“My mother-in-law has a lot of opinions about people who aren’t cisgender and heterosexual, and she keeps sharing them in front of our family, including our daughter, who identifies as transgender. What are some strategies for talking with my parents, in-laws, and other family members about the gender and sexuality of my child?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Amelia
Here’s some hard talking advice. It’s not fun. It’s not pretty.
But you know what else isn’t fun? Being a transgender kid and having your grandma talk shit about you at family functions.
So, here’s what I would do:
You and your husband sit your mother-in-law down together, and you say, “Stop it. Seriously, knock it the hell off. If you don’t, you can’t see our family any more.” You follow that up with action.
Harsh? Maybe. But totally necessary.
You are trying to keep your kid alive. Yes, some days every parent feels like they are just trying to keep everyone breathing until tomorrow. But as the parent of an LGBTQ kid, especially a transgender kid, that is a very real and daunting challenge.
According to a report put out by the Williams Institute, 41% of transgender people report a suicide attempt in their lifetime. Compare that to the percentage for the overall population: just 4.6%.
You are trying to keep your kid alive.
Your kid gets all kinds of messages everyday that who they are is not ok. They hear it from the media, they hear it at school, and these days they even hear it from that asshole who claims to be our president. They hear that they are wrong. They are sick. They are worthless. And worse.
What must it be like to hear that kind of crap coming from someone who is supposed to love you?
You are the parent. It is your job to protect your kids. One of the toughest lessons that any parent has to learn is that we can’t protect our kids from everything. You can’t silence the rest of the world. But you can tell your mother-in-law that, for the sake of her grandchild’s life, she can keep her bullshit opinions to herself.
This confrontation is also your job—not your kid’s job. It is way too much to expect any child to confront an adult in such a manner. They are a child. You are the adult. Their grandmother is an adult that they have been taught to love and respect their entire life. They are not equipped, nor should they be, to defend themselves against an emotional attack from that person. It is your job to do that. Your job to protect them.
You might object to my use of stern, some would say inappropriate, language. There is this sense that we need to be polite, genteel even, when we explain to people they need to stop hurting our kids. Fuck that. If someone is coming at my child’s head with a baseball bat, I am not going to politely say, “Excuse me, would you very much mind putting that down, please?” No, I’m not. I am going to say all kinds of things that are generally expressed with symbols on the top row of my keyboard. Do you have to swear? No, you don’t. But please, don’t be nice. This is not a time for nice.
You know your mother-in-law better than me. Is she the kind you can hand a book and say, “Read this and understand?” Is she the kind that will respond to hearing the suicide rates and be shocked enough to change her behavior? Can you make her listen to testimonials on YouTube and she be moved? I don’t know. You’re welcome to try any of those.
In the end it comes down to what is more important: your kid’s life or your mother-in-law’s feelings?
You are a parent. You need to side with your child. You need to fight for your child. You need to make sure your child never doubts that you are on their side and that you love exactly who they are.
If you are sitting silent while your mother-in-law spews hate, I guarantee you, they are doubting.
I would tell grandma to knock it off. Let her know that if she doesn’t, the next time you hear that kind of crap, you will get up in the middle of Sunday dinner, you will take your family, and you will leave.
And then you actually do it.
Your child deserves nothing less. In fact, they deserve a whole hell of a lot more.
Amelia is a mother and breadwinner. When not working she’s spending as much time as possible with her three young sons, friends, and family. In her copious free time she knits, obsesses about science fiction and cult television, and reads way too many books. She considers her most superhero worthy act finding a couple free hours now and then to read trashy novels.