My home is unsafe for me to explore my gender. What do I do?

Content note: this question contains short but intense descriptions of emotional abuse by parents.

Dear Bear, 

A year and a half ago everything seemed to click into place, and I realized how much I hated she/her pronouns and words associated with femininity directed at me. I also remembered how as a child I dreamed of being a dad, rather than a mother, and how jealous of boys I was when I learned what the physical difference between us was. This started me on a journey of self discovery, one I am still on today, as I try to find a place for myself in this “cisgendered” society.

Unfortunately, I’m financially dependent on my parents, who are heavily against my gender exploration and are constantly coming up with reasons to make me doubt my dysphoria is genuine. They remind me of the issues I have with them both, saying my “mommy issues” and “daddy issues” make me want to turn my back on my AGAB. My father has bluntly told me that I should “work with what I have in the kitchen” and reminded me of the emotional manipulation and abuse my mother commits against me- although I also know he is just as bad. My mother has even told me that she would have felt similarly had she known about being trans at my age, and that those feelings stemmed from an “intense hatred of women” that came from abuse, which she “got over” in therapy.

My parents frankly scare me, and keep me going in circles as I try to find myself. As an 18 year old entering college, I know I’m lucky to still have a roof over my head, much less the education and shelter I’m getting. So should I try to get them to see my side of things? And should I even bother to explore my gender right now, or should I keep it on the back burner as I work towards getting an education so I can support myself and my self discovery in the future?

Dear Brave Correspondent,

I am so sorry this is happening to you. Before anything else, I want to say a very clear and specific thing: you do not deserve this, and none of it is your fault.

Perhaps you are nodding like, sure, okay, but I am here to tell you that the insidious messages of childhood take deep fucking root, especially when they are given to us by the people who are supposed to love and care for us, and especially especially when they are repeated constantly. I need you to know if that there’s nothing wrong with your gender, whatever it might turn out to be, and no one “made you this way,” and that the shit you’re taking is not even a little about you. It’s about your parents, and their nonsense, and cultural stuff and its nonsense, and that you are basically delightful and also your hair is cute today.

Let me tell you something else, too, before we get on to the advising: The triple-A, number one rule of LGBT2Q life is to live to fight again another day. Preserve your safety, preserve your sanity, you (and all of us) are a gift to the world and we need you. So everything that follows is out of my intense and heartfelt desire that you are able to live joyfully and die of advanced old age, because queers and trans people are precious and I want us all in the world, doing our thing.

Now. It used to be that therapists understood queer and trans people as being basically broken, malformed or insufficient, because so many of us suffered from depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and were considerably more inclined to substance abuse BUT IT TURNS OUT THAT LIVING IN A WORLD WHERE PEOPLE MISTRUST, FEAR OR HATE YOU WAS ACTUALLY THE PROBLEM ALL ALONG, WHAT A SURPRISE. So please be aware that the hard feelings they generate in you are not about anything at all wrong with you. Hard things are hard, as in: this feels hard because this situation is hard. Your parents are scary, and they are also not doing the #1 parenting job: loving the kid you get.

You are correct that a different situation – out of their house, not financially dependent on them – shows every possibility of producing a better emotional reality. This is like having a turkey on your head: it’s noisy, it stinks; periodically it shits in your ear. Nobody wants it. But If you remove the turkey, then the noise and stink and all the rest of it disappear. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that because there’s so much noise and mess there’s something wrong with YOU. There isn’t. It’s the turkey. In professional therapist terms, understanding this is part of a crucial protective factor known as growing resilience. When you’re able to notice that you have shit in your ear and think “fucking turkeys,” instead of “I am so full of shit it’s coming out my ears,” that is actually a very good sign.

As to how to proceed. Brave Correspondent, you are going to need to be fiercely, ferociously, vigorously on your own side for the next little while and I encourage you to enlist any and all potential allies and co-resistors to your cause. This comes in a couple of steps, the first one of which is to identify some safe spaces for you. In the real world, is there an LGBT2Q org at your school? Is there an LGBT2Q youth group in the city where you go to school? Are there online spaces where you can get support and reassurance as you consider? I’m not sure what you mean by “exploring your gender” but whatever that looks like to you, there are both physical and digital spaces where it’s available in safety.

Also, who are your allies? Are there relatives you are close to who are not as awful as your parents? Friends? Start making a mental list, if not for use then for comfort – being able to remind yourself that there are some stops between you and homelessness is a real comfort on a hard day, if there indeed are. Nurture those relationships; they’ll help you feel better on hard days. And when you need to have conversations about your gender, those people are where to have it.

Also, start thinking about an escape/emergency plan. Do you have any savings? Move most of it to a different bank in an account under only your name. Can you make extra money in some way (babysitting, dog walking, buying and selling something, replacing phone screens, drawing commissions on Instagram, playing the tuba at children’s birthdays)? Do that, and squirrel it away where your parents can’t even see it, let alone touch it. Do you get some allowance from them? Save as much as you can (there’s always a luncheon lecture on college campuses somewhere). Do they buy your clothes? Buy one thing every trip that you can return and keep the cash. What we want here is a cushion, so that if you can’t take it anymore and have to crash out of your current situation there’s as much room as possible to make smart and sustainable choices and not just have to grasp at straws. Build yourself a nest egg and grow it as fast as you can in case you need it. If everything goes to shit, having the ability to rent a room for a couple of months will allow you to find some work and keep yourself fed and indoors and that’s crucial.

(and a note about information security: be diligent. Don’t leave messages on your phone for your parents to read. Make your own decisions based on their tech-savvy and such, but having a security code on your phone might not be enough to protect you. You can use an app like Signal for texting to delete messages after a set interval, and there are similar methods for email and other messages. If you’re not already nerdy in this way, make a friend who is and learn how to protect yourself.)

As far as getting them to see your side of things, my honest answer is: not yet. The power differential in this relationship is way too intense for an actual conversation. Only you know how much of their bullshit you can stand and whether it’s worth getting college paid for. College educations are expensive; it might be worth it – especially if your post-college employment or fellowship prospects are good. But here too, be strategic. Take an extra course each semester if you can handle it and you’ll be done a semester early – ready to launch (or take graduate courses in the last semester and get part of another degree on their nickel.)

It’s all going to be an ongoing cost/benefit analysis, and so what I want is for you to stack the deck as much in your favor here as possible, Brave Correspondent. Fine people to talk to and validate you so you can be emotionally okay. Be busy busy busy and out of the house working hard at school and jobs to keep you away from your parents. Get excellent grades so you can apply to funded graduate programs or training programs. Save some money so that if you need to walk you can walk. You may see other students living carefree, leisurely lives at school and I am sorry that’s not probably going to be you, but there are tradeoffs later, I promise.

Here’s the good news: you’re young and clever and vigorous, and most importantly you’re ahead of your parents in every way. Your gender will be whatever it is, and I am sure it will be excellent and delightful, and in the meanwhile you can do this, Brave Correspondent. Make yourself ready and when you need to, you’ll be able to fly.

love and courage,

Bear

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