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Carolyn Hax: Mother transitions to fully embarrassing stance on transgender child

(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My older sister (26) is a trans woman, and she started transitioning last summer. She is happier than I've ever known her to be, and I fully support her in making this journey.

Growing up and since leaving home, I have always been much closer to my religious parents, and I guess this is why. My sister finally told our parents last fall and they went ballistic, called my sister mentally ill, accused her of transitioning as a way of attention-seeking, and told her point-blank that she is just lying to herself about her gender identity.

My mother especially sees my sister as an embarrassment and has threatened to disown her if she continues with her transition.

Yesterday things came to a head. My mother messaged the family chat saying that, regarding an upcoming event, she wants reassurance that my sister won't "embarrass me." She said my sister should come dressed as a man, accepting her dead name, or stay away.

I don't know what to do. I've been through bad times in the past few years, and my mother supported me through all of it. I'm not sure I should go to the event if they keep treating my sister this way, though. I know how vulnerable trans people are, the ridicule, violence and hatred they face just for being who they are, and I really want to support my sister.

Do I have to skip the family event and ultimately cut my parents out to do it?

— Fully Supportive

Fully Supportive: Your mother supported you because you, for no reason you could control, fell into the acceptable range of humanity according to her biases. You affirm her sense of self-worth. Her reacting to your sister mainly as a matter of how a transgender child reflects on her proves this to the degree of certainty you need. Beyond.

So your mom’s attention to you during your bad times is not a good enough reason to give her a pass — or let’s call it a consequence discount — for her shameful treatment of your sister.

If your sister is not welcome as-is, and chooses not to attend for that reason, then you skip the event and say exactly why.

By the way — “attention-seeking”? Does your mother not think before she speaks? A transition does not = blue hair or a neck tat.

Re: Sister: If trans sister cannot go to the family event, then she should still reach out to relatives to get together individually or as a group at other times! Their mother cannot dictate how everyone feels or control every familial relationship. She can only let people know when she will be predictably a pain in the [butt].

— Anonymous

Anonymous: True. And this is a solution of connection vs. division, which makes it effective even if it doesn’t actually work — meaning, even if the other relatives align with the mother, the sister will be the one working to maintain family connections while the mother works to break them, and everyone will know that.

The sister will assume a lot of rejection risk with this approach, however, and will need all the support she can get from the letter-writer and others who have her back.