A Few Questions With… Eleanor Hubbard

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?

Cameron (the other co-editor) is a former student of mine, and he studied the transgender literature in a guided study project under my direction. Although I knew a little about transgender issues through teaching Sex, Gender and Society for many years at the University of Colorado and I was already an ally of the GLBT community, this project helped me learn a great deal more. Then Cameron was my student in Qualitative Methods and Critical Thinking and wrote an honors thesis under my direction. After his graduation, we talked how we could continue to work together and actually started on a paper that would reflect what we were calling the gender spectrum at that time.

One time when we were together, I wish I could remember the exact date, Cameron said to me: “I found many books to read during my transition that were very helpful, but when my mom asked me for something to read that would help her, I couldn’t find anything.” I responded, “This is the book we were meant to write.”

As we started to collect stories, we were encouraged even more that this book needed to be available for SOFFAs! The stories were funny, poignant, inspirational, and most of all, heart-felt. Cam and I became the conduit through which more people could hear these stories.

2) What, in editing it, is the biggest surprise? What was the most expected?

The biggest surprise for me in reading and re-reading our book was how many differences and similarities, there were in the lives of SOFFAs and their Transgender loved ones. For instance, the experience of SOFFAs going through transition with their transgender spouse, family member or friend had some similarities with their trans loved one. SOFFAs often feel that they are put in the closet as their loved ones were coming out of the closet during their transition. Who to tell and when to tell about their trans son is a big concern for the parent just as it is was for their son. What pronouns to use? How to introduce their male spouse to people who knew her as a woman? How to explain what their friend was going through to family members? These are all questions that trans people deal with as well, but with a different slant.

Another surprise for me was how well many family members, spouses, and friends went through the transition and came out on the other side. I have had many transgender people tell me that their family and friends disowned them when they transitioned, but I was particularly moved by the story of the step-father who disagreed with his son’s transition, but still loved him and spent time with him when his wife, and the son’s mother, could not. But this is only one example of many in the book where SOFFAs find their own way through their transition while still loving and supporting their transgender loved ones.

Another surprise was how many SOFFAs were also priests, pastors, rabbis, and committed church and synagogue members. Allies within the church were particularly important for many transgender people who have been disenfranchised by their church community.

I brought many expectations to the book about SOFFAs, but every single one burst. I learned that my expectations were what got in the way of really hearing the stories of trans people and their SOFFAs.

3) In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about the friends, family, and spouses of trans people?

The biggest misconception about SOFFAs is that they are different than us. Some SOFFAs can’t cope with their loved one’s transitioning, but many not only deal with it, but survive and thrive, just like the rest of us. SOFFAs have hopes and dreams for themselves and their trans loved ones, but they, just like the rest of us, learn to move through their expectations and love the person in front of them, not the person they wanted them to be. Some people cope with life-threatening illnesses in their friends, family and spouses. Many people worry about substance abuse or infertility or disability and continue to try to change the person rather than accept them for who they are. But because there are resources available to them and their own inner resilence, many people find their way through difficult times, just like SOFFAs do. We have much more in common than we have differences.