Lynnea Urania Stuart
It’s a sad dead end. Some families only can be defined by psychopathology because they’re unwilling to reveal much if anything at all about themselves except their own swift inclinations to judge and condemn. Attempts to break through this cast iron veneer inevitably result in personal loss. Sometimes it takes transition to realize the truth about those you had wanted to hold closer than friends yet cannot. I call these kinds of people “Extractors.”
You might have relatives like mine. By my “Extractors” I refer to people who won’t condescend to speak to me unless spoken to, and when they do a conversation only takes the form of an interrogation, each answer possibly being met with a common gesture: a faint smile and 3 nods, often followed by looking away with an upper lip turned up in a sneer of disgust. If I venture to offer a comment or a question I typically encounter a threatening glare or an upturned nose. Phone calls always result in the same treatment, if indeed any are willing to accept a phone call in the first place. “Extractors” not only seek, to extract information from me unilaterally, they also seek to extract from me any self-respect and vitality.
Sometimes reactions can even include expulsion from the family circle. I can never forget one day I visited my maternal grandparents who had been informed that I’m a vegetarian. They decided to make spaghetti for dinner. The meal was already an uncomfortable one, being met with my grandfather’s snorts of disgust and disapproval in the latest interrogation. Then I saw that my grandmother had only made one pot of spaghetti sauce. She only removed the most visible meatballs she would otherwise have served me, clearly leaving my food laced with animal remains. I stopped eating.
She said, “Would you like more spaghetti?”
“No thank you.”
“O yes you do. Here… have some.” She dumped the rest of the spaghetti on my plate in an open display of disrespect.
“Excuse me,” I said, leaving the table, not wanting to make a scene.
But my grandparents would have none of it. “Get back here!” my grandfather demanded before telling her, “Don’t apologize to him for anything.”
For the first time I stood up for myself. “I’m not apologizing either.”
My grandmother “swooned”. My grandfather rushed to her to “revive” her. Cousins crowded around.
“I’ll take her to the hospital,” I said.
“You’re not doin’ nothing!” he said through teeth gnashed with terminal hate and condemnation as for the lowest of all criminals. “Don’t ever come back!”
My grandfather never spoke to me again. Neither did any of my cousins who were present. Relations with an entire branch of the family terminated over a plate of meat-laced spaghetti and I was left with unilateral blame. I never was offered an apology by anyone for this or any other conflict. Apologies were always demanded of me for things pertaining to my existence, values, and spirituality. Can relatives really be that iron-fisted and unfair? Yes they can.
As a result if you asked me to describe most of my relatives I couldn’t. They’re either a blank slate or a picture of hostility. Worse yet, I spent decades never understanding what my relatives had against me because they always refused to admit that anything was wrong and that I need to stay out of their way because I was a “bad” person. I made overtures to them for 40 years on the presumption that whatever fault must exist must somehow be my own. My parents taught me that I was unilaterally evil and I internalized this inequity. Nobody but I could possibly deserve punishment and censure because I was “not a proper boy,” a “pansy”, or a “molly” to use their words to describe me throughout my childhood. This didn’t cease when I reached adulthood. For that matter they denied I could ever be an adult deserving of basic respect.
This relentless atmosphere forced me into self-silencing and for that I was also condemned. So I never knew much of the things my relatives loved, their pastimes, or their aspirations because most of them refused to tell me and how dare I be so rude to pry? These were viciously one-sided relationships and I could do nothing within the family to change this milieu.
Then in 1999 I told my wife I wanted a divorce after 21 years of growing apart. She agreed saying, “I can’t accept you as a Gnostic or a transvestite.” I took the car and $500. She took everything else. A few months later our adult daughter severed any communication with me, maintaining only her maternal family ties. Once I resettled in the Bay Area I resolved to learn what really belongs to me and sent letters to certain relatives, reintroducing myself as Lynnea and knowing I might not hear from anyone.
One cousin did respond. I’ll call her “Julie”. She sent a preachy letter full of condemnation of people who didn’t accept me in the name of religion because “God is love.” I eagerly wrote her back but received no reply. My letter failed to break through that iron veneer just like all my previous letters only brought about some terse comment if indeed I received anything at all.
When work ran out in the Bay Area I moved to Wichita and worked while living in a basement of my mother’s home. She brought me to meet an uncle and aunt who had been my “godparents”. They were in no way pleased to see me. But I heard my uncle’s voice for the first and only time in my life when he mentioned how he loved to listen to gospel music. But whenever I spoke I was answered with the same set of expressions: a thin smile, nod 3 times, then a sneer.
