The last time I spoke to my grandmother was over the phone on my birthday this last April, when she reassured me I’d always be her granddaughter. In most any other circumstances, these are the words a queer person yearns to hear from the person who raised them.
But I’m not her granddaughter. I’m a gay trans man who had to hang up on a 79-year-old woman because she refuses to respect me, even if she loves me.
Even months later, the air leaves my lungs when I try to process the guilt I experience knowing I’ve only spoken to her three times in the last two years, and that each and every time, it ended with her yelling at me about Christ’s love and my “lifestyle choices.”
Each time ended with me nearly begging her to please just use my name. My real name. “I’m not going to be able to be perfect for you, Katie,” she’d hiss at me with my old name, “and you’re just going to have to live with that.”
I can’t live with it. Which is why I’m estranged from both her and the rest of my family.
In 2016, Trump won the election and I, like millions of people around the world, felt a seismic shift in our sense of security.
Knowing what his administration likely had planned for the LGBTQ+ community sent me into a tailspin of anxiety and despair. Ironically, I was still pretending to be a straight, cisgender woman, but I didn’t know how much longer I could live like that. Trapped.
I’d kept the act up well for 24 years, after I’d initially tried to tell my family around the age of 5 or 6 that I was actually a boy and not a little girl. Being white Southern Baptists in the early ’90s, they didn’t come to this too well and let me know I was 1) broken and 2) going to keep that to myself.
From then on, they controlled as much of my presentation as possible to ensure I didn’t stray. I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair. I caught hell any time I tried to pick out clothing from the boy’s department. I withdrew from everyone emotionally, but I tried my best to play the role.
And just like that, the little girl character developed into an unwell grown woman.
I didn’t know how to stop playing her until a couple decades later when I saw the outpouring of emotions from trans people across the country on election night. I saw it and I felt it, too, because those same emotions were pouring out of me.
I couldn’t stay inside the costume anymore — it was strangling me to death. I came out less than 2 months later.
Luckily, this time, I was no longer living in a conservative farming community with a family who’d taught me self-hatred. I was in Los Angeles, surrounded by people who held my hand as I started letting the pieces of Katie fall away from me so I could show everyone who I actually was: Reed.
My family, though, passively let me know they didn’t see Reed. They didn’t see me.
Casual deadnaming and misgendering with empty apologies. Invasive questions designed to pointedly remind me how repulsive they found my “situation.” Mostly, though, it was silence. I heard from them less and less. How does someone respond, exactly, to silence?
In December 2017, about a year after coming out, I began hormone replacement therapy with testosterone. I also underwent a double incision mastectomy (also known as “top surgery”) to allow my body to present most correctly the gender I know myself to be.
It was the single most challenging, frightening, and brutal experience of my life. When I woke up from surgery, in a haze of pain and simultaneous relief, I thought of my family. Why hadn’t they written or called to wish me good luck?
Not a single member of my family reached out in the days before I had major surgery.
It took me a week afterward, with the coaxing of my chosen family, to get up the nerve to confront them.
“We all put the wrong date in the calendar, oh well!” was the story my grandmother, aunts, and cousins got straight together. It didn’t matter that I’d been updating everyone extensively on my social media for months.
It didn’t matter, either, that I’d sent them information on who would be taking care of me that day so they had an emergency contact, or that I’d reminded them just a few weeks before, when I treated them to Disneyland tickets so they could meet the first man I was dating as an out gay man.
Five people all managed to still put the wrong date in their calendars, what luck!
As they went through the motions of apologizing that I ‘felt this way’ — still using my old name and pronouns the entire time — I finally found it possible to be angry with them.
I told them I couldn’t consider them my family until they could treat me with respect, to please not contact me if they intended to keep pulling me into my past traumas. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.
The only one I occasionally hear from since then is my grandmother. Every six months or so she calls me. The conversation never goes past five minutes before I have to cut it off. I can’t get into a screaming match like I suspect she wants me to.
And while I know this is healthiest for me and I’m proud of myself for getting to the point I can even be self-aware about my own boundaries, I’m still so torn.
Why do I feel so guilty? Why do I feel like I turned my back on them, on her, when they weren’t there for me when I needed them most — when maybe they never were really there for me to begin with?
Pride Month will soon draw to a close. And I’ll admit, in my quieter moments, I still grieve the personal cost of my Pride.
While it warms my heart to see displays of solidarity from family members of LGBTQ+ people — especially at a time when we need them most — I still have to sit with the pain of my own losses, even though I have zero regrets.
If you’re estranged, closeted, or grieving the loss of someone this Pride, please know you’re not alone. Your feelings are valid. They’re part of the resilience and survival that Pride has always been about.
From one “queer orphan” to another, know this: I see you, even if no one else does.
Reed Brice is a writer and comedian based in Los Angeles. Brice is an alum of UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts and was the first transgender person to ever be cast in a professional revue with The Second City. When not talking the tea of mental illness, Brice also pens our love and sex column, “U Up?”