By and large, the vast majority of the people I have come out to have been supportive and accepting. The one huge exception has been my own mother. From the first day she made it very clear that she disapproves of my transition and refuses to acknowledge my gender identity.
On Friday, October 27th, I had the hardest conversation I had yet had over the course of my transition. I was forced to sever my relationship with my mother.
I can’t even remember how the conversation turned in that direction, it certainly wasn’t where I was planning to go. It started with a discussion about Julia Seranno’s Whipping Girl. I’ve been reading it myself, and I wanted my mom to read it because I thought it would better inform her about what its like to be a trans woman and why I am the way I am, but also because I thought she would just find it an interesting read. It’s the sort of book that she would have read back in college.
I had no expectation that it would change her mind about anything, and I stated that. I thought that if she at least understood the misogynistic pressure that closeted trans women are under to hide their femininity, she would have a better understanding of why I always hid this side of myself for so long, and maybe she could come to understand why I know I’m a woman.
But no, she refused.
Mom: I’m interested in hearing it from you, but I don’t want to read any books.
Me: Well, Mom, the reason I’m suggesting the book is because she explains it better than I could.
She then went on about how, as she gets older, she tries to avoid consuming any media that “could change me from the kind of person I want to be.” She has cultured this position of avoiding most media entirely because she doesn’t want anything that could make her long for things she can’t have, or alter her attitudes. This is basically the Jehovah’s Witness message that I heard for years about avoiding temptation and exposure to countering views. In short, she took a deliberate stance of closed mindedness.
We talked a bit about systemic misogyny and sexism. She didn’t at first understand what I meant by systemic sexism vs direct, so I gave the example of how government policies can harm women through indirect ways. Such as how the GOP is trying to make it possible for insurance providers to deny women’s reproductive healthcare, or how it’s easy to get viagra and condoms, but not birth control and tampons. She finally understood, but then dismissed it with “well there’s thousands of those kinds of things, you can’t fight that, so what’s the point in caring about it.” I was exasperated by this stance. She’s taken an attitude of willful compliance.
Part of the problem, that I didn’t mention to her, is that the JW hierarchy and doctrine is entirely centered around patriarchy. The entire organization is misogynistic by design. So part of her trying to maintain her faith means not questioning all the ways men organize to harm women and keep themselves in authority. It’s so frustrating how a woman as intelligent as my mother can be rendered dumb by her faith.
I talked a bit about how feminine traits are seen as weak and undesirable, while masculinity is viewed as a positive. Women who present with masculine behavior are less stigmatized than men who act feminine. I explained how these attitudes shape the way trans people are viewed, leaving trans men virtually invisible to popular media, but causing trans women to labeled as freaks and deviants, because why would any “man” ever want to be seen as a woman. I described how these attitudes have affected psychology and explained Ray Blanchard, autogynephilia, and how the prevailing idea that trans women are fetishists caused decades of harm. Not only to all trans women, but to me as well.
I described how it was those theories that kept me from coming out years ago and made me grow up believing I just had some kind of fetish. She scoffed and said how could I possibly have known about that stuff as a teenager.
Me: I researched it, Mom! I’ve been wrestling with this my entire life!
Mom: Where could you have ever read about that? The internet?
Me: The university library!
We lived in a college town, I spent many hours at the campus library. I was a very curious teenager.
While we were discussing this, my wife was showering and getting ready for bed. When she finished, she came and took our son from me and headed off to the bedroom. I decided it wasn’t worth talking about the topic any more and I went to the kitchen to do the dishes, expecting my mom to take the hint and leave, which she did. Before opening the door, however, she started talking about how much she loves me. She essentially lectured me on unconditional love and how a parent always loves their child, as if I couldn’t possibly understand that concept. She told me how she can tell I’m unhappy with her and that it hurts her. At this point I was feeling disgruntled, so I turned to her and said “You don’t love me, you love the memory of the boy that you thought I was.”
