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Dear Abby 11/08

Transgendered uncle deserves his own role in family album

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    DEAR ABBY: "Anonymous in Arizona" (Sept. 7) was wondering how to explain to her future children that their father's brother was born a girl, particularly in childhood photos in which he appears as a girl. While most of your reply was sound — especially how transgendered people are born in the wrong body (which I wish more people could understand) — I disagree with your advice about the photo albums.
    As a transgendered man, I'd be mortified if I knew a photo of me in dresses and pigtails from my youth was included in a family album for my son to see. But I also know many transpeople who wouldn't mind at all. How we deal with our background is a personal and individual decision. Anonymous' brother-in-law "John" should be allowed to have a say in whether or not images of him as a child should be included.
    It would be reasonable for her husband to approach his brother privately and ask his feelings on the issue. If John doesn't mind childhood photos in an album, then great. If he does, however, then Anonymous should do her best to find ones of her husband only, or have the pictures cropped. -- MICHIGAN TRANSGUY
    DEAR MICHIGAN TRANSGUY: Thank you for your authoritative response. Anonymous was hesitant to discuss this sensitive issue with her brother-in-law or any other family member. Many readers agreed with you that the wisest course of action would be to talk to John for his input. Read on:
    DEAR ABBY: Although the subject is "something that is never mentioned," the writer's husband needs to sit down with his brother and discuss the matter. The fact that John is transgendered appears to be the elephant in the living room that no one wants to discuss. Surely John has anticipated these things from early on in his new life, and a psychiatrist most likely prepared him for it before he even had the gender reassignment surgery. Ignoring it and acting like he's some sort of oddity that's not to be mentioned is probably the worst thing that could be done — for everyone, including John. -- SAN JOSE, CALIF., READER  
    DEAR ABBY: Anonymous shouldn't be so sure that John doesn't know she knows. Most spouses discuss their childhoods with each other, and John probably assumes that his brother had told her about his history.
    At some point the children will ask more questions, as will adults. Most transpeople are open about their gender, and Anonymous can use the photo album as an opportunity to teach, as you stated, that John was always male. People need to hear this message, so that they, too, can understand. As with same-sex love, gender issues should be discussed matter-of-factly with children. -- LIBBY IN ATLANTA
    DEAR ABBY: To show respect and acceptance, she should ask John how he would handle such a conversation with her child. In addition, when her child asks about the apparent discrepancy in the photos, at what will inevitably be the most inappropriate moment (i.e. Thanksgiving dinner), she and John should be prepared rather than exchanging awkward glances. It takes communication to keep the dynamics of a family healthy. (Take it from someone who has a few skeletons in the closet!) -- JENNY IN RENO
    DEAR ABBY: I'm also a transman (born in a female body). It was refreshing to read such a sensible reply. Most often, we transgendered folk are treated as freaks even though it has been proven again and again that gender is determined by what is between your ears, not between your legs. -- MIKHAIL IN GRAND RAPIDS
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