Sage Advice: Aunt Wonders How to Embrace Transgender Niece
Dear Amy: I am one of six adult siblings. We gather once or twice a year in a low-key kind of way to stay connected and catch up.
My brother “Tom,” his wife and three adult children stopped attending these events a couple of years ago. This left us perplexed. Recently Tom’s son (my nephew) shared with the family that he was gender-transitioning to being a woman.
We reached out to my brother and our new niece, “Laura,” in our individual ways, with messages of support and acceptance. My brother followed up with an email explaining that this was the reason for the recent absences, as they took time to process it and to support Laura, who wasn’t yet ready to share her changes with the broader family.
We will soon be having another gathering and Laura may be joining us. I am at a loss as to how to greet her when she walks through the door (after giving her a big hug, of course). I want to say something that acknowledges this important step in her journey, but I do not want to say anything that might seem insensitive or awkward.
Amy, you always seem to have the right words for any occasion. Please help!
– Grateful Aunty
Dear Aunty: Keep in mind that “Laura” is likely as nervous (or more nervous) than you are.
She will be part of your family for the rest of her life, and so don’t force yourself (or her) to cover too much ground in this one meeting.
No awkward string of words is really necessary when you can deliver a hearty hug. Make eye contact with your niece, and say, “Welcome back, Laura. I’ve missed you!” After that, you will find ways to resume your relationship, which was presumably well-established before her absence. Don’t worry about igniting an instant connection, but let her reveal her own story as she chooses, through time. You will all adjust.
In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers.