It was around this time last year that I came out to my parents.

It hasn’t quite been a full year. I sent my parents my sprawling coming out letter closer to Inauguration Day. I had an essay scheduled to run at Vice about resistance. I didn’t know how to write about resistance without discussing what Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s election meant to me as a queer and trans person. I couldn’t have that discussion if I didn’t make it clear that I was queer and trans.

So, I finally came out.


My little sister beat me to the punch coming out by about three years. Nicole is bi. She just got married to a wonderful man, but Nicole would gladly tell you herself that she’s still as bi now that she’s married as she was on the childhood day that she realized she had a crush on Scream‘s Sidney Prescott.

My sister is one of the most resilient people I know. She’s always had a knack for diving right into the deep end of the pool. She and I have a lot of shared histories — of abuse and of closeted Appalachian Christianity and of more or less single-handedly bearing the unaddressed mental illnesses of the respective parent we lived with as children and teenagers — but Nicole is ready to accept the consequences of living her truth in her everyday social spheres in a way I’ve never been able to match.

My sister came out to our dad while they were watching That 70s Show. Before we all discovered the allegations of sexual assault against Danny Masterson, That 70s Show was the most popular sitcom choice in the Saas household. I’m not sure it was anyone’s favorite sitcom, but we watched it constantly. My sister and I can quote entire stretches of seasons. You don’t want to watch That 70s Show with us.

There’s a certain defiant, blue-collar sincerity to the first two seasons of That 70s Show that I still appreciate, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to return to the show. I know that I’ll see Hyde and that I’ll get angry for Danny Masterson’s victims and I know that I’ll get angry about my history of sexual assault and my sister’s history of sexual assault and my mother’s history of sexual assault and the history of sexual assault of so many of the women that I know and love and the women I’ll never know who didn’t deserve it either.

I don’t know what episode my dad and sister were watching when Nicole came out. I wasn’t there, but I know the story. Sis paused the episode and told Dad that she needed to tell him something. Dad thought she was pregnant. She was using her serious voice, and my sister never uses her serious voice. She assured him she wasn’t pregnant. Nicole told Dad that she liked girls and guys. Dad told Nicole that he loved her and that he was glad that she felt like she could share something that personal with him. They both started crying, and then they turned back on That 70s Show.

If you’re a queer person with a parent that reacted less rationally and compassionately to your coming out, I am aware that my sister’s story with our father is more or less idyllic. If the only person I had to come out to was my father, I probably would have started my journey of coming out (as queer if not yet trans) when I was 21. However, I also had to come out to my mom. I wasn’t ready to do that.

When my sister came out to our mother, there wasn’t one great glaring Incident. My extremely religious mother never threatened to disown my sister or tell her that she was going to Hell because she was bi. Instead, she was abysmally queerphobic in less dramatic but still heartbreaking ways. She had an awful habit of trying to convince my sister that being bi was a phase. If Nicole brought up that she felt a romantic or physical attraction to a woman, my mother would awkwardly change the subject in a way she never would if Nicole was talking about a man. My mother once compared being bi to being a drug addict, and I’m still not sure what the point of her metaphor was supposed to be. It was clear to both my sister and I that our mother would only be pleased if we both wound up in heterosexual relationships.

Our mother also voted for Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

My mother’s a lifelong Republican. I don’t know if that will ever change and it breaks my heart. She is a devout white Evangelical in West Virginia with a considerable family history of military service. She’s the definition of the Republican base.

My mom voted for Obama twice so I have to believe there’s hope for her even if voting for Donald Trump was the most horrifically selfish and destructive thing that I think she’s ever done. I go out of my way to make her sincerely reckon with that action because I don’t feel that I have a choice. I know how guilty she feels for what she did. She’ll do less harm in the future if someone is around who won’t let her forget what she did and what it meant. She and I are developing our first actual emotional relationship in fifteen years, and I wouldn’t be able to justify that to myself if I didn’t believe that I was making a difference and that she can do better and that she can understand what she has to be willing to do to make up for doing something like voting for Donald Trump.


Before the election, I figured there was at least one card that I could play to convince her to not vote for Donald Trump. I knew I couldn’t talk her into voting for Hillary Clinton. I didn’t have it in me to give an enthusiastic pitch for Hillary Clinton. I just hoped I could get her to not vote at all. I thought I could convince her to note vote for Donald Trump if I told her about Mike Pence and gay conversion therapy.

Mike Pence is a queerphobic zealot and our nation’s most prominent advocate for gay conversion therapy. For those fortunate enough to not be familiar with the process, gay conversion therapy is psychological and physical torture masquerading as benign behavioral therapy. Gay conversion therapy is exactly what it sounds like. It brainwashes and brutalizes queer and trans kids into believing they’re straight. While Mike Pence was the governor of Indiana, gay conversion therapy clinics resulted in a 50% suicide rate. One out of every two people that were sent to one of those clinics killed themselves. The victims of these clinics were being bombarded with so much hate and violence that they decided to end their lives.

My internal logic when I decided to discuss these clinics with my mother was that if she heard something as evil and heartbreaking as the fates of the kids sentenced to those clinics then she couldn’t possibly vote for Donald Trump. I wasn’t out yet, but my sister was and had been for years. If my Mom cared about Nicole, she wouldn’t vote for someone who sentenced people like my sister and I to death.

My mother voted for someone who sentenced people like my sister and I to death.

I found out my mother voted for Donald Trump on a nine hour car ride with her back from Virginia Beach. That’s where my little sister lives with her husband although they weren’t even engaged yet when we went to visit. My mother and I came to visit right after Thanksgiving. Trump had just won the election.

