Transforming Family

Our relationships with our respective families had long been quite difficult and markedly different for us to navigate before, and for a while after, we met. Yet, we are so unbelievably proud of and humbled by how hard both ourselves and our families have worked to bridge the painful emotional gaps separating us. In that sense, this piece is, surely, a thank-you to each other for how we transformed our families. Most importantly, however, this piece is a thank-you to our families for continuing to surprise us in the sweetest ways.


“Family” can be a loaded word for queer and trans people, and we are no strangers to that reality. Before very recently, River’s mother had long struggled with River’s gender and sexuality because of her faith; yet, the two have always shared an otherwise remarkably vulnerable relationship. Conversely, Alex’s mother has long supported Alex’s (and later River’s) queerness and transness; yet, the two have had a harder time communicating about their shared and individual traumas.


Though we were both out as queer to our families when we first started dating, River’s mother was not very eager to establish a connection with Alex. River’s mom’s internal turmoil turned into silence about River’s queerness, which, in turn, kept us from enjoying the blessings of our relationship, and later our marriage, with her. Recognizing this dynamic, Alex’s mom intentionally took River in, making them feel part of Alex’s family right away. That visible support from Alex’s family would later push River’s mom to recognize the undeniable magic of our relationship. Years later, when River was ready to share their transness with their mom, it was with Alex and Alex’s family by their side, too—at a reimagined, trans-as-fuck Gender Reveal Party put together by Alex, to boot.


All the while, River’s impact on Alex’s family (and Alex’s own connection to them) has been more grounded in opening up about long-held secrets and family skeletons. River’s signature honesty and comfortable distance from the roots of the secrecy made them comfortable enough to push Alex to confront her family and to ask questions Alex was never brave enough to ask. In every question, lingered more than simple curiosity: River saw opportunities to heal. They took chances, which only made Alex feel more empowered to do the same. River gave Alex’s family a reason to talk about the things they had long been harboring in silence for far too long, a Chinese tradition they were working to unlearn. River’s simple question to Alex’s mother about how her marriage was going, for example, was enough to unravel the lock, and so we began to process Alex’s tumultuous childhood, her parents’ traumas, her father’s mistakes and shame, and the road to vulnerability and connection.


Later, too, River’s transition through womanhood would serve as a roadmap to acceptance for Alex’s family as she navigated her own trans womanhood. Fully equipped now to see every bit of her, Alex’s family was more than ready to celebrate her. As a woman, a daughter, a sister, and an artist. It was also through River that Alex was able to see that her family was not as intolerant as she was initially made to believe by the white, model-minority, colonial lens that posits Asians as strict and homophobic. In reality, Alex’s family were progressive with rebellious spirits who made the willing journey to a whole new life, so why would they not understand the transition into a whole new identity? That realization crystallized when Alex’s grandmother, after hearing that we had already married, demanded us to perform the traditional Chinese tea ceremony to recognize the marriage and receive her blessing.


We are lucky our rebellious commitment to each other has pushed our given families to show up for us. We are even luckier that, in that process of acceptance, we have had to show up for our them, too. River’s mom now has so much more access to our lives and is beginning to honor and cherish the ways in which she single-handedly raised both a beautiful daughter and son. Alex now has access to conversations with her mom about the traumas they faced together and separately, and can say, without hesitation, “I love you. I want better for you.” Our queerness and transness ended up bringing our families closer together and, as we transformed, our light and newfound freedom rippled into our families, through each of our lineages, into the past, and forward into the future. That, put simply, is the magic of intergenerational growth and healing.

Photography by Jordyn Belli