In writing about coming out to family, it’s easy to forget that it’s not all about me, that I have a partner who also has a family. For a variety of reasons, Mary Jo decided not to tell her family about my transition last year. Her father was deeply ill last spring, and died at the end of the spring, when we were coming out to everyone in a juggernaut of disclosures, and she didn’t want to burden her family with her own dramatic news. Her brother Lawrence and his family are moderately close, but not intimate with Mary Jo, and they run in completely different circles, and I think she felt it would be an extra layer of complexity that we didn’t need at the time. In any event, whether or not to come out to her family was a decision that lay in her hands all along.

And it worked for a time. But the more I settled into being Joyce and the more the walls of anonymity and pseudonymity I had built between my various electronic communities began to blur, it became harder to remember whether person X might know or whether we had told person Y. Like a lie, it became difficult to remember which story we had told different of her family members. When I answered the phone and it was Mary Jo’s mother, there were inevitably pauses and the question, “Who is this?” and I either had to quickly revert to George mode or say “Joyce,” and leave that name hanging as a stranger in the house while I called for Mary Jo to pick up the phone. Mary Jo’s niece Katherine had noticed odd things with Mary Jo’s “relationship” status in Facebook, and had asked her parents what was up.

Not wanting to say, “Oh, it’s a joke,” Mary Jo decided that it was appropriate to tell, and thus it was that Mary Jo wrote her brother Lawrence and sister-in-law Rhonda to explain our situation. I don’t know how she wrote the letter, i.e. whether she phrased it as “we have changed” or “my husband did this to me” or “this happened to me initially, but I’ve come to love it,” and I didn’t ask to read the letter. I think your loved ones need to be able to come out to their relations in whatever way they choose.

The package mailed, we sat back and waited until Mary Jo saw an email in her inbox last night from Rhonda with the subject line “Surprise Letter.” “Hey,” she yelled across the house, “I think I got a letter from Rhonda. Should I open it?”

We looked at the subject line as a child would inspect a surprise package under the Christmas tree, and thought about what it might hold, whether rejection, confusion, anger, or acceptance. Properly steeled to the task, Mary Jo opened the email and read to herself while I waited in the other room. A few chuckles from her were encouraging and then she yelled, “I’m forwarding it to you — it’s going to be all right.”

Relief and another facade taken down. New family discussions initiated. Maybe a new wave of understanding across generations, geographies, and ideologies. Here’s Rhonda’s email, followed by Lawrence’s email a day later.

Rhonda

Thanks for letting us know what’s going on in your family. First, please be assured you, the boys, and Joyce are always welcome. I can’t image the changes coming about for all of you, but realize a great a deal of soul searching and mental anguish has taken place for all involved. I guess I should feel shocked and horrified, but I really don’t. I am involved in a book study with a church group (we’re reading The Shack), and were discussing subjects that are hard to comprehend just last Monday. A fellow teacher that works for the state shared that a guy at the department just announced that he was changing to a woman. The group discussed that some people just become trapped in a body that doesn’t conform to their minds and inner self. Good luck on the marriage part — I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t know that I would want to be “married”, but I would still want my friend and buddy. I do feel the boys’ pain. As a middle school teacher, I already think middle schoolers are possessed by their hormones. They can cry one moment and curse fluently the next. They can be the most understanding, comforting bunch of kids that would give their lunch money to save a stray dog or to defend a fallen student, and yet, they will punch each other and tease the daylights out of a student for minor annoyances. Please keep the boys talking with you. They’ll need it.

I read the letter first and then shared it with Lawrence over supper. He really didn’t seem too shocked either. Maybe it’s part of getting old, we don’t shock easily and it just really doesn’t seem that big a deal. I really do feel for you having to share a house with another woman, though. I am perfectly happy that my daughters no longer live with me. I now deal only with my fluctuating hormones and occasional teary phone calls from the distant hormones. Just be firm in your guidelines. Don’t lend clothes and shoes. Make-up sharing is only for special occasions. Don’t share girl secrets unless they can be trusted not to tell. I’m glad you had the forethought to get the saddles in advance. Be sure to plan big for Joyce’s menopause–a cottage at the beach?

Lawrence

Very interesting news in your snail-mail package. I’ll confirm what Rhonda said in that we’re not especially shocked by the news and hope we can be as supportive as you need us to be. Certainly, you and the family are welcome here anytime. I wouldn’t know where to start with the questions and Rhonda is reading the book you sent along. I’ll try to read it this week and it might cut down on some of the questions. But we’ll likely save a chunk of this for when we see you in a few months.

As for Mom, I don’t think she’ll be especially shocked by the news. She’s surprised me how more-receptive to changes she seems to be now that the burden of worrying about carrying for Dad has been lifted. Incidentally, Rhon and I might jet down there on the “budget” airline that now runs for about $125/round trip. If we do, it’d be sometime during Rhon’s “spring break” which is the first full week of April. So if you’re not planning to tell Mom, you might give me your thoughts if she has picked up on any of this and starts asking me questions. We’ll obviously be talking about this for some time so I won’t load up one e-mail with every question that comes to mind. Again, just let us know if we can do anything for you and the family.

[See also Blood is Thicker Than Water, Part 1, Part 2, and Parts 3-7.]