I would like to take a moment to talk about my family. I don’t know that I’ve gone into a lot of specifics about my family on this blog. But family truly is a huge part of my life – to know me, you really have to know my family. Today, though, is not about letting you know about my family, but about making sure my family knows how important they are. I don’t do a great job of taking the time to say that, and to thank them.
My friends, my college buddies, my housemates, I see them so often that the “thank you’s” inevitably slip out. Somewhere between the ranting and the whining and the crying, I end up thanking my friends for listening, and for not attempting to duct-tape my mouth shut to stop the ranting and the whining and the crying. And, because my friends are good people, they say, “Isaac, don’t be silly, we almost never want to duct-tape your mouth shut. You’ll know when we do.” But I just continue to apologize for talking so much, and thank them for listening.
Plus, I know it’s trite, but friends and family really are different ball games. You can choose your friends, walk up to someone and say, “Hey, you’re cool, here’s my number, let’s hang out.” Or, now, just friend them on Facebook and like all their posts til they get the picture. And if a friend stops being cool and starts being a jerk, you can just…stop being friends with them.
Family, for the most part, doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to choose your family, and not everyone lucks out in that department. Let me tell you, though, a couple of things went horribly, terribly wrong for me at birth, but I am still the luckiest guy in the world. You know why? I bet you can guess. *pause* Yep! Because of my family.
Aesop tells the story of all the animals arguing among themselves who “deserves the most credit for producing the greatest number of whelps at birth” (http://aesop.pangyre.org/fable/the-lioness.html). So the animals all rush to the Lioness – because in Aesop’s world, she wouldn’t eat them all on sight – and ask her “how many sons have you at birth?” The Lioness, unphased, replies, “I have only one; but that one is altogether a thoroughbred Lion.” And so Aesop leaves us with what is probably one of the most common idioms still, “The value is in the worth, not in the number.”
But here’s the thing: my family is huge. Probably not the biggest family in the entire world, but, I mean, seriously, huge. And, on top of that, they’re all incredible. My obvious bias aside, every one of them is wonderful. I’m not going to go into detail, because I don’t want to assume they want me to broadcast the details of their lives to the internet along with mine. But down to a person, they’re immensely intelligent, truly compassionate people. Actually, they’re all pretty damn intimidatingly impressive, but I choose to be inspired rather than intimidated. I have looked up to all of them for as long as I can remember.
I look forward to Thanksgiving and Passover every year, because I cannot wait to see everyone. Where some people dread the holidays, I actually find them relaxing. I think of Judaism as a religion of openness, charity and kindness because the people around whom I grew up just exuded those traits. We can bring friends and in-laws and roommates and significant others to our gatherings because we know that the rest of the family will welcome them with open arms. We laugh, and we share stories, and we comfort each other in times of trial.
It took me a while to find my place in my family, admittedly. I’m a lot younger than my sisters and my brothers-in-law and my cousins. We’ll always be at different stages in life. When I was an angsty middle schooler, that freaked me out. Though, let’s be honest, when I was an angsty middle schooler, pretty much everything freaked me out. But I have found my place, and I figured out that it didn’t matter that I was getting my driver’s license while my cousins were getting married, graduating from high school while my sisters had kids and started businesses and got PhDs. They’ve all been where I am now. When I was young(er), I kind of had an army of moms from whom I could ask advice, but now I just have a lot of wonderful, worldly-wise friends.
As I mentioned before, I say thank you to my friends a lot, but not nearly enough to my family. Partly because I don’t actually like to draw attention to myself. That’s probably hard to believe, considering that I’m saying it in a blog that’s going to go to my Facebook, my Twitter and the internet at large. But writing behind a screen is much different than saying it out loud. And, as a kid, I was very easily embarrassed. I didn’t like to make announcements or proclamations, nor did I relish shoehorning thank you’s into a conversation where they would disrupt the flow. So, too often, they went unsaid.
When I thought I was gay, and it came time to come out, I never once feared that my family would react poorly. My big concern was, “How in the hell do I bring this up at Passover?” I didn’t want to make an announcement, or make the holiday about me. I had just had an important realization, and I wanted to share it. The solution I came up with was to video tape parts of Passover and explain that I was making the tape for my girlfriend, so she could see my family (it was a long distance relationship).
The technique had mixed success. My cousins got the picture, but later revealed to me that some of my aunts and uncles had thought I meant girlfriend in the “Hey, girl, let’s go to the mall” sense, not in the “she’s my girlfriend” sense. But my cousins were savvy and clarified everything. And, as I expected, my being gay (so I thought) was not a big deal.
When I realized I was trans, I very quickly wanted to start telling my family. Again, I honestly had no fear that they would accept me. Sure, I wondered how people would react, or how much they would already know about trans issues. And I’m not going to sit here and tell you that, for example, every single conversation my parents and I have had about their youngest kid’s gender transition was 100% rational, reasonable and happy-go-lucky. This isn’t “My Little Pony.” I live in the real world. We all have our moments.
But I did know that, whatever rough patches there might be, however many questions people might have about trans issues, no matter how long it took for pronoun switches to occur, my family would always love me. And I know how rare and wonderful that knowledge is. Again, my only concern was where to begin. So I told my parents, I told my sisters, I told some of my cousins and allowed them all to disseminate the information. They kindly helped me spread the word, so I would not have to do it all myself (it can be exhausting).
The reactions ran the gamut from, “So, what does that mean?” to “Oh, I know a great clinic you should check out.” Some made jokes, some cried, some congratulated me, some just moved on to the next conversation topic. But the love and the support emanated from everyone. Thanksgiving rolled around not even two months after I began my transition, and I heard “Isaac” much more than I heard “Hannah.”
So, to my parents, my sisters and my brothers-in-law, my cousins (1st, 2nd, removed, via marriage, etc. etc.), my aunts and my uncles, my nieces and nephew, my de facto aunts and sisters and mothers and brothers, thank you. Thank you to the younger generation, who may not yet realize how much their open-mindedness means. Thank you to the in-laws and the distant relatives, who in most families, probably wouldn’t even talk to me (I mean, seriously, my parents’ ex-spouses switched pronouns lightning quick). Thank you for letting me grow up without fear of judgment from any of you. Thank you for the fact that I always knew I could rely on you. Thank you for making me feel safe where so many trans people do not. Thank you for allowing me to be myself before I even realized what that meant. Thank you for providing me with a veritable army of role models.
Thank you for bearing with me when I don’t know whether to hug or handshake. For putting up with the fact that, between AIM and middle school and college and my gender transition, I’ve switched my email account on you all like seven times. Thank you for the jokes about who has the best beard. Thank you in advance for putting up with this sappy blog post.
Thank you, all of you, for giving me a moral compass and teaching me not to give up on my goals. Thank you for showing me what it is to be a man, without even knowing that I was watching, and what it is to be a good person in this crazy world. Your love and support mean the world to me.
I don’t normally dedicate posts, but this one is dedicated to my whole family, for all the times I have wanted to say thank you, and for everything you have done to support me. So, again, thank you. I love you all so much!
“A Thank You” by https://growingupgareth.wordpress.com/ is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://growingupgareth.wordpress.com/.