For a number of reasons, I don’t tend to write about my living relatives. Just because I may be on the edges of a public life doesn’t mean they have to be. But today I will make a small exception.
The reason is Stonewall’s launch of the #WithJak campaign – which focuses on family rejection of a young gay guy who was given an ultimatum to either change or leave. He left, and became homeless for months.
Too many people still fear having a gay son or a lesbian daughter. When you start to include trans in the mix, the likelihood of rejection ramps up another level. Being trans, like being gay or lesbian, isn’t something that you choose. I have said in public forums that, very often, trans people try to choose not to be trans, and usually fail, sometimes catastrophically.
My parents brought my brother and I up to be accepting individuals. My mother was born in India and simply loved people. She enjoyed being able to surprise those Indians she met by being a white woman who could speak Urdu – most notably once on a bus to two Indian women who were making snide comments about other passengers. My father didn’t have the same exotic background, but still showed that he could accept others who were different, apart from maybe the Welsh.
Somehow I knew from an early age that admitting that “wanting to be a girl” was not a safe thing to do, even within my family, but it does appear that my parents knew. Mum died in 1992, so I’ve never had the chance to talk to her properly about it, but what mother teaches her teenage son about dress sizes?
I haven’t spoken with Dad for over 11 years. He’s never met me as I am now. I was faced with the same kind of ultimatum that Jak in the Stonewall video faced – “if you transition I’ll never speak with you again”. The excuse was that my transition would irreparably damage my children. The flip side, that a probable suicide would also damage my children, was simply not considered credible. Apparently I was deluded, suckered in by some kind of trans industry, and my underlying problems would still remain. Well, I wasn’t and they haven’t.
It’s sad because he’s removed himself from being involved in any meaningful way in my children’s lives – especially sad as he loves music and my daughter is exceptionally musical. It’s sad because he’s cut himself off from other family events, like birthdays and weddings. And it’s sad because he’s hidden himself away from seeing the real me flourish and develop. As someone who is now, as a result of the campaigning I do, on the fringes of politics, I miss having the opportunity to discuss contemporary issues with him on a much more informed basis.
As a dutiful daughter, I’ve respected his wishes, and not darkened his door once since then. I’ve been tempted so many times. I want to say “if I’m good enough to be invited to Number 10 three times, regularly speak with MPs and peers in Parliament, and be invited to speak at national inquiries, how come I’m still not good enough for you?”
I say that I came through transition lightly – I only lost my job and my Dad. But actually that’s not very lightly at all. It’s only “light” in comparison with what a lot of other trans people lose. That’s a social cost born out of fear, and it is a major barrier to trans people realising who they can actually be.
I can deal with the loss of my job. While there are still some scars from being cast out when I was most vulnerable, the upshot is that I’ve replaced it by founding a company which, for some time, has won business against them. Even after 11 years, the feeling is sweet when we manage to convert a customer.
But my Dad is irreplaceable. He was never violent, fiercely logical, extremely bright and interested in the world. His absence leaves a big hole in my life that no-one else can fill in quite the same way – one that I can only deal with by hoping that he will, someday, change his decision.
For that reason, I’m with Jak.