My memory is hazy about these next parts, as I was getting pretty emotional at this point. I remember saying that it wasn’t me that she wanted in her house, she wanted Jarvis. She only wanted me if I wore the mask. I reminded her that she explicitly made it clear that I wasn’t allowed in her home as a woman, and since I am a woman, that means I am not welcome in her home. I think I made some statement about respecting me as a woman and not doing things that harm me. She retorted that she wasn’t deliberately harming me. That’s the point where I said “Mom, what is my name?”
She hemmed and hawed, talked about legal names and birth names and how she gave me two names to choose from and if I choose to change it to something else in the eyes of the law, that doesn’t dismiss the names she gave me. This is factually flawed, because she only gave me the name Jordan (my father provided Jarvis), and she didn’t even choose it until the night I was born. The entire time she never once said the name Jocelyn, even tho she knows that’s my name.
That was the point when I told her that when she refuses to use my chosen name, when she uses male pronouns for me, it causes me pain. It is a source of discomfort in my life. The same way she strives to avoid media that makes her uncomfortable (she had made the example of news stories about shootings, and I brought that back up), I wish to avoid having that kind of pain in my life.
This is the point when things turned sour and I made the hard call. I told her if she was going to continue to call me Jarvis and refer to me as a man in my presence, then I didn’t want to spend time around her. I even told her I’m not expecting her to refer to me as her daughter to other people, I just can’t have her disrespecting my choices in my presence. She then asked if I was going to deny her access to her grandchildren, and I said no, I wanted to the kids to have their grandma, but I don’t want to be around her. We established that she’d just have to drop Sam off and then leave.
She made some comments about avoiding using names and pronouns for me at all, but she cannot “in good conscience” call me by my new name, because “in her heart that would be telling a lie.”
She talked about how it wasn’t possible for her to change her perception of me enough to use female pronouns. I pointed out that my wife has been able to make the change just fine and now sees me as the woman I am inside. She then retorted by mentioning how much pain I’ve caused my wife by demanding this change. I responded by explaining how transition wasn’t a choice, the other path was far more painful and destructive. I described how miserable I was becoming and how angry and depressed it was making me, how certain I was that it would have ended my marriage. She had the audacity to say that it is my choice to be angry and depressed. That pissed me off, and I responded with a simple “Bullshit, that’s not how depression works, Mother!”
She tried to accuse me of not respecting her feelings. To that I retorted that I had given her my entire life as the person she wanted, selflessly hiding who I was for 25 years, even if she didn’t know it, and it was my turn to give myself what I wanted.
She accused me of putting my own happiness ahead of my family. I responded that she was doing the same. She tried to dismiss that by saying that her obligation was to her relationship with God, as if that was somehow more high and mighty. I rounded and said:
Me: That’s the same thing! Your faith gives you hope in the future, it gives you happiness, and you’re putting that happiness ahead of the happiness of your child. We are both drawing the same line in the sand.
Finally she reiterated the point and asked if I really was saying that I didn’t want to see her any more. At this point I was just standing over the sink, my hands on the counter, trying not to cry.
Me: If you can’t respect me for who I am, then yes.
I didn’t look at her again that night. She again explained to me how she will always love me as her child.
Me: Good night, Mother
She walked out the door, and I burst into tears. I cried into the sink for what felt like 5 minutes. After I regained some composure I went into the bedroom and told my wife what had happened. She started crying too
Since then our relationship has been extremely strained. She never calls me by name, any name, and almost never genders me to my face. We rarely ever speak any more, and when we do it often turns into an exercise in holding myself back. Her attitudes about most topics have become extremely conservative (not right wing, because she’s not political, just socially conservative). If we encounter her in public, she deliberately does not acknowledge me unless I explicitly greet her first. I have become a stranger to her, and it hurts every single time.
My therapist has been working on giving me a lot of tools to try to distance myself from this pain, methods of moving her outside of my sphere of attachment. It’s so extremely hard, because we used to have such a good relationship. I wish I could just cut her out of my life entirely, but I can’t because we need her help too badly. She watches the kids so often for us, and losing that would make our lives a lot harder. She’s also providing a lot of good things for Samantha, in terms of mental engagements and diversity of activities. They go on walks, put together puzzles, they sew outfits together and build hamster mazes. She’s a huge contributor to Samantha’s culturing, and we cannot dismiss that value.
I just… I just miss my mom.