The Struggle Of Being LGBT+ In Our Family
Written By Lauren Watson, Edited by Niamh Hutchings
GROWING up in a traditional northern family, where men don’t express their emotions and women run a tight-knit family unit, has always been the way for myself and my cousin Ray. We both are in the LGBTQ+ community and both have had very similar experiences with our family not exactly being the most supportive.
Ray identifies themselves as trans-non-binary or genderqueer. This means that Ray falls out of the ‘normal’ male or female categories, and uses they/them pronouns. Luckily, online Ray feels more comfortable being themselves, however, when I asked about their personal experiences I realised that we as a family, and as a society, have a long way to go.
Before I go into Ray’s story, it is necessary to know what it means to be outside of the gender spectrum, what the difference is between gender and sex is, and why it is important. Gender is often seen as a binary divide between men and women as defined by David Gauntlet, however, with new emerging identities, exposure and acceptance, gender is now being discussed as a spectrum instead of two categories. Sex, however, is the genitalia you are born with, which then dictates your gender from birth and is dependant on what chromosomes you have.
Sex = Biology
Gender = Sociology
As I sat down with Ray, a cup of tea in hand, we started discussing life and how university and work were treating us. It’s a very comfortable conversation, both understanding each other's struggles around the same topic - being LGBTQ+. Myself being bisexual and Ray being trans-non-binary, we are both very ignored in our community and even believed to not exist. After our small chat, I started asking Ray about what it was like growing up in the North West of England.
Ray grew up in a small town in Cumbria called Barrow-in-Furness. When I asked Ray what it was like growing up there they said: “It wasn't bad but it was very isolated or at least insular, like everyone knew everyone but that also had a downside. More in the sense of it wasn't diverse”. Barrow is a small seaside town made infamous by its iron and steel industries in the first world war. After the war efforts, Barrow then became known for its shipyard and energy output. A town surrounded by its own history, it is easy to see why Ray didn’t realise how stuck in time the town was until they went off to university.
Growing up in a small northern town doesn’t allow much wiggle room to express yourself, especially in our family. “I think year four [eight years old] is the earliest I can remember. I was always switching between being very girly and very tomboyish,” which is quite young for knowing they weren’t quote-on-quote normal.
“We pretend it didn’t happen”
Whilst my personal experience of our family’s acceptance has been a mixed bag, they are overall indifferent to who I am sexually attracted to. Ray’s experience of our family’s acceptance has not been so kind. They said, “some accept, some [are] tolerant, some have straight-up ignored or misunderstood it, some pretend it didn't happen and some I'm not out to.” I know I have had to correct my parent’s on multiple occasions about what pronouns to use for Ray, but all I get is waved off and ignored. I can’t imagine what it is like for that to happen right to you.
In this side of the family, it's joked that we have “the straight cousin” instead of being “the gay cousin” so you’d think that our family would be a little more open-minded. My coming out story is very similar to Ray’s as we were both outed by different cousins. Our family’s reactions to this were also similar: “We pretend that didn’t happen”. My mother refuses to believe that I could possibly marry a woman as “it’s not normal, [she] wants a son-in-law” and Ray’s father makes jokes about them and their identity and “not all of them are kind”.
We both understand however that our family is very much stuck in its way, whether we are open and proud or forced to conform. I often wonder what it’s like for Ray, identifying as genderqueer and what that means in the workplace. “At one job I'm not out and we have gendered uniforms so yeah, I have to be ‘she’. People forget or get annoyed if I correct them.” Unfortunately, Ray isn’t alone in this work place experience. According to the research paper done by charity Stonewall in 2018, half of trans people (51 per cent) have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination. In the same research, it’s said that half of non-binary people have hidden or disguised the fact that they are LGBT at work because they were afraid of discrimination.
“I had a doctor say [I] can't be nonbinary”
When I asked Ray about their experiences with medical professionals, they said: “I had a doctor say [I] can't be nonbinary, I'm either a trans man or not.” Which I found awful; how can others get to determine if you exist or not? Then I realised, unfortunately, and to my horror, it is most likely a generational thing.
Myself and Ray are a part of Generation Z, the generation that is just so done with the rest of society. This can be seen in movements against homophobia and racism especially. Generation Z is more open-minded, more accepting and overall against anything that oppresses any group of people. In research done in the US on the five generations and their views, ‘Generation Z Looks a Lot Like Millennials on Key Social and Political Issues’, they found that Gen Z is the most likely of the five generations to say that when a form or online profile asks about a person’s gender it should include options other than “man” and “woman”. They continue with “These findings seem to speak more to exposure than to viewpoint, as roughly equal shares of Gen Zers and Millennials say society should be more accepting of people who don’t identify as either a man or a woman.” So it’s an exposure difference more than anything else. We’ve all heard ‘back in my day we didn’t have LGBT people’ coming from the older generations.
Gender is also a big topic in our generation's social media circles, TikTok especially. The stories told by content creators on the app are very similar to mine and Ray’s stories of being accepted by people who are or have been in similar situations but not being accepted by their family. It’s a big problem that Generation X and the Baby Boomers can’t seem to accept the fact that the children they have raised often don’t follow the same moral ‘beliefs’ that they themselves do.
This generational split between us and our parents is most likely what is causing the discomfort we feel. Gen Z grew up during the changes towards people of different religion, race, sexual orientation and gender identity, starting the conversations needed to better human rights and overall equality. Essentially, we as a generation just know how to make the world a better place because we’ve learnt about what happens when things don’t change or when history tries to repeat itself. Gen Z has read the history books and has been horrified by the fact that right now in 2020, it is all starting to feel a little too similar and we’ve had enough.
Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction (Gauntlet, D. 2002.)