I had my first encounter with hate this week from a family member, someone I loved and trusted.
It shook me.
The bathroom debate has stirred up a lot of fear, hate, and anger. Some of it from surprising places. Until I stop and think about it. And then…maybe not.
We sent out cards to family and friends two and a half years ago, announcing Rose’s transition from boy to girl. Almost everyone who got a card took the time to send a message of love and support, and it was so welcome. Sending those announcements was scary as hell. But my aunt didn’t say anything. I should have listened to the silence.
When she came to visit, she didn’t say anything. But there was an odd tension. She seemed angry with me, but wouldn’t say that she was, or why. I put it aside. Maybe I had said something thoughtless and offended her. I felt guilty and worried, because I didn’t know what I had done wrong.
Fast forward. Another visit. Same thing. I felt nervous about leaving her alone with my children, but I couldn’t say why. So I didn’t. Even staying in the room, my 9-year-old sensitive, aware, autistic transgender child hid under a chair when she tried to talk to her. I should have listened to the silence.
She broke the silence this week. In response to an inflammatory video about the risks of Target providing their transgender customers and staff with basic human rights — and bathroom access. As we debated, it came out that she felt that I was pushing an LGBT agenda on my child. That my child is truly a boy, regardless of her deep-seated, consistent, persistent assertions that she is, in fact, a girl. And then the final shot. That my child, my beautiful, innocent 9-year-old, is an insult to the family.
She went there.
And then she said that she wanted to maintain a relationship with me. No apology, no backtracking. Signed off with love. And I thought about it. I really did. I have strong memories of a fun, creative aunt blowing through town, bringing a whirlwind of activity before disappearing for another few years. I built this fantasy of a loving aunt around these visits and I held onto it into adulthood.
I thought about love, the meaning and expression of love, and I realized that this, this unapologetic hatred for my child, is not love. It’s the farthest thing from it. And to masquerade these feelings of rejection as love is a greater sin than if she had just admitted, from the very start, that she couldn’t accept the fact that my child is transgender. Rose was seven when she told us who she really is. She barely knew her great-aunt. Now she’s heading toward ten years old. She knows this woman, she has a solid memory of her. She will feel the lack of her, even though I have to admit that she doesn’t seem to particularly care for her. She knows that she is part of the family, and she will know that she is gone.
Because she is gone.
I may have allowed past fondness and love to give her more of a pass than I should have. I missed some red flags, some clear warning signs. But I do have healthy boundaries, and I am using them now. My aunt may have expressed a desire to keep a relationship with me. But she did so with strings. That I not talk about my “insulting” child. Insulting merely for her existence, not for anything she’s said or done. That I not “push my agenda” of equal rights on her. That I live with the knowledge that she has a profound lack of respect for me as a parent and of my child for her very existence.
I try to live within the credo of “love more, judge less.” In this case, the best way I can embody that is to love my child more, and judge my aunt less — by removing her from our lives. I have never, ever done that to a family member before. There have been opportunities. But I firmly believe that family means everything. Family is bedrock. Family is who you can count on when everything else goes to pot. However…. No one should ever accept abuse. No matter what. And this is abuse. To say that you love when you hate who a person is, that is abuse. To expect anyone to stifle an integral part of their identity, that is abuse. To have no respect for a person while saying that you love them, that is abuse.
I miss the aunt I thought she was. I recognize that maybe I built a fantasy, or that she projected an image of herself that she wanted me to see. I grieve the loss of family, and celebrate the family and friends who have stepped forward in the face of this mess to say unequivocally that they love my child, no matter what. I am blessed to not have to fight this fight alone, for it is a fight. It’s a fight for a safer world for my child, and I had really hoped I would never have to fight for that against someone who should know me best. Who should be safe.
I should have listened to the silence.