I almost feel guilty writing this since I’m actually extremely lucky to be in the situation I’m in. My family (or at least everyone in it who matters) respects my pronouns and my medical/social transition. I’m not berated or discouraged when I wear or do things outside of what they’d expect of someone of my assigned gender. Like everyone else, though, they have their… moments. Usually, it’s just a pronoun slip-up, but sometimes it’s worse. For example, my mom was telling a story and used my old pronouns because “that’s what [I was] at the time.” Of course, she was receptive and apologetic once I explained her error, but no matter their intention, some moments just stick with you.
Whenever I have dysphoria, I tend to think about this moment a lot when I interact with my mom. A few months after coming out, she recognized my efforts to seem more feminine, even calling me “prettier than her” on occasion. Of course, I really appreciated the love and support, but the dysphoria-laden part of my brain said. “Oh, c’mon. That’s just patronizing at this point. You literally look like a whole man and she’s just trying to humor you. Enough.” I could beat myself up all I wanted, but at least there was the possibility that my mom actually found me pretty. Unfortunately, now I’m not so sure of that.
One day, I took her car to run some errands or something inconsequential. Regardless, my neighbor saw me, waved, and I begrudgingly accepted her attempt at a humdrum conversation saturated with pleasantries. I went inside thinking nothing of it, unaware that it would really come to bite me in the ass. I don’t even remember the situation, but it got to the point where my neighbor saw my mom and said, “Oh, I saw [Stella] the other day and thought that he was you!” Already off-put and highly uncomfortable by her using the wrong pronouns, I was wholly unprepared for my mom’s response. She responded,
Let me tell you, I’m not a crier at all. At the time of writing this, it’s been probably over 6 months since I last cried. Yes, I’m aware that’s not really healthy, especially if I want to cry at times, but… anyway! When those words left her lips, they pierced me like arrows. If you’ve had a moment of extreme dysphoria in public, you get it. I had the chills, frozen in place.
As someone who was kind of aspiring to be a daughter, getting told indirectly that your mother wouldn’t want to look like you is pretty high up on the list of things that would break your heart. This isn’t about looking cis, as whether I passed or not was irrelevant. There are plenty of almost objectively beautiful, non-passing trans people. However, it confirmed a lot of the creeping suspicions I had about her support and how she saw me.
It’s really crushing to know that the one person you thought was fully in your corner not only still sees you as a man, but thinks it would be a negative thing to look like you. I mean, that’s fine to think to yourself, but to say it out loud in front of me really sucks. I never brought it up because I knew she would feel horrible, but I definitely said some passive-aggressive things to her in a spiteful streak. Why lie to me and say that I’m “pretty” or even “prettier than you” if you would hate to look like me?
Eventually, I confronted her directly about how she sees me as a man since she still slips up to he/him after 3 years of me going by they/them pronouns. She denied it, saying that the singular they just doesn’t fully compute in her brain. This could be understandable, but if that were the case, why would you just not use “she/her,” which is at least closer to what I’m going for? My trust in her was permanently cracked when she said so nonchalantly what she did that day. She definitely doesn’t remember it, but it’s still a scar on my psyche today. Obviously, it’s not the worst thing, but it just makes me more spiteful and diffident whenever she tries to assure me of my femininity or compliment me on my beauty.
Am I saying that my mom is a bad ally? No, not at all. In fact, I think the opposite. She advocates for others to use my pronouns when I’m not in the room and is completely for gay and trans rights. However, it’s not possible for me to feel 100% supported. She can use the right pronouns for me, but until she actually sees me as nonbinary/a woman, I can’t help but feel a bit jaded and hurt. It’s the difference between someone who tolerates and respects you and someone who really just gets it. Regardless, I’m working on feeling better about myself and further improving our relationship, but it’s hard when even in our tightest hugs, she and I nick the scars that we’ve both caused each other.