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On Christmas Day 2011, I came out to my family as a transgender woman. Being able to say “I’m transgender” was a culmination of twenty-one years of struggle and self-reflection.
On Christmas Eve, I was in church. While sitting in the pew, I had a revelation: I couldn’t continue to miss out on the beauty of the holidays—of my favorite holiday—by hiding. I texted one of the two friends I had already come out to and said, “I’m going to admit it: I’m transgender. I’m telling my parents after Christmas.”
My parents and I are extremely close, and they had already noticed that I wasn’t my usual smiley self. It all came to a head on Christmas morning, when I opened my gifts of a shirt and tie. Though I had asked for them for upcoming job interviews, my heart sank. They symbolized how far I still had to go in my journey.
My mom asked, “What’s wrong?” Initially I replied, “Nothing.” But then I thought to myself, “This is it. She’s asking you straight up and you need to say it.” So, I told her: “I have been thinking a lot about my sexual orientation and gender identity and have come to the conclusion that I’m transgender.”
“So … you want to be a girl?” I replied, “Yes.”
The color washed from her face. I watched her mouth drop. “So … you want to be a girl?”
I replied, “Yes.”
She burst into tears and ran to get my dad, who was helping my brother set up a new TV. I told him the same thing I’d told my mom. For the next eight hours, we talked through everything. They kept saying they felt like they were losing me—that their child was dying.
In the days that followed, I watched my parents mourn the death of who they thought I was. Finally, my oldest brother, Sean, who is an oncologist, helped them move past their grief. He deals with sick children every day, and he assured them I wasn’t dying or going anywhere.
Even though they couldn’t fully embrace what was happening at first, in time they realized I would still be me.
As difficult as it was for them to understand, my parents were abundantly clear from the start that they loved me and nothing would break our family apart. Even though they couldn’t fully embrace what was happening at first, in time they realized I would still be me.
I now consider every Christmas since 2011 to be a real Christmas. I’ve been able to live my truth and fully experience the joy of the holidays. I think this has made each subsequent Christmas better for the rest of my family, too. I’m no longer receiving shirts and ties as gifts.
It’s a day to celebrate not only family and love, but also the birth of my authentic self. In fact, my desire to experience Christmas authentically was my motivation to come out to my family. And every year is a reminder of that milestone. Christmas marks the point when I made the decision to live my life wholly and completely.
Sarah McBride is the National Press Secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization. She is the author of Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality.
Image credit: Barbara Proud
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