Family knows best

Himawari by Sugano Manami
Most Americans my age know the saying “Parents just don’t understand” coined by nineties pop culture icon/rapper Will Smith. It’s a phrase that seems to resonate among my generation and beyond. Though what happens when it’s not just parents who just don’t understand, but family as a whole?

My family life was not as positive as it could have been. My parents separated when I was eight years old, and their divorce was not pretty at all as I was frequently put in the middle of it. Combined with all of the quarrels between them prior, I gained my perspective on what a family could be like from visiting my friends’ houses. Summed up, I was generally quiet and awkward around family, not just because of the divide happening within my own immediate vicinity, but something much deeper was causing me to not appreciate them as well as myself.

The two specific kinds of expectations pushed on me, causing an internal clash with my identity, were:

  1. The awareness/attitude/mindset/culture of being black and
  2. Being a [black] man who should follow in the examples of my elders.

My views on this are clearer, now more than ever, after having a long talk with my father. He insisted that despite my individuality, much of who I am has been influenced by my friends, the media, and the American stereotype – a culture that is predominately of European/Caucasian decent. White people. I don’t deny this by any means, but his sense of me being transgender is now largely being attributed to this race indoctrination that I’ve never felt the need to acknowledge unless it was forced on me. I literally told him I couldn’t believe he was using race as a counterpoint for my legitimate need to survive and that, in doing so, was erasing my truth that brought me to this very scary, life-altering decision.

His belief summarized:

White supremacy (yes, he said this) has endeavored to emasculate me as a black man by permitting the idea of me being trans through LGBT culture despite these concepts never being present in black culture prior.

We went back and forth on this, fiercely at some points, for half of the two-hour long conversation. Also, the topic of family arose regarding me not having any male role models and me seemingly disregarding any attempts of adopting the cultural traits exhibited among black people. I was in the wrong for not talking to him or others about my dysphoria and daily disdain of just trying to live a life I didn’t and couldn’t love. Some are close with family enough to do that; most are not from what I’ve seen.

Truth be told, being black has never been something I felt the need to embrace. Being a black sheep in every way possible – from any scholastic accolades I could amass, to my own life experiences – was enough for me. I’ve always done my best to regard people with respect regardless of race, religion, identity, etc. and I have usually been met with mutual respect. I made it my mission for myself to be as far removed from my family as possible for no other reason than to give them a reason to acknowledge me and my uniqueness. That was honestly the only way I felt that I could relate/communicate with them because everything else that was being forced on me just didn’t matter.

Especially being the man they expected me to be.

Now that I am mentally maturing in a proud, black woman who actually loves herself and life while gaining the physical congruency of my gender identity little by little, the idea of having family has become much more tangible for me. My transition has brought about such sense of wonder and self-love to the extent that I no longer need to harbor a conflicted, twisted perspective of my relatives. Except, after having my grandmother shut the door in my face earlier this year, I now know two things firsthand:

  1. Blood relations do not mean shit, contrary to my father’s claim and
  2. For the first time, I just want to be closer to the family that tried to be close to me.

After speaking at length with my father and having a brief chat with my grandparents – both occurring via phone – months later, I am almost convinced that my family may never understand who I am and what I meant to accomplish by “going against nature.” They may never call me by my name, even after I have the means to correct my birth certificate. My father firmly believes that calling me by my dead name is an act of love and to expect him to use any other is a slap to the face, common courtesy be damned. My grandparents claim to love me, but will probably never want to look me in the eye again because they’re too “old school” to wrap their head around gender and sexuality being separate. None of them would even bother investigating the stories of other black transmen and women – we all must be sick or ignorant to accept the medical doctrine of money-grubbing white people after all.

“You can either have my love or have your name,” my father said. “Make a choice. This isn’t a difficult thing.”

At that moment, I came to terms with my pride and my heart. If I am outright rejected by family members, I could live with that and distance myself forever.

Would I relent to the torture of having my gender identity being erased repeatedly if it meant I’d get to use the remaining time my grandparents, father, and other relatives have on this plane of existence to really feel a part of a family who claims to love me?

Yes. Sadly, yes I would.


3 thoughts on “Family knows best

  1. Your narrative haunts me. I’ve gone to war under these circumstances, even going so far as to change my last name. In the end, friends and family came back but it was almost like they expected me to fight for my identity or it wasn’t real to them. Didn’t work with everyone of course.

    Protect yourself. Your gender identity is fragile and likely essential to your survival.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Sara.

      Yes, I agree that my gender identity is quite fragile indeed. The only reason why I’ve been able to withstand such repeated punishment from family is due to how well I’ve tempered my mind and soul among society. Though I wrote what I did, the truth is that I’ve fought as I thought I was expected to and now I just don’t care anymore if they want to “see me” or not. If they choose not to, then my narrative echoes yours to become ever more haunting as I may follow in your footsteps to change my last name.

      I will continue to hold my own and survive. : )

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