When I started writing this piece, I had grand ambitions of opening a conversation for cisgender readers. After several drafts, I decided the internet was offering plenty of organizations, memes, infographics and listicles for cisgender people to use as a resource (see below). And though there were many adorable watercolor comics online giving advice for trans folk, I found the resources to be lacking certain specific direction. So, this piece is directed toward all the trans folks that are about to experience a family-centered national holiday after nearly two years of not having to interact without a mask over their faces.
Navigating the world day to day is tiring, irritating and frankly concerning for anyone. Enduring the requirements of a mid-pandemic Thanksgiving sounds like an agonizing anxiety flow, traveling freely through a soup of obligation and conversation. Gross. I don't want to do any of that but, at this vaccinated point, I have no reasonable excuse to skip out of family functions.
So, as a recently out trans man, I want to share three magic words with all of my trans readers, "No, thank you."
The "no, thank you" retort has helped me through so many awkward situations. When that day-drunk white woman cornered me a local bar and asked, "What were you born as?" the NTY response was clutch. When that 50-something woman at Target asked me if I was going to have "all those surgeries," NYT was like Captain America's shield. With a smile on your face you can make the most eye contact possible with the inappropriate stranger and deflect the entire conversation. It goes without saying that you don't owe any person any response, but there is something so gratifying about getting the last word.
With a NTY, you're starting the reply with a solid "no," which is hard to respond to with further questions. Most people, being lazy and easily distracted, will take the "no" as an out. But, then, you're adding the "thank you" onto the end. And that is pure gold. It's polite, admirable and requires little effort. This can be a miraculously defusing defense, usually allowing you to go on your way. Their offense had no realistic follow through and further thought will likely derail them from their intrusive mission. With that weapon in your pocket, I want to present my strategy for a stressless family dinner. Almost stressless.
Don't arrive early, even if it would score you so many adult points from your parent(s). You need to arrive at just the right moment, at the perfect intersection of three line graphs: most people present, fewest people drunk, majority of time at table while eating/not talking. Ideally, arrive right as it's time to set the table. Everyone is shuffling around, offering help to the hosts and commenting about their expectations of the main course and sides. Offer to help set that table, thus allowing yourself to not have to stay in one place for more than a few seconds. Bonus: Grandparents love it when you offer to help with things. It's basically their favorite.
I'm terms of seating, if you don't have an LGBTQIA-friendly tablemate, you have two viable, tactical options at this point: Find a seat where you're surrounded by the quietest/most boring people of the party (a non-engaging grandfather or uncle, a shy new in-law, etc.), or opt for the kids' table.
Each choice comes with its own set of risks. If you're lucky, you'll have an ally or two somewhere at the table. Someone who will dutifully require your attention and deflect any unwanted discomfort. I truly hope you have this resource because even the most taciturn cousin or uncle at the adult table may still find a way to ask a question. "Are you still dating so-and-so, or do you date ... differently ... now?" Or, at worst, another relative further down the table will ask them to convey a question, which means you'll hear it twice and have to look at at least two people when you answer. Blech.
The kids' table runs the risk of far more questions but it offers the advantage of having a way more innocently curious person asking — someone who can't just Google it during their allotted screen time. Not to mention, there's the added bonus of being able to progressively corrupt whatever narrative the kid has already been fed. Plus, in general, the conversations are more interesting and there's zero chance of politics entering the discussion.
Post-dinner, you will need to find an exit opportunity wherever it may come up. If you happen to have to drive more than 30-minutes to get home, this is a great excuse. Every older generation sees that as a great risk against safety and sleep. Use it, if you can.
The other option is to recruit a cousin or LGBTQIA-friendly aunt/uncle to help you do the dishes. This is a dual-edged opportunity. It scores you adult-points and sequesters you in a room with few occupants. Depending on the layout, you may even be able to maneuver from the kitchen directly through the back door.
If, at anytime during any step of this process, you encounter an awful question, remember that all you have to say is, "No thank you."
At no moment are you required to give your response more consideration than the other person gave their question. You have the absolute right to smile broadly and NTY your way out of any conversation.
The beauty of NTY is its versatility. For example, you can NTY your way out of the original invite, if you want. You have every right not to attend any situation that causes you anxiety, fear or a lack of safety; you don't even have to give a real reason. Tell them you have to wash your hair, or whatever.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you have more patience, tolerance and trust at a family gathering than I do. Excellent; you probably go to therapy. Here is a list of very informative resources that you can pass along to Uncle Mike and Aunt Lisa:
Trans Lifeline, www.translifeline.org
The Human Rights Campaign page on trans children and youth, www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-children-and-youth-understanding-the-basics
Henry Ellis (he/him) is still afraid of Earnest Scared Stupid and thankful for the privilege and comfort he has.