According to a comprehensive study of LGBT people living in the United States, 39% of all LGBT Americans have experienced some level of estrangement from family or friends due to their sexuality or gender identity. The study, conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013 , also determined that around 30% of the community had been physically attacked or threatened and 21% had been treated unfairly by an employer.
It appears to be an under-researched field in Australia, but unfortunately, estrangement from loved ones is an unsettling reality mirrored in the lives of far too many Australian LGBTIQ people, particularly within the local transgender community, where family members often feel torn between their religious upbringings and loved one’s identity.
For Sydney-based Georgio Rodriguez* (surname changed at Georgio’s request), the ordeal of coming out to his family twice — first as gay, then as transgender — has been the cause of an increasingly distant and fraught relationship with his mother, who refuses to respect his new name and pronouns. Further still, his recent transition has become an emotional point of contention in attempted reconciliations with his long-estranged father.
“When I was 13 I started playing women's rugby and was introduced to a whole lot of things that were too mature for me,” Rodriguez tells me — “predominantly women, partying, and alcohol.”
“When I was 15 I started dating an older woman from one of my rival rugby teams. I kept this hidden from my friends and family for a while, but mum eventually noticed that I was spending a lot of time with this woman and asked me if I was gay. I told her that I wasn’t, to which she replied — ‘Good, because I would rather kill myself then have a gay daughter!’"
Rodriguez concedes that his relationship with his mother has suffered in the years since, as he eventually opened up to her about who he was.
“It has distanced me a lot from my mum because I knew that, at least in her view, my gender and sexuality weren’t coherent with her religious beliefs,” Rodriguez says.
“When I eventually came out to her as transgender, she told me I was sick and that God would cure me. She still hasn't wrapped her head around it and insists on using female pronouns and calling me by my old name.”
When considering the prospect of reconciling at some point in the future, Georgio says there would have to be some fundamental changes — but insists that his hopes for his mother are simple.
“I just wish she would understand that being trans isn’t a sickness and that it hurts when she misgenders me and uses my old name,” Rodriguez says. “As long as she remains committed to her religion, which is more important to her than anything, our relationship probably won’t change.”
Before his transition a year and a half ago, Rodriguez travelled all the way to London in the hopes of forging a new relationship with his father, who had been absent since early childhood. While the results might’ve been heartbreaking, Georgio was able to find some solace in a Facebook message sent a little while later.
“When I arrived, he physically hid from me,” Rodriguez recalls. “He eventually got really drunk and gave me a hug — but when I waved goodbye to him it broke my heart because I really needed a good male role model and never had one.”
“All I had was a drunk, drugged-up 49-year-old man, still playing in a band, who simply didn't want to know his kids. But he sent me a beautiful message on Facebook after my transition, saying that he accepts me and that he loves his son.”
“He might be too self-involved to care about me, but at least he sent me that message so I can hold my head up.”
The ground-breaking new six-part documentary series, Look Me In The Eye, will debut on SBS on Wednesday 6 September at 8.30pm. Each episode, airing weekly on Wednesdays at 8.30pm, will be available to view on SBS On Demand after broadcast. Watch the preview below.