Whoops! Forgot to title this one!

TRIGGER WARNING: DISCUSSION OF BEING SUICIDAL, BUT IN THE DISTANT PAST. EVERYTHING’S FINE!

Dear Amy: Last year, one of my sister’s children came out to me as trans.

“S” asked to stay with me because of the trauma of being around their mostly conservative and media-illiterate family.

S has been living with my husband and me for a year.

In many ways having S stay with us has been an amazing opportunity for growth, but I continually run afoul of them by talking about commonalities in our experiences.

They make assumptions and rebuff me when I try to communicate about my own experiences.

As someone on my own mental health journey, I find this incredibly hurtful.

I get that I do not understand what it is to be trans, but I do understand various other aspects of trauma, and want to talk about it.

I know I need to be “the adult” in the situation, but it’s painful when they don’t accept my experiences as valid.

My husband thinks I should ignore my feelings. I have a hard time with confrontation and S flips out if they are ever put in the position of being in the wrong.

My husband and I are prioritizing them over just about everything else.

I’ve found S a therapist, while I am still looking for one myself.

We have invested so much it trying to get S to a stable and healthy place, but interactions often leave me feeling regressed to previous levels of self-doubt and frustration.

I am trying to treat S the way I would want to be treated.

How do I get through to S that I need to be treated the same?

— Uncertain Aunt

Uncertain: First of all — thank you for being a hero to this young person. What you are doing is huge.

I’m assuming that you don’t have other children/teens in your life, because if you were a more seasoned parent, you would understand that much of what you are experiencing is fairly typical behavior of an older teen.

You are expecting to have a series of rich and rewarding dialogues with “S,” where you relate to them by sharing your own experiences, and where you both benefit from a deep and enlightening relationship.

But a typical 18-year-old mainly wants to narrate their own life. When they talk (and it’s great when they talk), they’re monologuing more than dialoguing.

People at this age are at the cusp of emerging fully in the world, and before they go, they want to get their story straight. This helps them settle into their identity, while they’re still safe and taken care of.

This would be especially important to a trans person.

You and your husband should continue to provide a loving, safe and stable home. Listen with patience and compassion, without insisting (or expecting) that S should relate to you on your level.

You two adults should take care of your own relationship and gradually loosen the strings, so S has the experience of emerging with a degree of independence — while still experiencing your home as a safe place where they are loved and accepted. (c) Ask Amy

Huh. I put a lot of thought into this, and I have to say that the letter writer seems sort of… self-absorbed?

As someone on my own mental health journey, I find this incredibly hurtful.

That sounds weird to me. I’m schizophrenic, for crying out loud, but I don’t see myself as being on a mental health journey. I see myself as being on a spiritual journey! Huh. [Shrugs.]

I get that I do not understand what it is to be trans, but I do understand various other aspects of trauma, and want to talk about it.

Being transgendered isn’t traumatic. Trauma, by definition, is something awful that happens to you. Your identity isn’t an event that happens to you. It’s more just who you are. That said, being trans can (and often does) lead to trauma, in the form of bullying, hate crimes, being rejected by your parents, etc.

My point is that I’m not sure if the letter writer really knows what she’s talking about.

I do understand various other aspects of trauma, and want to talk about it.

I don’t think that sounds sincere. Genuine trauma isn’t easy to talk about. It’s hellish and nightmarish and horrific. But this aunt wants to talk about trauma with her trans niece?! Really? I’ve experienced trauma. It’s not something I’d really feel comfortable sharing with a teenager. I would share it with a teenager, though, if their trauma was similar, but the circumstances would have to be very specific, and I’d have to be convinced that it would be helpful. It would be about what was in their best interest, not mine.

So my guess is that this letter writer has watered down the definition of trauma to include anything that goes wrong in life. Lame. (Stuff can go wrong and cause major problems in your life without being traumatic. But still, let’s not minimize trauma.)

In thinking about this letter, I remembered a few things from my own teenage years. When I was a freshman in college, I was stressed beyond belief, totally overwhelmed from living in the dorms, and on the edge of emotional destruction. I tried to slit my own throat. I didn’t get very far because I have really thick skin. (Go figure.) I wound up talking to my resident advisor in her room. She tried to explain her own problems to me. She was from Jamaica, and she said her black skin was too dark in tone for her to feel acceptable.

My reaction was, “Uh…”

Now, if I were to meet my resident advisor today, my reaction would be, “Really, skin tone matters? How odd. It never matters to white people. I’m sorry you’ve felt inadequate because of the shade of your skin. That bites. What an awful thing to feel bad about. Well, I think you’re very pretty. I like your skin color.”

See, these days, I’m glad to hear about other people’s experiences because it broadens my worldview and gives me a way to connect. But as a college freshman:

  1. I was self-absorbed, and
  2. I was suicidal.

Also, as a high school student, I had a tendency to burst into tears all over my church. My mother (who didn’t attend that church) was verbally and emotionally abusive, and I just couldn’t cope at all. So the mother of a friend sat with me and told me about how she’d been trying to become a nurse, but the test material about math was too hard for her to master.

My reaction was, “Uh…”

I wasn’t sure where she was coming from or why she was telling me that, but I did tell myself that she meant well and was being kind. It just didn’t break through and reach me, though. I felt bad for her, but I also felt minimized. My problems were serious, and hers sounded less serious. (Not that I’m dissing her math issues. I’m grateful every day to be good at math.)

I think one thing to keep in mind before sharing your own problems is, Are my problems as serious as this person’s problems? No? I’ll remain quiet, then. 

Another one is, Are my specific problems relevant to this person’s problems? No? I’ll remain quiet then. 

A third one is, Is this person at my level, like, are they my age? Oh, she’s a teenager? Okay, I won’t share my own problems, then. 

I think the letter writer needs an attitude adjustment. She needs to be there for S with no expectations of reciprocity. S is a teenager who’s had serious problems! S needs support!! The letter writer shouldn’t make it about herself. Goodness gracious. She’s got a loving husband and the ability to find herself a therapist. Why burden S with all her problems?

2 thoughts on “Whoops! Forgot to title this one!

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