It’s not that transgender people are new, as they have been around since the beginning of time. It’s only now that transgender people feel more comfortable in some circles to come out openly, seek medical advice, or transition in private. So, how do you handle a family member who comes out with this secret they held privately for so many years or a younger member who at age 18 decides life will not be possible unless they are true to who they know they are?
You as a genealogist has researched your family history for years, but learn a member of your family is not who you think they are. As a genealogist, you are always seeking the truth, factual information, along with accurate history as you research and build your labor of love. How do you handle this? How do you respectfully create or update this member’s Gedcom file to reflect the truth, the facts? How do you update this person’s profile if for years everybody has known them as they live, without sending people into a state of confusion as to the abrupt file change?
Fear not, as it’s never about what other people think. If it was, you’d never have a genealogy file. Some would discourage you from including them, their history, and frown upon what they perceive to be an invasion of their privacy or safe space. As a genealogist, you’re always are on the fence regarding how much truth is too much truth, and whether that truth is something the world should know for eternity. You can damage one’s legacy or create a fictitious version of that person portraying them as the best uncle or aunt on planet Earth.
Rules Of Engagement
So, being the fair-minded person you are, how would you handle a member who is transgender? What information is ok to build into their information file?
- Ask. Anyone who is an adult should be asked. Your job is to represent your family members in the fairest and most accurate light possible. Those under the age of 18 usually have not made a huge footprint on this planet or accomplished publicly great notable deeds, so updating their file early may be best. I believe those who transition in their late teens have been thinking about who they are, or better yet, who they are not, since their ability to be cognizant and self-aware. Use discretion when attempting to interview minors, since you never know how accepting their immediate family may be. You may decide not to engage anyone until the 18th year. I would advise this approach and possibly even add another few years – say 21. Use your best judgment, as your request can either be the worse decision you’ve ever made, or one met with acceptance and gratitude for having the respect to ask first.
- Record updates. Do you make changes in the dead of night under the cover of darkness, then leave a private note to yourself in their file or do you make the change cold turkey and be done with it? There are so many un-blazed paths to take that might make you feel good about your choice, or guilty as hell about making such an important personal file decision that will have lasting unknown consequences.
- Own it. Whatever decision you make you must own it, protect it, justify it if you must, however you must come to terms with decisions that by default are not yours alone to make. It’s not your life, and as much as some think life is black and white, there are grey areas that don’t grant you the right to make reputation affecting decisions. A genealogist is a researcher of life and the keeper of records, that most society seldom thinks about and rarely delves into. Once the decision is made on how to update and represent your transgender family member’s file, you will hopefully feel a sense of contentment with that decision. As a genealogist and researcher, you always want to be factually correct, but you also want to show a sense of humility and respect for everyone you represent in your tree of life.
- So, when in doubt, ask? Never assume a transgender person wants to be outed and known as transgender. Most transgender people are reserved and are not looking for conflict, however, some are trailblazers and want to bring attention to social issues and their own story.
Transgender Friendly Genealogy Software
If you’re tasked to represent your family member as transgender, is there genealogy software that makes this task easier? One specific software is https://www.genopro.com This software uses genograms that can show diagrams and symbols that show and represent relationships and other person-specific qualities.
I hope I have shed some light on this subject that up until recently wasn’t something that we had to think about. People are interesting and at times complicated. If your passion is to document the family history experience, the right tools and approach will make your job that much easier and fulfilling. Please comment and let me know your thoughts on this issue.
Happy Researching! – Shawn L Gillis Gearin