I’m a trans femme punk girl in her mid-twenties and I desperately need some advice. I came out as trans at home when I was 17 and my parents promptly kicked me out of the house. After being homeless for over a year I finally found work, a room to rent, and the beginnings of stability. Along the way I had the benefit of forming a close platonic relationship with an older trans woman who basically acted as my surrogate mom and definitely saved my life on more than one occasion. She’s an elder in the community and a mentor. Now my biological mom is reaching out wanting to reignite a relationship with me and she’s insisting on meeting my surrogate mom, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea. Thoughts?
Before we go any further, let me first say how sorry I am to hear the consequences you were dealt – and subsequent challenges you were forced to face – after coming out to your parents. You deserved better, and your parents failed you. The sheer fact that you survived that trauma and grew a life for yourself against the odds, and at such a young age, speaks to your resilient nature and the strength of character. You’re totally my new superheroine!
Moving on, I cannot overstate the importance of developing surrogate familial relationships in a queer person’s life. Our culture has shifted forward enough that LGBTQ folks are coming out more readily than ever, which means we’re looking at a larger concentration of openly queer youth than we’ve seen before. This calls for a dramatic increase in safe spaces for queer youth as well as an increase in the support services that contribute to those spaces, such as access to inclusive healthcare, affordable housing, age-appropriate non-discriminatory education, and more. It also calls for more families of origin to show up for their LGBTQ kids, because hell, safe spaces should start in the home. Instead we’re still seeing families rejecting their vulnerable queer children, with many of those children subsequently never making it to the age you are now, reader. It’s a tragically overlooked national epidemic.
Regardless of our sexual orientation, we all deserve elders to guide us and hold us along our journey. However, queer folks (and marginalized people in general) are more often put in a position to cultivate alternative support networks than their heterosexual counterparts. Whatever you wish to call them – mentors, elders, chosen family – their role is to fill the void where acceptance, guidance, and unconditional love should have been provided. I’m so glad that you were introduced to your very own guiding light and that they’ve proved critical to your evolution and ongoing success. I hope you two continue to hold onto one another.
It’s also good to hear that you’re feeling healthy, happy and stabilized enough to consider the possibility of reintegrating your biological mom back into your life. However, no matter how sincerely repentant your biological mother may be (and I’m being generous here), she has no right to make any demands of you. Instead, you should be making demands of her.
As an independent adult, your presence in your family’s life is your leverage. To say your mother did you a great disservice when she abandoned you as an adolescent is an understatement, and there’s no way to undo the damage she inflicted. As someone who cut ties with her biological family three years ago and only recently cracked the door of communication open to her own mother, I cannot stress this enough: Any attempted reconciliation – which you are in no way obligated to participate in, by the way – needs to be on your terms and your terms only.
If I were you, I’d take some time to create a list of your mother’s past discretions and the direct consequences they have had on you. Then consider what you would need to hear and/or see from your mother in order to move into a place of forgiveness and write those actionable items down as well. Finally, figure out what your boundaries are around communicating with your mother. Do you want to communicate via email, text, phone, or in person? Are there certain topics you want to avoid discussing? What kind of care might you need in your support networks before or after interfacing with your mother? Once you’ve got all of this solidified, then loop your mother in. If she pushes back on your requirements, tries to guilt or coerce you, disrespects one of your boundaries, insists on misgendering or dead naming you, etc, you simply pull your presence back. Be kind to yourself throughout, and remember, you don’t owe her a thing. Best of luck to you!
- Andre Shakti is a queer journalist, educator, performer, activist, and professional slut living in the DMV. She is devoted to normalizing alternative desires, de-stigmatizing sex workers and their clients, andnot taking herself too seriously. Andre wrestles mediocre white men into submission and writes about the resistance for Rewire, Thrillist, MEL, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Autostraddle, and more. She frequently lectures,coaches and advises on the intersecting issues of sexual health, politics and pleasure, race, trauma, gender diversity, sex worker rights, non-monogamy, and queerness. When not working, Andre can typically be found marathoning "Law & Order: SVU" under a chaotic pile of partners and pitbulls, and yes, she knows how problematic that show is. In addition to her work with Baltimore OUTloud, Andre is the reigning polyamory pundit at her biweekly non-monogamy advice column "I Am Poly(amorous) & So Can You!", which you can visit - and submit questions to! - via IAmPoly.net. She encourages you to connect with her on Facebook via "Andre Shakti" and follow her NSFW exploits on Twitter via @andreshakti!