I’ve gone through the loss of many important people in my life, including my grandpa who always made sure to let me know how much he loved me. Every version of me. The version who had black hair and anger issues. The version of me that came out as a lesbian. I remember him laughing when I told him, saying “at least we don’t need to worry about another grandchild.” Then, the version of me who married a man as I was realizing that maybe I was one too. The version of me that brought my newborn to his home while he was dying, neither of us knowing it would be the last time we saw each other.

He didn’t know me, however, after I had started taking testosterone and living my life in a more masculine expression. I sent my grandma a story I wrote for The Washington Post about my gender journey, and was surprised to hear how proud she was of me. “And,” she told me, “grandpa is too.”

Still, I wonder what the conversations would be like with him about being perceived as a man. He was the person in my family I felt like I most wanted to be like, a symbol of soft masculinity that felt more fitting to me. I wish we could’ve related in that way.

Coming Out After the Death of a Parent or Loved One

coming out after death

My friend Hank had a similar experience, losing their dad to cancer when they were just fourteen, and coming out as trans over a decade later. We both experienced the loss of a person who was mutually important to us, and grief has been heavy on our minds.

We sit together on hammocks in my backyard, watching the dog chase the cat and the cat chase the chickens, and reflect on what it is like to change after someone dies. “I feel like all of my ‘becoming who I am’ years happened after him,” they tell me.

Things like learning how to deal with their trauma, all of their big emotions as a teenager and young adult, and even navigating the grief of him dying. “I had been doing a lot of my own parenting since he got sick, so I’ve had to learn how to let other people care for me in a way he never really saw. He was always so ‘impressed’ by my self-sufficiency.”

 I can’t imagine a world where he fully rejected me and my transness even if he didn’t fully get it right all the time. 

For Hank, growing up also meant coming out as trans and going through some medical changes in order to transition into a body that felt more like them. “He was really proud of me as his daughter, didn’t want me to cut my hair too short, and was fairly invested in being a girl dad.” Says Hank, “He also at the same time wanted to do ‘boy things’ with me, because he didn’t really know how to relate outside of fishing and sports and helping me with my bike.”

Hank and their father

I feel grateful that I had some kind of validation from my grandma that my grandpa would have still loved me regardless of my gender expression, and I asked Hank if it feels hard not knowing how their dad would have responded. They’ve thought about this a lot though, “I think it would take him a while to catch up and understand my transness, but if he looked at my life now I think he would still relate and not be completely lost. Even though he was sometimes a fucked up person, he loved me a lot in his own way and I can’t imagine a world where he fully rejected me and my transness even if he didn’t fully get it right all the time.”

I asked our TalkDeath followers on Instagram how they’ve changed since their loved ones have died, and what they wish they could share with them about the person they’ve become.

“It’s made me into a death advocate. Before I knew nothing about the dying and after death process. Since I’ve learned so much and am still learning about the most natural things in the world to us as humans and I try to comfort those around me and share my knowledge when wanted.”

“i started my gender transition a little over a year after my mother passed away. i so desperately wish i had been able to discover that part of myself while she was still here and share that journey with her. i know she would have been incredibly supportive and i really would have loved to have her with me for those big milestones. i also met my partner after my mom passed, joined the vetmed field after she passed, got my dream dog after she passed… so many things pile up year after year and every single day i wish i could tell her about them all.”

“I wish she could’ve seen me truly happy. I wish she could’ve met my fiancée. I named my dog after my favorite childhood food, I want so badly to laugh with her about it. It’s so heavy doing everything without her.”

“my maternal grandparents died while i was in high school, which made me think about death more than ever before… i decided to go to school for mortuary science. my last grandparent, my paternal grandma, died this last saturday. now i will be able to participate in preparing her for her funeral tuesday. i have changed in my understanding of death and life, and i am incredibly honored to graduate mortuary school in a year so i can continue to serve people in this way” 

“I’m living my life with so much more purpose. The day to end things and start things and live the life I dream of is TODAY. It used to be some undisclosed future date. I assumed I would have the time to be happy later. I’m still so scared of living boldly sometimes. I wish she could know how much her love has changed me for the better, in life and death.” 

“It’s going on 10 years since I lost my loved one. He was a student going to university at the time and he always encouraged me to go back to school. I wanted to, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. After he died, I went back to school and in 2020 I graduated with my master’s degree in social work. I currently work as a therapist and my experience with my own grief has helped me to guide clients through theirs. The loss of my friend set me on a path and I wish he could be here to celebrate with me, but I also think about how different my path would have been had he not left.” 

“I had two family members pass when I was 18. They didn’t see me settle into adulthood… homes, jobs, engagement, marriage. Even “silly” things like my tattoos and art I’ve made. I think about this all the time. Sometimes I’ll look at my cat and think “my grandma would have loved you so much”. I am grateful they met my partner before passing but only once or twice. I’m grateful for the memories but it’ll never feel like it was enough time 💚” 

“I think about this a lot with my grandparents and wonder whether they would have loved and accepted me as my queer self. I hope they would still be proud of me. ❤️” 

“Everything about me has changed. I wish I’d gotten to come out to him, and learn about cars from him, and I wish he knew my brother and I still share his sense of humor. Mostly, I wish he knew I still miss him and I’ve wanted him to still be in my life all these years, more than anything else I can imagine.” 

“I really wish that Da and My Caroline could see the queer centric dying and death care we’d just started when they died. They were proud of me then, so I’m sure they would be moving forward.” 

Grief and Change

Hank and their father

So how do we move past the grief of our own change? “I had to move through the idea that keeping myself exactly as I was wasn’t going to make him come back.” Says Hank, gently swaying back and forth on the hammock, staring at the apple tree leaves. “I felt like I was trying to keep a version of myself in a bell jar because that somehow kept me closer to him, but in no world was me preserving myself gonna make him come back and it was really suffocating in that jar.”

In some ways, changing can help us feel closer to those we have lost. Since my grandpa died, I’ve started farming and taking care of chickens. The first time I had a chicken die, I thought about the stories I heard of him caring for his own chickens. The older I get, the closer I am to the experience I saw him living.

 Even if I’ll never know directly what my dead loved ones would think of me now, I can still find ways to grow alongside them. 

For Hank, a lot of their ideas of masculinity came from their dad. “I wanna grow a mustache because my dad had a mustache and I want to look like him in some ways.” They tell me, “I want to look like my dad because I’ve always been told I look like my mom, and not that I’m offended to be told I look like her… it’s just been kind of dysphoric to be told I look like her. In this transitioning journey I’d love for someone to tell me that I look like my dad.”

Sometimes, when I look at my very bad tattoos that I got in a kitchen at eighteen, I think about how much I still love that version of myself. Sometimes even more, because that was a version that my grandpa knew and loved too. And at the same time, I’m glad that I have been able to change and even sometimes get less impulsive tattoos. Even if I’ll never know directly what my dead loved ones would think of me now, I can still find ways to grow alongside them.

Sage Agee
Sage Agee [he/they] is TalkDeath’s Social Media Manager and Staff Writer. He is a certified Death Doula and runs a small-scale trans community farm called Phototaxis Farming Project. His writing focuses on death positivity, gender identity, sexuality, and parenting. He has written for The Washington Post, Insider, Parents Magazine, and more. Most of the time he is covered in dirt and looking for cool bugs.

    1 Comment

    1. I’m in the exact same boat after losing my dad in 2009. I came out as trans in 2020.
      I think he would be confused as hell but love me regardless.
      The hardest part is not having them around to guide you as a father figure.

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