For a great many trans men disownment from their family is a reality that is both incredibly painful and unceasingly misunderstood. While the stigma of being transgender is decreasing – the fact of the matter is that many trans people still find themselves among family who simply will not accept them for who they are. This presents obvious difficulties for trans men who still live at home with their parents, depend on them financially, and are subject to their rules. However, the deeper and more visceral pain lies somewhere very different and not so innately obvious. This loss and pain – is the loss of history.
Humans are designed to bond with other humans. We are the only species on earth who rely so heavily on speech and memory to do this. Think about it – while getting to know another person what is the first thing you do? Probably ask questions about them and their past, how they grew up, what they like. Anecdotal stories are shared and laughs are had. In group settings other people may share stories about you, and you about them. This enables others to get a sense of who you are, and it feels good to hear someone adoringly tell a story about you. When you are disowned by your family, however, much of this is lost. A person in this situation may feel very low and isolated in these circumstances. As other people laugh and share, they may feel they cannot. It’s probable that talking about their past or childhood is very painful, because of their family’s lack of support. Additionally, it may feel like a lie to re-live the good memories because now the memories feel invalid and false – shallow in comparison to being let go by those you needed most.
A loss of history is a loss of who you are and what made you – you. It’s the loss of connections you would have had with people, connections born from finding common ground in your histories. People who have lost the ability to share their history feel isolated, alone, and misunderstood. This is often amplified by others reaction to their melancholy in social situations. Even the most well meaning friend cannot understand the hollow feeling that resides in one’s gut when they are disowned. There are things that friends can do to help, though, and they all involve holding a safe place for the disowned individual.
- Help the disowned person make new history. Play with them, cry with them, laugh with them. Be in their life long-term, so they feel they have a ground.
- In social situations where you notice their demeanor change, be mindful of the painful emotions they may be having, and do not take their sadness personally; It’s not about you.
- Be their chosen family, but do not presume you are enough to take the place of their bio-family, you cannot. Try to remember that their loss is more than just losing people, it’s about losing history with the people who shaped them into who they are.
- Do not invalidate their feelings by showing them all the loving people they do have in their life. This will further isolate them.
- When they are ready to talk about their family and/or history, listen. Be grateful for the trust they put in you by sharing.
As humans we naturally want to fix things, people included. A disowned person cannot be fixed, though. A cruel twist in disownment is that we are all programmed to need the approval and love of our parents. No matter how much approval a person gets elsewhere, the desire to get it from their parents never dulls. The work a disowned person needs to do lies within themselves – building a new foundation since the one they were built on was unapologetically removed. Those who are suffering the pain of disownment would do well to take to heart the words of Rudyard Kipling in his poem “If”, where he speaks of his reaction to the torments of his life:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son