Dear Prudence

Help! My Family Has Weaponized Holiday Presents Against Me.

Unwrapping little boxes of cruelty is getting old.

A makeup set against a gift box illustration.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by MaxeyLash on Unsplash.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

I’m a transgender guy in my late 20s, and for about five years after my transition, I wasn’t included in holiday celebrations with my large religious family. Recently, my siblings and cousins (who all are great and have grown to support me) have demanded that I be included. I’m grateful for this, but now I find myself in an awkward situation.

The gift exchange is a big tradition where everyone is gathered in a large room. Often older family members will give me very feminine gifts. It’s a bit humiliating to have to sit there and act grateful for gifts that are meant as a jab at my identity. Before transition, I was considered a “tomboy,” and I usually received fairly neutral gifts. The situation becomes extra embarrassing because some of the younger members of the family or new significant others have only ever known me as “Johnny” and so the absurdity of the gifts becomes a bit of a joke.

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I’ve tried telling people I don’t need any gifts as well as asking for donations to a local animal shelter instead, but the pink frilly stuff keeps coming. (I donate those gifts to a local transgender support group who pass them on to trans feminine people in need, so they aren’t wasted.) What should I do? I love my family and my presence at these gatherings was a hard-fought victory. I just wish there was a way to participate with my dignity still intact.

— No More “Pretty, Please”

Dear No More “Pretty, Please,”

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with these really awful people. I can’t tell you not to spend holidays with them anymore—if that felt easy to you, you would have made the choice already. But I just want to be one little voice saying “being around them isn’t a privilege, and you don’t deserve to be treated this way!”

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I want you to ask yourself what you would tell a good friend in a similar situation. Say, a Black friend who was adopted into a white family whose older member intentionally gave them T-shirts covered in racist slogans every year. You’d be horrified, right? I just know you would tell that friend not to put up with it. You’d tell them they were worth so much more than that kind of treatment. There is no dignity to be had around people who don’t respect you or care about you—or at least pretend to.

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A couple of ideas to make sure you’re not exposed to this cruelty anymore:

1. Rally your siblings and cousins, who seem to be willing to stand up for you. Have them send out a message to the older people in the family that says in no uncertain terms “Giving Johnny feminine gifts isn’t funny. If it happens this Christmas, we are all going to get up and walk out IMMEDIATELY and the holiday will be ruined. Plan accordingly.”

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2. Host your own holiday celebration with only the people who have treated you with respect. Make it clear that people who have mocked you with feminine gifts are not invited because of their behavior.

Whatever you do, I hope you go into this holiday season knowing that you are not the problem, that being around bigots is not a reward, and that they are the ones who are lucky that you even give them the time of day.

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Dear Prudence,

I have been in a relationship with my “partner” for 11 years. When we first met, he was married, but he said he was going to divorce his wife. She’s been in a nursing home now for almost 10 years, with no divorce because his insurance cares for her. He keeps telling me that he loves me and asking me to hang in a bit longer. I moved several states and have lost all previous ties because of him. I take care of him in all ways, and yet he has “secret” lunches with his sisters, to which their significant others are invited, but not me. I am good enough to host a family holiday (a.k.a. me cooking), good enough to clean their house, good enough to help them move, but not good enough to be included. I feel like an unpaid maid. My heart and my head tell me to leave. Should I?

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— Does Love Really Conquer All?

Dear Conquer All,

If your heart and head tell you to leave, you don’t need any other input. (But for what it’s worth, I 100 percent agree—you’ve “held on” to this untenable arrangement far longer than anyone should.)

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Dear Prudence,

I am going to be transferred across the country for my work this spring. It is a done-deal, and I am struggling with the process of selling my house and finding a suitable one over there. I have three children: 23, 19, and 18. My youngest graduated high school last spring. My oldest has graduated college and works, but still lives at home. My younger two don’t attend school and only have part time jobs. I have told my children—they can move with me or move out. I offered to pay all the bills for an apartment for the first six months or year if they can find roommates.

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My oldest already has plans to move in with their partner. My youngest hasn’t decided if they are coming with me or moving in with their father and stepfamily here, but has been calm about the choice. My 19-year-old is acting like they are 9. Outbursts, accusations, and basic tantrums—I “can’t” do this to them, and I am “horrible mother” for forcing them. This is “their home.”

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My company is shutting down their services here after the pandemic killed the local business. A lot of people were laid off. I am very lucky to not only have my job, but to get a say in my new position. My new state has a much lower cost of living and a much less insane housing market. Selling here now will be funding my offer for my kids who want to stay. I have laid this all out to my kids. I can’t just go out and find a new job here. Not at my age and not in my work area.

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My 19-year-old will not accept it and either argues or ignores the situation. They aren’t looking for roommates or a full-time job. They don’t want to go on the house-hunting trip I have planned in October. They whine and pick fights with me. I love my kid, but this is ridiculous. Baby birds need to leave the nest sometime, but this nest is going bye-bye. I’d rather not force the issue, but if I have to, it needs to be now and not a month into a move.
How do I handle this?

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— Mama Bird

Dear Mama Bird,

Your 19-year-old isn’t handling this very well, and I’m sure that’s incredibly annoying as you manage the stress of a big move. But I can see why they’re having a tough time. I’m guessing they’ve just barely finished high school, and probably spent the last year and a half of what should have been a transition from childhood to adult life, somewhat isolated and living through a pandemic, missing important events. Their world probably feels like it’s falling apart, and this is just one more major change. It’s a lot to deal with!

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You’re right about all the practical stuff here (the decision to make the move, the generous offer to cover rent if they decide to stay, etc.), but it might be helpful if you could acknowledge the emotional side of this transition a bit more. Yes, you’re totally making the practical choice! That doesn’t mean it isn’t scary and unsettling. Let you kid know that you understand that. And instead of just throwing the options at them like an HR representative giving a laid-off employee a severance package, maybe you could tell them you’d really love for them to come along and experience a new part of the country with you. Something tells me that some reassurance that they’re loved and wanted and that your family’s life will return to normal will go a long way toward easing this transition.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

I’m recently married and looking forward to having children within the next year or so. The problem is, so many of my friends—including the women whom I consider my besties—are vehement about not having kids. This would be fine with me—hey, it’s their choice!—except they frequently make comments about finding children disgusting or repulsive. For example, when some neighborhood kids rang my friend’s doorbell to raise money for a school club, she was annoyed and referred to them as “brats.” This type of thing is typical with them. They know I want children, but these comments have started to make me feel pretty bad. What do I do? Do I need to find new friends?

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