Then I was invited to a birthday party for a new cousin. I prepared a gift. The mother met me at the door and shouted, “O you look so much like your father” before turning her back on me and refusing to speak to me any further. But another cousin turned to me to question me about my plans while the air chilled. I told them what was necessary. Their response to each answer: a thin smile, nod 3 times, then a sneer.
I left the party and retreated to the car, genuinely offended by this rudeness. When my mother returned I expressed my regret that I had come because it was obvious that I was not welcome. My mother turned her nose in the air and said nothing.
But she had me drive her to Emporia to see her cousin who was a local teacher and civic leader. My eyes brightened at the initial appearance of acceptance. But when I volunteered to speak my mother glared at me to be quiet. So I approached her cousin (I’ll call her Gertrude) in the next room to ask her about her travels. She blurted out completely outside the context from my question: “Don’t worry. I have nothing against you because you’re gay,” before brushing me off and walking away.
“Gay???” I wasn’t “gay”. I was bisexual and transgender. Once more I was compelled to keep quiet in order to prevent a fight. But once more I was asked concerning my plans. The result was exactly as in Wichita with each answer: a thin smile, nod 2 times, then a sneer.
I e-mailed her to set the record straight. Her response consisted of only one terse sentence: “You may not transition till your mother dies.”
I never spoke to Gertrude again. Neither did I obey or respect her sentencing. I began my assessment for transition that year in open defiance of my hostile relatives.
One day I answered the phone to find my brother on the other end of the line. My brother and I had been enemies since 1977 after I had become an adult and refused to convert to Judaism like he did. His call was virtually a lecture. I hardly got a word in of my own. He talked about how I was “such a strange person” and repeated over and over, “You take anything from me and I’ll kill you.”
Of course there were other phone calls. I placed a call to Julie. She brushed me off. Another later came from Julie’s mother which I happily received. Once more it consisted of a rough interrogation. My laughter turned to self-disgust, saying: “Why do I keep letting these people treat me this way? It’s high time this ended.” I stopped calling.
Julie’s mother called again 5 years later, demanding to know where my mother was.
“She doesn’t live here,” I said. “My mother’s location is her own business.”
“I haven’t heard from her in 2 weeks so something has to be wrong.”
“I haven’t heard from you in 5 years and that never bothered you.”
“Well, you heard now. What are you doing?
“Since when do you care? Look. Every time we’ve spoken you’ve resented anything I’ve had to say and I don’t need that constant disrespect. I think it’s better for you to not call this number with this hateful attitude of yours.”
Julie’s mother’s voice took a tone of glee I had not heard from her mouth since I was a small child. “If that’s how you feel about it I’m happy not to call,” she said, slamming the phone on her hook.
“Enough already,” I said.
My mother moved to my brother’s house in her last years. I told her I could understand her taking her moving in with him but I would not be able to visit her at my brother’s home because of his threats against me. She said, “Well, you’re just cutting yourself off from everybody!”
She stopped by to visit, at times telling me how she went to a wedding. My niece married and I was only told after the fact. That was typical of my family to exclude and not even inform me of any of their events. I will never know who the next generation might be because my immediate relatives didn’t want me to know.. I wasn’t wanted. They believed I was a “freak”, a “threat”, or a “reprobate” because I’m transgender and rejected their “traditional values”… and the blame was always imputed to me.
I did receive an e-mail from another niece when I was homeless, telling me that my mother was in the hospital. I travelled the same day, driving hundreds of miles to see her while rehearsing in my mind how to request Security to be present in case I might meet with violence. But when I arrived I was told no such patient had been admitted. I demanded to know what this news about my mother being at that hospital was about. Hospital personnel checked their records. She had been there the previous day but doctors refused to do heart surgery because of her advanced age. They had sent her home to die.
I could do nothing more for my mother. I didn’t dare visit my mother because of a violent brother. She didn’t answer her phone. I retreated to a laundry room where I had been staying at the time. So I was left to presume my mother would die at any time and could not expect any trustworthy notification after my niece deceiving me into a wild goose chase. Some friend requests came in on Facebook from some relatives from whom I had not heard in decades. I blocked them all. I was growing too old to entertain these games. They remain blocked today.
Julie contacted me through a website contact form to inform me that my mother had just died. I wasn’t inclined to believe her, believing my mother to have died the previous year. Why should she contact me now after decades of her and her family brushing me off like filth?
She fired back, saying, “I didn’t want to talk to you on the phone because you were interfering with the baby!”
