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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyJuly 6, 2023

Help Me Hera: I’m trans and my mum is a Posie Parker superfan

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

I haven’t told my family who I am, and I’m tired of living a double life.

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Hello Hera,

To cut quite a long and harrowing story short, I’m trans and have a deeply transphobic mother. When I say “transphobic,” I mean she has idolised Posie Parker for many years, attended anti-trans rallies, stuff like that.

I moved to Aotearoa in 2014, changed my name after a year, got top surgery a few years later and now visit my home country every couple of years, where everyone always tells me I look very thin but weirdly don’t realise I am sans tits. I haven’t told them anything about who I really am because my mum would implode and make my dad and sister’s lives hell. I’m 30 and tired; coming out as a lesbian in 2009 was hard enough and even after all these years, my sexuality is still treated as something that should remain unspoken. 

Now it’s 2023 and my family are wondering when this really long OE I’m having will end. I have a partner I love a lot over here, some good friends, a job I really like – but I’m racked with guilt from leading essentially a double life. Do you have any suggestions on how to help, genuine or otherwise?

Many thanks, 

International Man of Mystery 

Dear IMM,

You’re not leading a double life. Mrs Doubtfire is leading a double life. Tim Allen (aka Santa Clause) is leading a double life. You are leading a regular life, in which you have to tactically lie to your geographically-estranged mother in order to avoid tripping her meltdown switch. That hardly makes you the next Tom Ripley (although the circumstances of his parentage also leave a lot to be desired). 

You shouldn’t feel guilty. It sounds like you’ve built yourself a full and happy life here. It also sounds like your first experience of coming out was so awful, you’ve gone out of your way not to cause anyone even the smallest possible amount of emotional inconvenience. Seven thousand, seven hundred and ninety-three miles out of your way. To a geographical backwater where people only come to film car commercials with mountain ranges in them. And somehow you’ve still wound up feeling bad. 

I’d love for you to throw caution to the wind and tell your family to fix their hearts or die. But there’s a big difference between coming out to a conservative family member who’s confused and suspicious of your new identity, like a Victorian butler grappling with the advent of electricity, and someone who actively attends rallies protesting your existence. It’s one of those situations where a heart-to-heart is probably not going to cut it. 

If your mother is a subscriber to The Children’s Genital Inspector Substack, it’s unlikely she’s going to take your news in a spirit of open-minded love and curiosity. Even if you could undertake an excruciating and protracted campaign to change her mind, it’s no fun having to prove someone wrong, when all you want is a normal relationship. 

I’m interested that you used the word “implosion” regarding your mum. Is this because you’ve been reading about the Titanic submersible? Or is it because when she detonates, she does so inwardly, crushing everyone within her hull to a lifeless biological soup? You say telling her would make your father and sister’s life hell. What level of Dante’s Inferno are we talking about here? 

It sounds like you’re carrying the entire weight of your mother’s disapproval because she can’t be trusted to reckon with it. Which has left you isolated, and doing a lot of heavy lifting on behalf of someone who doesn’t know or deserve it. It’s as if your mother’s disappointment is a miniature pedal organ you’ve been hauling through the desert for years. No wonder you’re exhausted. No wonder you don’t want to stop and go another five rounds with someone who just rocked up in a golf cart and fresh capris. 

You can’t change your mother’s mind. But you can stop protecting her from the consequences of her dumb ideas. Whether or not you tell her is up to you. But I wonder if it’s worth reconsidering telling other members of your family. Not because you owe it to them, but because you deserve the chance to be known and loved by the people who care about you. How would your sister respond? Siblings are often a great place to start when it comes to rallying support. Could you tell your dad, or would he feel obligated to tell your mum? Are there any other members of your extended family who might support you? Old friends you’ve held off celebrating with, in case news travels? 

There’s probably not much point answering a letter where the best you can do is tell someone you wish their circumstances were better. I can’t pretend I’ve ever been in the position of having to ideologically grapple with my family. The biggest stand I ever made was keeping the troll I was given by a friend for my sixth birthday (it was dressed in prison stripes and held a sign that said “Guilty of loving you,” which my parents disapproved of on the grounds that it made light of the prison industrial complex.)

I don’t know your family, so I don’t know what their reaction will be. Maybe brain worms are contagious. But if the only reason you’re not telling them is to spare them your mother’s reaction, maybe that’s a sign your silence is only working in her favour. Whether or not they know it, your mother’s beliefs are preventing your dad and sister from having a deeper relationship with you, which is sad.

You can only do so much about a bigoted relative. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it confront its own narrow-minded prejudices. But I hope that, whether or not you’re able to tell your family,  you can at least decide to put down that dusty old pedal organ. It’s high time someone else in your family did some heavy lifting. 

Best of luck.

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