Coming out: my grandfather's acceptance

Everyone has different issues when they come out to relatives. I'm sharing the most difficult situation I ran into in my own transition, as a way to show that even the toughest situations often have happy endings.

Background

I came out to my parents in 1997. My mom insisted I not tell my grandfather, who is a very religious man. I knew he had two choices: he could accept me, or not accept me. My mom was not willing to allow him to make this choice for fear of how it would affect his opinion of her.

This led to a lot of problems once I went full-time. I now couldn't go to family events, and I had to make a lot of excuses. Eventually, I convinced my mom to tell my grandmother, and in late 1998, she told my grandfather. His response was one of shock and denial. He wrote a letter to my parents in which he condemned my actions on religious grounds. He quoted from the Bible and made no bones about the fact that he thought this was wrong.

In 1999, I sent him a copy of a transcript of the religious program The 700 Club, during which host Pat Robertson said transsexuals were not sinners. This and a lot of supportive comments from my family members eventually got him to the point I thought I would write to him in late 1999.

Here's what I sent to him.

October 5, 1999
Chicago

Dear Grandpa--

Now that you have been told about the recent events in my life and had a chance to respond, I wanted to write to you directly to give you a better picture of everything that's going on with me.

First, I want to apologize for not having told you sooner. My mom was very concerned about telling you, and she made me promise that I would not. She was worried how much it might upset you, and was even concerned it might adversely affect your health. She was also quite certain you would immediately have objections on religious grounds before hearing the full story. Because I love her, I respected her wishes and did not tell you.

I also think she was hoping to avoid the issue entirely. I suspect she worried what you would think of her, or that you might blame her or somehow think less of her for my condition. I was very relieved to hear that this concern was unfounded. I can assure you that my parents have been nothing but loving and wonderful and moral throughout my life, and I can see nothing they did that might have caused me to be this way. No one knows for sure what causes this anyway, although a couple of medical studies suggest a biological reason. The most common biological theory is that something happens during fetal brain development, but very little is known for certain. This condition is a recognized clinical diagnosis in medical and psychiatric fields and considered distinct from issues of sexual desire. For all I know, this all developed well before I even came into my parents' lives.

The bottom line is that I don't care what caused this. All I know is that it has always been a part of my life. This is something I have been struggling with since I was 4. Some of my earliest memories involved feeling like things were "not right" and thinking I should be female. However, I was very intent on trying to do what was expected of me and making everyone proud. I have always been a bit of an overachiever in an attempt to block out how I was feeling. Eventually, I could not bear it any longer. After much introspection and agonizing, I faced up to what I've known since I was little. After a great deal of research and counseling, I sought treatment that has brought a tremendous sense of relief to me. I feel so much more at ease, and anyone who has known me through the years can attest that I seem much happier now.

One of the greatest obstacles in explaining my condition is that most people have a very skewed view of it, based on the more prurient depictions of us in the media. We also tend to be lumped in with all sorts of other groups as if this is about sexuality. This is not about lust. It's about living a life where people see me the way I've always seen myself. At this point, most people do not have any idea that I have been anything other than female. That's all I've ever wanted out of this.

Most women I know who have this condition lead quiet, productive lives just like me. I have close personal friends with this condition who are computer programmers, engineers, lawyers, professors, doctors. I know another graduate from my college who is thirty years my senior. I even know an ordained Presbyterian minister. This condition occurs in all walks of life, albeit extremely rarely. Most experts put the occurrence between one in 30,000 and one in 100,000 people.

My transition at work was greeted with virtually unanimous acceptance. Upper management was especially responsive, and there was a tremendous outpouring of support from coworkers. When I left last May, our boss said there had been two things in his entire career that had made him proud to work there, one of which was how well everyone responded to my transition. They understood that this was not an easy course of action, and that I am not a deviant or sinner for having sought treatment for this.

Lest you worry, this has not hurt my employment prospects. In fact, I just finished up a 2-month freelance project at another agency that netted me almost three times my old salary. This is giving me time to do some writing when I'm not freelancing. I also recently wrote an extensive petition to the Food and Drug Administration to get a ruling on a product that does not work as advertised. I have found this sort of consumer activism very rewarding. I also have a full and happy social life where I am accepted and treated as I always felt I should-- as a female. I have all sorts of friends, both new and old. I am still in contact with friends from college and work, as well as plenty of new friends.

Now, as far as moral or religious objections about my condition, I'm certain this has been weighing heavily on your heart. I can tell you that many deeply religious people have faced this issue in the life of a family member or in their own lives. Some have found solace and comfort in the Bible and have accepted this condition. Others have rejected and condemned this condition based on Scripture. They do not recognize the opinions of medical and legal experts, but base their opinions on their initial revulsion at the very idea. I contend that this is no different than any other sort of corrective surgery, even though many people immediately tie it in with sexual issues. I would not presume to say which way your heart will lead you, although I truly hope that you can find a way to accept me and allow me to be a part of your life.

For your consideration, I have included a few Bible passages that I think are relevant to my condition. Some of these are open to interpretation, and I don't dare to proclaim that I know the exact definition of the passages below. I hope you find them helpful.

In I Samuel 16:7 , the LORD says: I do not judge as man judges. Man looks at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.

Jesus said in Matthew 19:12: For there are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, who were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Galatians 3:28: ...there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

I underlined "whosoever" in the last passage because I think it means anyone who believes. There are other passages which can be interpreted in many ways. If you'd like, I can send you others to consider.

To dismiss this condition as evil or the work of the devil without an understanding of what it entails is hasty, I think. There are many legal and medical experts who recognize the legitimacy of this condition. I have changed my name legally, my sex legally, my driver's license, my social security, my passport, my birth certificate. I am recognized as female by all laws. I am legally entitled to marriage if I desired. All of these things have been debated by lawmakers who recognize this is a legitimate condition that deserves compassion, not condemnation. I am medically recognized as female by every doctor and specialist I see. My insurance recognizes that I am female. Insurance companies can even pay for treatment of this condition.

I have always tried very hard to be a good person and to do what is right. While I have committed and asked forgiveness for many sins in my life, I do not consider this a sin. I want to emphasize that I was not keeping this news from you because I am ashamed about this. I have no regrets about having sought treatment for this, except that I wish I had done so earlier in my life. My only regret in doing it is the hardship it has brought to friends and loved ones as they each struggled toward acceptance and understanding. I hope your own struggle ends in acceptance as well.

One of the most painful parts of not telling you is that I was not able to be as much a part of your lives as I've wanted in the last two years. I have very much wanted to see you both and speak with you on the phone. I have included my new address and phone number at the bottom of this letter in hopes of renewed contact.

The most important thing has not changed, and it never will. I love you unconditionally and have the utmost respect for you.

Love, Andrea


Success!

I kept writing letters over the next nine months. Nothing fancy, just short notes letting him know what was going on with me-- the kind of letters I'd been writing him for years. In the summer of 2000, my grandpa was celebrating his 90th birthday, and I was asked to come. It was the first time I'd seen him in three years.

Sometimes it takes time and effort, but I believe that if someone truly has unconditional love for you, they will eventually come to accept you.

I wish you the success I've had, and I hope this has given you hope for your own family members!

At my grandma and grandpa's house, Thanksgiving 2000.


Send me your thoughts, links, and advice!

If you transitioned in your teens or twenties and have any advice you'd like to share, please contact me , and I'll give it a permanent (and anonymous) home.