Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. How do I come out to extended family? I am a trans man who socially and medically transitioned in 2016, when I lived half the country away from my family. At that point, I had only come out to my parents, and because they did not take it well and because I had very little contact with most of my extended family at that point, I did not bother coming out to anyone else. However, nowadays I live nearer by, only a couple states away. Even though I haven’t seen them in almost 20 years, lately my grandparents have been reaching out more, mostly through phone calls. They’ve also been pressuring my husband and me to come visit them. Do I need to come out to them, and if so, how? Is it fair that my parents and I kept this a secret from them for three years? Is there a way to keep up friendly phone calls without eventually coming out? And how do I turn down enthusiastic invitations to visit from people in their 80s?
A: There are a number of options available to you. It is definitely possible to have a friendly phone call–style relationship with your grandparents, and to always have a warm response you can trot out indefinitely, something like, “Oh, I’d love to see you sometime. Maybe next year when things aren’t so busy.” I don’t want to make any promises, but it is sometimes the case that grandparents handle transition a lot better than parents (I don’t have a strong working theory, exactly, but it might have something to do with having a little more emotional distance from the situation). If you do decide it’s worth coming out to them, and feel relatively prepared to stop talking to them even over the phone if their reaction falls under the “worst-case scenario,” I think the best way to address is it just to be straightforward, tell them that you’ve transitioned (“I haven’t just had a cold every time I answered the phone when you called”), give them a boilerplate version of what transition has looked like in your life, and be prepared both to answer a few questions and to say, if some of the questions get a little personal, “I’m not comfortable discussing that.” You can even offer, as a bit of background, that part of the reason you’ve put this off is your parents had a very difficult time with it—that’s a very real consideration and one they might have sympathy with. Grandparents often love it when they get to team up with the grandkids against the intermediating generation!
But if you don’t think you’re ever going to make the trip, and you’d rather not spend the last few years of your grandparents’ lives having complicated conversations about your transition, you certainly don’t have to. The choice is all yours.