“A Map of Your Weak Spots” | Trans + Allies Discuss the Importance of Family Support

“I was in my bed room and crying from dysphoria,” recalled Claire Nation, speaking to a small but engaged group of students, family members and allies last Wednesday about her experience of coming out as transgender. “My mom came in and was asking me what was up. I remember just trying to get her to leave. When she wouldn’t, I finally caved and told her.”

The experience of coming out to family members is deeply personal and can be very emotional. This was the topic of discussion at UMKC’s Trans + Allies meeting last Wednesday, the final one in their 2016 fall series.

The group discussed the importance of familial support and explored ways to overcome challenges within the family. This meeting, like most, was structured around an open discussion. UMKC student Jenna Brownfield acted as discussion leader and moderated as participants shared their unique experiences.

“The easiest way for me [to come out] was to do it in a letter, it was easier to handle the anxiety,” said former UMKC Student Michael Hutchinson. “My mom hit me up the next day and was like, ‘Whoa, but if that’s what you feel, I’m not going to stop you.’ With my mom it has been a pretty steady uphill climb. She gives me constant support. She’s 100 percent on board with everything.”

Unfortunately, Hutchinson’s father did not have the same reaction as his mother. “The really surprising reaction was from my father,” said Hutchinson. “This one topic just seems to bug him. It strikes something in him and makes him want to have some kind of negative rebuttal to everything I say in terms of my transition. He’s the most frustrating factor of this whole thing.”

Nation’s story echoed Hutchinson’s, although her father did eventually come around.

“My dad took a little more time than my mom,” said Nation. She acknowledged that even though her mother never wavered in support, “she was still shocked at first, even though I know she saw it coming. I think that you almost have to be in that scenario.”

Moving beyond that initial shock and coming to terms with the news that a loved one is transgender can be a difficult experience for many friends and family members. As the leader of Kansas City’s SOFFA Support Chapter, Fiona Nowling has helped people work through this process for much of her adult life.

Source: transascity.org Fiona Nowling hosted Trans Talk once a month on KCPR

Source: transascity.org Fiona Nowling hosted Trans Talk once a month on KCPR

“SOFFA stands for Significant Others, Family, Friends and Allies,” said Nowling during a short presentation about the organization at the beginning of the meeting. “It is a support group for those close to someone who is transgender.”

Nowling shared her own story of falling in love with and marrying a transgender woman. Together, she and her partner host a radio show, Trans Talk, once a month on Kansas City’s public radio station. During her presentation, she highlighted the diversity of experience found within the support group.

“Most of our members are parents or significant others,” said Nowling. “There are usually no transgender people at the meetings, because SOFFA is more geared towards their loved ones.”

The group, which meets twice a month, provides a space where people can meet others who have similar experiences and form a network of support.

“[You] can share your feelings, fears, hopes and strengths with others who are also learning to deal with changes in their relationships,” said Nowling.

The two main goals of SOFFA are to provide support for family and friends and to help members provide support for the transgender person in their life.

Nowling acknowledged the importance of familial support in the lives of transgender people. “Unfortunately, people who need help the most are often the least likely to ask for it or seek it out,” said Nowling.  She cited this pattern as a motivating factor in her work, a point that Nation strongly agreed with.

“I really do think that parental support is lifesaving,” said Nation, recalling a statistic she learned regarding the disproportionately high risk of suicide faced by transgender teenagers who lack support from within the home. “This isn’t insanity. This isn’t ‘just trying to be different’ either. Kids don’t point a gun towards their skull or bring a knife down their arm just to prove how ‘different’ and ‘unique’ they are.”

Both Hutchinson and Nation believe familial support is crucial to their success and stability, but also recognize that many transgender people are not embraced with the same love and acceptance their families showed.

“For quite a few of my friends,” said Hutchinson, “their families have not been as accepting of their transitions and that is really difficult for them.”

“When I think about everything,” said Nation, “I feel like a poet at a loss for words. All the pain that loved ones are causing on their [transgender] family members is horrifically wordless. I remember a quote from Karina Stow: ‘loving someone is handing them a map of your weak spots.’ I will never understand why some people say they will love unconditionally, but once their child is gay or trans, they realize there’s one condition they didn’t think of.”

Source: SOFFA’s website transascity.org Fiona Nowling with her wife, Una.

Source: SOFFA’s website transascity.org
Fiona Nowling with her wife, Una.

UMKC’s Trans + Allies group has yet to announce the schedule for 2017’s spring series. More information regarding meetings and resources for transgender students and allies can be found on the Trans + Allies RooGroup page or at www.info.umkc.edu/lgbt.

The SOFFA support group meets on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month from 6-8 p.m. in the Johnson County Leawood and Lackman Library. For more information, contact Fiona Nowling at SOFFAKC@yahoo.com.

 

sdanley@unews.com

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