Life As Transgender: Dealing With A Discouraging Family

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Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.

Today, the Sugars are joined by the visual artist and writer Cooper Lee Bombardier, who is a transgender man. In the first of two posts about life as a transgender person, the Sugars respond to a transgender man feeling weighed down by his mother's feelings about his transition.


Dear Sugars,

I am a young guy in university undergoing a gender transition. Since coming out at the start of this academic year, I have never been so centered and calm — and I am happy with life. I have finally gotten to a point where I can allow myself to get into a serious relationship with someone who truly respects my identity and sees me as nothing but male.

The only issue I have is that my mum is in total denial. She has known now for two and a half years but will not respect my pronouns or my new name. I tried to bring her along in the transition from the beginning, but after two years trying to convince her this is real, I couldn't wait any longer and I finally started hormones. All of our arguments center on her being uncomfortable with my transition. It's framed as concern for me.

My mum has never been happy in her life, and I cannot allow her to pull me down with her. I struggle terribly knowing that I am betraying her perception of me and taking away her little girl. But this is who I am; I can't do anything about it. The stuff she says is offensive and wrong and try as I might to understand, I am losing respect for her.

I'm trying to be a good son, but I need to live my life. Please help.

Signed,

At a Crossroads

Steve Almond: At a Crossroads, you're doing great for your part of it. You're not at a crossroads, you've found the right path. It's your mom who, as you tell us, has never been happy in her life. So maybe your happiness and contentment in some way is kind of a betrayal of her unhappiness. But it's also true that this is a huge and difficult thing for any parent.

Cooper Lee Bombardier: I started my transition 15 years ago — I was in my early 30s — and I had so much fear. If I do this, am I going to lose everybody? Am I going to lose friends? Am I going to ever find love? And at some point, I realized that my fear about what other people might do or say was kind of holding me back from going forward in my life.

Trans people wrestle with these feelings for so long, and by the time we articulate them to somebody, it's like a bottle bursting open. And then we tell our parents, and we expect them to "get it" tomorrow, even though we've been struggling with it for years and years. I wonder how much the mom has any context for this experience. I wonder how much time they spend together. Has she been able to see her kid in his new identity? It's really hard to be patient when we've waited so long to realize that this is what's going on, but for those relationships we want to bring along with us, we do need to offer some patience.

Cheryl Strayed: I think anyone who grows up with a chronically unhappy parent gets kind of co-dependent about it, and I just want to unburden you from that, AAC. You're not responsible for your mother's happiness, and honestly, I think the thing that will ultimately make her the happiest is seeing you happy. She might not be able to see that yet, but it's true.

Steve: It might be necessary for a period of time for you, AAC, to find ballast in your life.

Cooper: When I went through a time where my relationship was not good with my folks, it was really important to keep that avenue open so it could transform at some point. But I also did a lot of my own growing up during that time.

Cheryl: It's not just his mother growing into this new knowledge and this new experience, but him as well. It's the relationship evolving.

You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the whole episode to hear from another transgender man suffering from fear of never finding love.

You can also listen to Dear Sugar Radio on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

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