How is it possible that you can love and support your transgender child and yet, still face extreme shame and embarrassment regarding them? Well, because our brains are complex. In one moment we are the pillar of support, advocacy, and allyship. The next we can be embarrassed and ashamed. How can both exist?
In a session, a client shared with me how she ran into an “inebriated” ex-boss of her MTF daughter in a bar who asked her “so how is he doing?” She explains … “I just stopped”, I said “everything is good” then the dialogue began in her mind “he’s drunk, he’s going to make a scene” “I don’t know if that’s any of his business” “I don’t want him to think less of me, or her, or my husband”. She continues “I evaded the conversation” “ I manipulated it''. She did not tell him about her trans daughter. She changed the subject as quickly as she could. Afterward she felt extreme guilt and shared that “I was out of integrity at that moment”.
Nothing about this situation is right or wrong. What it was, was out of alignment with who she wants to be, how she wants to show up as a mother of a transgender individual.
What did we discover? Her brain is doing its job perfectly. Our brains are designed to keep us ALIVE. To keep us as a part of the group. Our brains have not evolved as quickly as our external world. Her brain immediately went into survival mode. She simply didn’t want to feel the possible emotions that could come up in that circumstance. She didn’t want to be “mortified being judged by a lot of people, I wouldn’t want people to feel sorry for me” her brain’s reaction told her to “run and hide”.
Why is this so much more intensified when we are in a group? Because our brains are wired for survival. It does NOT mean that she doesn’t love her child, that she isn’t proud of her, or that she is ashamed of her child. What it means is that her brain simply offered her a solution to a negative feeling that the brain, at the moment, felt equaled DEATH. That is what brains do... avoid pain, and seek comfort and pleasure, regardless of the repercussions.
What do we do with a situation like this? We simply look. We can simply gather factual data about what happened and how we would like to understand it in a way that serves us.
We can ask, “what does this situation have to teach me?” “How can I be compassionate to myself about this?” “ what would I choose to do next time instead?” “What underlying societal beliefs was I carrying into that interaction?” The world is shifting and being transgender is less stigmatized in many places than it used to be, AND there is still an underlying stigma that can affect how we perceive others, assume how they may react and also, influence our behaviors, sometimes without us even realizing that is what is happening. There are layers, but when we break things down into simple data points it becomes clear. Her brain was simply trying to protect her and her family from ridicule and in turn, the emotions that would follow.
We discovered that this is a recurring theme for her. The fear of public humiliation where the feeling of mortification came up for her. THIS is GOLD. Why? Because she knows that SHE isn’t bad, or wrong. Nothing went wrong. Now, she can choose what she makes all this mean. What she chose to make it mean INTENTIONALLY after the fact, is that she is on the journey to learning how to be an unapologetic stand as a mother of a transgender person and 100% “not giving a shit what anyone thinks”.
We can choose to face obstacles with strategies if we are willing to LOOK at what the obstacles are. We don’t EVER get to the place where we are showing up as our best selves by beating ourselves up. We DO get there by gathering data, looking at it objectively, and asking ourselves empowering questions.
In that session, we came up with an action plan, a protocol to support herself so that the next time she is in a situation like this she shows up “authentically”. This included actions like: asking the individual to step to a more private place to speak to them about it and practicing having the 1:1 conversations with people, when appropriate for her. The more practice she has with discomfort and giving herself the grace to allow that emotion she will exercise that muscle more and more and become more prepared for having those conversations in a more public arena without sabotaging her goal to be authentic and PROUD of her daughter 100% of the time.
What does that look like? For her, “when discomfort comes up I will lean into it because I know that’s where my growth is.”
Now, instead of feeling guilty about being out of alignment with her goals of integrity, she is coming from a place of intentionality and self-compassion. No right, no wrong, just information.
Take a look at the areas of your life where you may avoid ridicule or humiliation. How do you show up from that place for yourself and for your child? How do you want to show up? What belief would you have to have to be able to show up in that way? How can you be kind to yourself while you’re still learning? What emotions will you need to be willing to feel to arrive at that goal?
Intentional emotions are our currency for the actions we want to take in order to get our desired results. What we choose to think is a SUPERPOWER.
Note: The choice to out someone is a very personal choice that is often best had by having in depth conversations with your transgender loved one about their wishes, and yours. Ultimately, you may not always agree. Choosing to out someone can have unintended impacts. What is important is that you choose to disclose someone's transgender identity with those potential impacts in mind and choose what you feel is best. Sometimes transgender individuals would prefer that it be private and if you have the conversation with them to hear where they are coming from regarding implications around safety, financial impact, employment impact, social impacts etc you will be able to more clearly decide how you wish to move forward. There is no one or "right" way to be trans. There is no one way or "right" way be a parent, a partner, a loved one of a trans individual either. It's up to you to choose and decide how you WANT to show up for yourself, and for your trans loved one, even when it isn't easy. None of us get a manual for life. This is no different. But with the correct tools, you'll be able to build the foundation for this relationship that you choose, with intention, compassion and intention.
[Permission was granted by my client to share her story here]