What baby? Neither Julie nor anyone else ever told me that she had a baby. She could have always offered to call me back because her hands were full. But Julie never did that. Julie was played the same blame game endemic to my relatives while hiding behind accusations for a smokescreen. I didn’t answer her e-mail and summarily deleted subsequent messages because they tempted me to report her to her local police for her harassment. I removed that contact form from my website.
I looked up the obituaries to confirm her initial claim of my mother’s death. There she was with a list of survivors. My name had been excluded.
I wrote to the mortuary saying:
“I am the daughter of the deceased. Your obituary showed one survivor: a son. He has threatened to murder me so I regret that I could not attend any funeral that may or may not have taken place. I want you to know of the fact that she did have a daughter and that your survivor list is a malicious lie. Go ahead and keep it that way because they’re so eager to deceive themselves. But I just want you to know the truth.”
Perhaps you have “Extractors” for relatives. You might have spent decades of your own trying to mend fences and making overtures only to be met with an increasing tide of hate. Here are some of the earmarks of Extractors:
- They will deny you the liberty to speak without being spoken to.
- They will be quick to stigmatize you according to preconceived beliefs whether or not those beliefs are valid.
- They will demand to extract information about you while refusing to offer meaningful information about themselves.
- They will demand contact only on their own terms.
- Gifts given will be received but never with thanks. However, if they give you a gift they demand a formal letter or they will denounce you for “rudeness” and “ingratitude”. Verbal thanks will be ignored.
- They will be quick to blame you for any conflict.
- They will not be interested in real forgiveness, only your capitulation.
- Your capitulation will not result in reconciliation but will only bolster their egos.
- If they can’t find a valid complaint against you they will be inclined to invent one.
- They will justify their rejection of you on the grounds of “tradition” or “religion” but probably never read their own scriptures on their own, relying upon being “spoon fed” from their religious societies, if indeed they spend much time in those societies at all.
- They will always cherry pick those verses that go along with their sentiment at the time without any consideration of context or linguistic fact.
Make no mistake. Any relationship with an “Extractor” is doomed to failure because it’s inherently toxic. If you’re a victim of “Extractors” there are some things you are right to understand:
- Understand that you deserve basic respect.
- Understand that all true relationships involve some give and take.
- Understand that you have a right to refuse to play the blame game.
- Understand that you have the right to say “no” to people who try to game you.
- Understand that there will always be plenty of people who hate you.
- Understand that there will be people inclined to charge you claims based upon presumption and stereotype.
- Understand that many will never forgive you whether or not you did anything bad.
- Understand that some of the worst enemies you ever have may be those of your own family.
- Understand that you must not blame yourself if you decide to terminate contact with a family member so you can protect yourself.
If you are one who would be described as an “Extractor” you need to understand some things of your own:
- Don’t close yourself off against a stigmatized family member while claiming you’re acting out of love. You aren’t.
- Don’t claim you care about a family member you exclude from family events. You don’t.
- Don’t claim you reach out to a stigmatized family member after decades of refusing to inform him/her/eir about family affairs. You didn’t.
- Don’t claim you’re in the right if the family member you excluded eventually closes the door against you. You’re not.
- Don’t try to use religion to justify your suspicions against a family member because of hit/her/eir sexual orientation or gender identity. You insult God.
- Don’t try to claim that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity caused him/her/eir to turn against your family. You did that.
- Don’t try to claim that family is the most important thing in your life and that the family circle is sacred and inviolable. You’re lying.
- Don’t try to lecture to an excluded family member about closing doors. You’re hypocritical.
Let it be understood completely that by no means does my experience with my own relatives even remotely suggest that the same must be for all transpeople. “Extractors” don’t occur in all families. Most transpeople have family members who either accept them at once or will eventually accept them. Nobody can call one’s own family a set of “Extractors” without having first made ample overtures for reconciliation and that typically takes many years. It took decades for me.
It’s far better if one can reconcile with unaccepting family members. But a time may eventually come when one must terminate relationships in order to protect one’s self. Real “Extractors” don’t want you to develop anything except what benefits them because their egos demand their becoming psychological parasites.
This “sad dead end” is a tragedy. All tragedies begin with crises. Crises can be resolved but tragedies can only be ameliorated. Victims of this kind of tragedy have one recourse only: their own independence. It’s a basic independence that allows them to be themselves so they could be at peace, perhaps the first time in their lives that has ever happened.
The names in this article have been intentionally changed to protect all parties irrespective of guilt.