain it to him and we don’t want to so I’m sorry.”
I’m going to now do something that I’ve resisted the urge to do since I saw that text message. I’m going to explain everything that’s wrong with it.
First, as I said, her son won’t have a hard time coming to terms with it. The only reason she has a hard time is because of all that religious crap in her head that says it’s a sin and that it’s wrong. The bluntness and self-awareness of her message is staggering: she knows she wants to escape back into ignorance. She wanted to keep Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell in our family, and I was unwilling to do that. There’s a reason we abolished that in the military. It’s extremely destructive.
By the third sentence, she has forgotten that I’m her family, too, but whatever. That’s not even the important bit. The important part is “…you dressing up as a woman in our home.” This infuriates me so much to see, because it’s not only willful ignorance—since I’ve already explained to her that it’s not “dressing up”—it’s downright offensive and insulting. You don’t characterize a transgender person as fucking playing dress up. That’s messed up. Drag Queens dress up, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that isn’t what a transgender person does. These are critical distinctions, and I’d already made them to her. That she would say this after at least two in-depth explanations is nothing short of insulting and a blatant display of her absolute failure to listen.
Take note of the line “These kids mean more than anything to me,” because we’ll come back to that in a moment. Let’s focus for now on the allegation that my very existence is a threat to her son’s innocence. Is that not just the most fundamentalist Christian thing you’ve ever heard? I don’t have any problem with Christians—a great deal of them are wonderful, kind, and loving people. I have a problem with Christians like my sister, who think that my being openly transgender will destroy her son’s innocence. By that statement, we can extrapolate that she would think her son seeing two men or two women kiss on television would also destroy her son’s innocence. But it doesn’t. It simply expands his mind.
Because she doesn’t have a problem with non-transgender people dressing however they want to dress. Nor does she have a problem with straight couples kissing in front of her son—she even encourages it regularly. “Is that your little girlfriend?” she asks him, never stopping to consider that he might be gay, and never even allowing the possibility. “He’s a little ladies’ man!” she proclaims proudly. If we’re going to talk about the destruction of innocence, let’s talk about the destruction of innocence and how she has overwritten his default worldview of bisexualism with heterosexuality, and now she brands everything that isn’t strict homosexuality as the destruction of innocence. It is not. It is simply a threat on the definitions and constraints she has attempted to impose upon his mind, rather than letting it grow and develop naturally.
And she even knows that: “We have decided to raise our sons how we think.” Well, first of all, her husband calls himself an atheist, so I still doubt that he has a problem with it. I don’t know that, but I do doubt it, because being unaccepting of homosexuals and transgender people is almost always a religious thing. Why hide behind this bullshit about innocence, though, when we all know what it’s really about—controlling how her kids think. My being transgender isn’t an assault on her son’s ignorance. It’s an assault on her attempts to make her kids into the kind of people who would turn their backs on a family member of 29 years. If you ask me, that’s the kind of thing that should be assaulted.
“Oh? My being transgender is an attack on that mentality that would lead someone to turn their backs on their sibling after 29 years beside each other through hardship, struggle, abuse, and violence? I’m a threat to that worldview that openly chooses lies and willful ignorance over the truth and acceptance? Good.”
Then she gets into how she’s not comfortable with it and can’t look at me in any other way. Well, of course you can’t! You won’t open your eyes! This was infuriating, made all the worse that I forced myself to be the bigger person and just not reply to it. I still haven’t replied to it. We’ve had a few small discussions here and there, but nothing really substantial, and, after what happened in the past few days, we won’t really have any discussions again. We’re done.
How ridiculous is it, though, to say that she can’t see me any other way, when she openly refuses to look at me? Remember what all of this was about: my telling her that I was going to begin being me more and more frequently until I no longer presented myself as a male at all. Apart from the picture I showed her, which concealed most of my face, she had only ever seen her brother. One thing I stressed in my letter was that I knew it was jarring for everyone and would require transition—I was not going to just pop out in a little pink dress and high heels. I was willing to move slowly toward that, at a rate that was slow but moving forward. I think I said a good first step would have been to simply wear female jeans at home. But even that was too much for her.
She wasn’t willing to look, and she insisted that she couldn’t look. I am a threat to the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell shit that we’ve lived for two decades. I’m a threat to the secret, to the elephant in the room. I’m a threat to her desire not to think about it. I’m a threat to her ignorance. She didn’t choose her religion; she chose her ignorance.
And then she drops the hammer. She will tell her son anything but the truth. What a remarkable thing to say. If your worldview requries lies in order to protect it, then you should re-examine that worldview. And drop it, replacing it with one that doesn’t require lies and deceit to be protected. But let’s just bask in the glory of that statement—she would tell her son anything but the truth.
She would lie to her son.
She will kick me from her son’s life.
She will bring her son sorrow.
And I’m a threat to his innocence.
Her son and I spent a lot of time together, because we are both avid video gamers. I write for a gaming site and am a professional game critics—they’re more than a hobby to me, and I’ve got a ton of games on my computer that her son loved playing. Every single evening, he’d come into my room and ask if he could play with my cats, ask if he could play games on my computer, and ask if he could watch me play. I didn’t always say “Yes,” because, frankly, I don’t have kids for a reason, and one of those reasons is that I like to spend time to myself. But he did spend a lot of time with me.
And one day he’s going to wonder why his mom took his friend away and wouldn’t let him see his friend anymore. He is only six, so he may not remember how much time we spent together. He may not remember all the nights he sat in there and played with my cats, and he might not remember how many times I told him to come into the bedroom with me because his parents were fighting again and I knew he didn’t need to hear that shit. I love that kid. And my existence is a threat to his innocence.
As a bonus happy thought, here is my kitty Rainbow:
My pillowcases were actually in the dryer because I needed to get cat hair off them, in case anyone is curious. Neither of the cats shed very badly, and it’s winter here anyway, but I still wash them pretty often because they do stuff like this.
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