Eleanor Hubbard is the co-editor of the anthology Trans Kin: A Guide for Family and Friends of Transgender People< . I got the chance to ask her a few questions about the book.
1) What encouraged you to create this book?
The idea for this book developed years ago when I was contemplating coming-out to my mother as a transgender man. Before revealing my transgender status to my mother I wanted to secure resources so she could understand how I felt inside, how I didn’t identify or feel comfortable with the body I was given. Most importantly, I wanted her to know that my transgender status was not her fault. These feelings I had about being different, identifying as a boy, but not physically being one had nothing to do with how I was raised or what my mother expected from me. In fact, my mother had always been supportive of me, encouraging my many interests both masculine and feminine. At the time that I came-out, it seemed that there were lots of questions about the cause of people being gay in the media. These questions extended beyond sexuality and into gender identity. I remember watching talk shows that questioned parental socialization, suggesting that the parents contributed to the (unnatural) transgender status of their children. When I came-out there were few resources for my mother. During this time I also saw that few resources existed for my family members and friends. I started hearing beautiful and touching stories of relationships. From these stories the book developed. It was a long and beautiful process. Eleanor and I have been so fortunate to have so many people share their stories with us. Today, we are happy to report that our book is one of a small and growing collection of stories that speak to the journeys of significant others, family members, friends and allies of transgender folk.
2) What, in editing it, is the biggest surprise? What was the most expected?
There were many surprises. I was amazed at how many stories of love and support we heard. As one mother told me, “the first response is seldom the last.” As we talked she noted that when her son came-out as a transgender woman she was so distraught that she initially cut off contact with her child. She feared for her child’s safety and wondered if he (she) would experience harassment or ever find a job. She also worried about how her friends and family members would react. She quickly realized that her child was still the wonderful person she had raised. In this realization she has chosen to support her daughter as she physically transitions into the woman she has always wanted to be. While this journey has not been easy, her “first response” could not be more different than her current sentiment about her daughter. This story taught me that I should not write-off people who at first may have a negative response to my transgender status. Often because of the hurt, it becomes easier to disconnect from people who demonstrate unsupportive positions when we come-out, a response that can be very much justified. For me, I want to learn to separate my identity as a transgender man from the reactions of others. I want to remember that their reactions have nothing to do with who I am, or how I live my life, and that these moments are opportunities to show love and compassion for another who is entering their own journey of discovery.
Another surprise was how many stories we could not publish because contributors were afraid of having their identities revealed, even if the story was published with a pseudonym. Some were concerned about their safety, while others feared being ostracized in their communities. Mostly, of these concerns were centered on religion. I am always saddened by how religion, specifically Christianity is used to hurt people in the LGBT community. As a Christian, I cannot fathom how such hate can be justified using biblical text.
3) In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about the friends, family, and spouses of trans people?
In my opinion I would say that the biggest misconception about significant others, family members, friends and allies of transgender persons is that they don’t transition or that they don’t experience their own journeys when a loved one comes out as transgender. While my journey as a transgender man has had its difficulties, my mother’s journey has been challenging as well. She has had to come to terms with my transgender status with little community support. When she struggled at first with my transgender status the transgender community was eager to label her as “unsupportive,” while her friends were sure that she had done something wrong in raising me. She was caught between worlds with few acceptable options. She found herself a poster mother for transgender acceptance when she was still trying come to terms with her own journey and my transgender status. Ten years later, she is often confronted with the question, “how is your daughter?” At this moment she must consider how to answer. Does she out me as a transgender man and have a transgender 101 conversation in the local grocery store? Or, does she select to not out me and then feel bad about using female pronouns? For her, it all depends on the day and who is asking. I support my mother in this decision. This is a journey that we negotiate together. I recognize that her journey has challenges just as mine does. I could share similar stories about my wife, friends and extended family members as well.