Biko and her older brother Tyler.

Families Transition, Too

Families Transition, Too

When a relative comes out as trans, what happens next? Activist Cherno Biko introduces the MEL Films series ‘Families In Transition,’ exploring the relationships between transgender people and their cis male family members

Although I’ve heard multiple variations of my birth story over the last 24 years, everyone agrees that I was a miracle.

My mom always talked about how I was conceived during the holidays, after a night of crab legs and Tawny Port Wine. About 12 weeks into her pregnancy, she began experiencing extreme pelvic pain, uterine cramps and bleeding. Instead of having the pregnancy terminated, she waited to miscarry, but then, at her next ultrasound, the doctor heard a second heartbeat — mine.

My mother and I still don’t know the details of the miscarriage: whether there were two babies that merged into one or another form of Vanishing Twin Syndrome. When my brother was a kid, he used to taunt me by saying that I was so fat I ate my twin, but I’m positive that my mother’s love and faith is what protected my birth passage and continues to support me as I live my life as the fierce, black, trans and intersex warrior I am today.

Did you just tense up?

When trans and gender queer people disclose information about our gender identity and expression, it can elicit a wide array of emotions from the people we’re opening up to: confusion, sadness, fear, surprise, disappointment, shock, anger and shame. But for some parents, learning that their child is transgender or gender nonconforming can actually be a relief, as they begin to finally understand why their child has been so sad or withdrawn. That is, until they’re allowed to dress and play in a way that feels right to them.

This wasn’t the case for me.

I was born and raised in Ohio, not too far from where the trans woman Bri Golec was murdered in Akron last year. I was shocked to learn it was her father, Kevin Golec, who stabbed her in the neck. During his call to 911, he misgendered Bri as “his son” and told the police that Bri had been murdered by a cult. Perhaps the cult he was referring to was the local trans community — to which both Bri and I belonged.

Like Bri’s father, mine couldn’t deal with the fact that I was transgender. He considered me a disgrace to the Biko family name. And a little more than 10 years ago, he disowned me. The last words he ever yelled at me were, “You are no son of mine!”

Ever since, I’ve spent my life trying to prove to him and myself that I could continue the legacy of our family with dignity and honor while still living authentically. Unlike many trans folks, I chose to keep my birth name. A small part of this choice had to do with spiting my father, but mostly it had to do with how proud I am of my family and our rich legacy of resistance as Black Americans.

MEL, the publication you’re reading, is aimed at men. Because of the abuse I’ve survived at the hands of many men, including my own male family members, I was hesitant to participate in a video series about the relationships between trans people and their family members for a site geared toward able-bodied, cis, white, middle-class men. Then I realized, Wait a minute! What does it mean to be a man? Aren’t trans men, men? What about gender non-conforming and intersex folks? Or, even more generally, what about the cis guys that are related to trans people but most frequently lack information about what being transgender even means?

I thought about my work with Black Trans Lives Matter, how I’ve embraced mothers, grieving over the loss of their trans sons and daughters, as they confess to me how they could have loved their children more. As an activist, it’s critical to me that we begin our political practices by actively organizing our family and friends around issues of trans safety and survival. Maybe if more parents would stop discarding their own trans children, we wouldn’t so often be dying like dogs on city streets.

People have dubbed the era we live in the “trans tipping point” in terms of our own human rights. And while it might eventually be exactly that, we aren’t there yet. 2015 was still the deadliest year on record for black trans women and black gender-nonconforming people. Just last week I learned of another young black trans woman murdered in Philadelphia; her name was Maya Young. Sure, Caitlyn Jenner has catapulted our movement into the mainstream, but that doesn’t change one simple fact: For many parents, guardians, family members and friends, the news that someone they know is transgender or gender expansive can be crushing.

The floodgate of feelings opens and many questions come up. There is a big need for resources and support.

The following videos will introduce you to a diverse group of families in transition. You’ll meet my oldest brother Tyler who, along with my mother and grandmother, has learned to support me as the woman that I am. You’ll also meet four other trans people and their cis male family members (brothers, father, and a romantic life-partner). “Families in Transition” explores how these men, alongside the trans folk they’re so close to, have navigated their own struggles with masculinity and manhood while learning to celebrate their trans family members.

Watch the next four parts in the series:

Cherno Biko is a human rights advocate and media activist living in Brooklyn. Her writing has appeared in Matter and The Daily Dot.

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