Right before the election, my sister wrote letters to both of our parents. She told them that she had been serially sexually abused by a family member as a child. She told me about her history shortly before she told our parents. She told me the day after the tape came out where Donald Trump boasted about grabbing women “by the pussy.” Nicole couldn’t live in a world where a man like that could be (and did become) President. She couldn’t let men like him and the folks that support men like him off the hook for another second. She was done hiding.

Our mother voted for Mike Pence who sentenced hundreds of gay teens in Indiana to death. Our mother voted for Donald Trump who is an admitted serial sexual abuser.


My mother and I once went six years without speaking to each other, and when I found out she voted for Trump, we almost had our second great schism. I don’t think there would have been any returning from that split. The discovery of her vote triggered one of my most intense suicidal tailspins for two months after because if she couldn’t figure out how dangerous Donald Trump was to her children, how could she realize how dangerous he was for people that weren’t like us. How would other people who were just like her but didn’t have queer or trans children ever learn?

I had a dissociative event when she told me. I’ve “blacked out” maybe five times in my entire life, and that car trip was the most recent incident. I didn’t do anything while I was dissociating. Instead, my brain flipped off and went somewhere else. There’s a three hour stretch of the drive I can’t remember. It’s a shattered kaleidoscope of road and fear.

Before my mother and I had our six year falling out when I was 13, we were inseparable. Then we stopped talking and I went to live with my reclusive and depressive father. My mother and I reconciled but we were never truly close again until around six months ago. That was six months after I accepted I wasn’t a man and tried to really get to know her for the first time of my adult life. Part of me worries that new emotional intimacy only developed because of the unexpected and long-term reality of moving in with her and her husband. Her husband also voted for Donald Trump and also regrets his decision but not in the ways that really matter.

My Mom was the only person who really understood how scared I was as a kid. She was the only person that seemed to actually listen when I said how cruel the boys and men in our family were and how cruel the boys and men in my schools were and how cruel the boys and men in our churches were. She understood and recognized the cruelty because she was also an abuse survivor. Then I told her that Mike Pence killed gay people like her daughter and she voted for him anyways.

I wanted to be close with my mother. I wanted to respark the relationship we’d had when I was 12 (just a year before our relationship almost ended permanently). I wanted to have the relationship I’d had with my mom when she took me to the Mall at 6 AM on a school day to watch the first Harry Potter movie, and she was just as excited to be there as I was. I wanted the relationship with my mother who would have kicked the ass of any teacher or parent that mistreated me as a kid. Who I talked to about girls and books and everything until the cismasculine bullshit of her abusive second husband and my teen rage tore us apart.

But she voted for Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and coming back from something like that takes work.

If I truly feel as seriously as I claim to about the moral responsibility of and the dangers posed by folks who voted for Donald Trump, my mother and I couldn’t ever have the relationship I wanted. I knew I wouldn’t be able to tolerate it if she ever talked to me about my queerness or my gender identity in the same dismissive and condescending manner in which she had talked to my sister about Nicole’s bisexuality. I’d have killed myself in anger and despair or I’d have cut her out of my life entirely.

I wasn’t ready to cut my mother out of my life. I had to believe something could be done. I realized that my mother’s failings were my failings too. I have a degree in political science and a knack for communicating political ideas and values when I’m not in a drug or alcohol fueled rage. However, I refused to discuss my politics that mattered with my mother because I knew it would be difficult. I let my mother care for me materially, but my mother and I weren’t having conversations. We hadn’t since our schism. I never tried to actually talk to her about how I felt about things, and she wound up stuck in the oppressive abusive Appalachian patriarchal conservatism that had taken advantage of her for most of her life. I realized that I had to talk to her even when talking to her made me uncomfortable and exposed pressure points in our relationship. If I pushed those pressure points and our relationship ended, then it meant that she was a lost cause and I could wash my hands of her. If I pushed those pressure points and she responded, it meant I needed to keep pressing.

I’m still pressing.


It’s been a year since I finally told my parents that I’m queer and that I’m trans. I’m realizing now that my essay I wrote for Vice on Inauguration Day was directed at my mother as much as it was directed at anyone else. It was all about the necessity of genuine reflection on how your political actions affect others and the social education required to get folks to start looking at the world that way. Reflecting that often on the broader, political consequences of your actions is counter-intuitive even to many liberals in our capitalist system, let alone to those drowning in the narcissistic nihilism of conservatism.

Things aren’t perfect between my mother and I, and I understand that they never will be. We have to have conversations about pronouns weekly (although she gets my pronouns and the pronouns of my nb/trans friends right as often as not more recently). I still know that she would be happier if I wound up with a cishet woman than with anyone else. I don’t know if she’s able to see the necessity of making changes in the lives of other people in her life with any of the clarity that she’s starting to see in her own.

However, things are getting better. A couple months ago, she and I had a long overdue conversation about how transfeminine my leanings are. When she realized how radically I wanted to transform my gender presentation, she offered to do my makeup for me. I wasn’t ready for that then, but I’m starting to feel like I am now.

It’s easy to lose all hope with folks. They do something and it hurts so deep that you don’t know how to recover from it. You want them out of your life and there is a rational justification for it. However, carrying around that much resentment and disappointment can be a recipe for total isolation if you aren’t fortunate enough to have found a community of other queer folks and trans folks and folks that are sincerely committed to making a better world. You have to live. And sometimes living means forgiving the folks who have hurt you the most. Sometimes living means forcing yourself to be the change in the lives of other folks who wouldn’t ever be able to be that change in yours.

Sometimes you have to try.

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