"My mum wouldn’t accept my trans boyfriend"

Paisley Gilmour
Photo credit: YouTube/Nelson Bostock

From Cosmopolitan

Photo credit: YouTube/Nelson Bostock

For so many trans people across the world, ‘coming out’ for the first time can be a daunting – and sadly in too many cases, dangerous – thing. But, what happens when your own family thoroughly support your transition, but your partner's family don’t? Does not being accepted by the parents of the person you love have an impact on your relationship? How do you navigate a future together when your in-laws refuse to talk to you?

This was a reality for YouTube Creators Jamie Raines and Shaaba Lotun, both 24, for many years after first getting together. After meeting in a college art class aged 16, Jamie and Shaaba become close friends before Jamie transitioned.

“I’d always felt different, and when I was four is my earliest memory of thinking I was ‘one of the boys’,” Jamie says. “Then when I was 16, I watched a documentary about a trans guy, and it just kind of brought me the language I needed to describe how I was feeling.” Jamie told his mum he was questioning his gender identity in early 2011, and after coming out to Shaaba in August, slowly started socially transitioning and changing his name.

A little bit more than friends

As well as finally feeling like himself, it sparked something in his relationship with Shaaba. Jamie says, “After I started transitioning, Shaaba and I grew closer in a different way, and started talking about how it could be more than a friendship.”

“When Jamie came out it brought out a more confident version of him,” Shaaba says. “We didn’t want to label what we were, but in the November we said, ‘OK maybe we’re a little bit more than friends’. Although she felt the same, Shaaba did have some concerns.

“I was living with my mum at the time and she was incredibly strict,” she says. “I’d told her Jamie had transitioned because there was no way I could have kept that from her. But, I knew I would be judged. Stereotypically, traditional Asians are known for being really protective over their children’s relationships, which is true in my family’s case.”

After Shaaba’s mum and step dad found out she was dating Jamie, the couple was forced to deal with a number of misconceptions and misunderstandings about trans people.

“I’d only been in relationships with guys," Shaaba explains. "Being with Jamie was the same in that sense, but my mum thought that made me a lesbian. My parents didn’t have an understanding of trans issues at all. And the frustrating thing was they weren’t willing to learn and understand more.”

Photo credit: YouTube/Nelson Bostock

One of Shaaba’s mum’s biggest worries, was that Shaaba dating a trans man would affect her having children in the future. They also didn’t want to meet or talk to Jamie after he transitioned.

This reaction meant the couple had to think about what their future might look like. Jamie says, “It was really strange because we were only 17, but we were forced to decide whether the relationship was serious really early on. We had to decide: ‘Is this worth it?’ But we knew we didn't want to lose each other."

Dealing with the guilt

The only way they were able to keep the relationship going was to keep it secret, and Shaaba’s family’s lack of acceptance impacted the relationship in other ways, too. “Usually when you hear of people transitioning they have all sorts of issues with their own family and friends. But Jamie’s family were amazing. All the negativity was coming from my family, and for that I felt an insane amount of guilt,” she says. At the same time, Jamie says he felt guilty for what Shaaba was going through with her mum.

“Unfortunately it got worse before it got better,” Shaaba says. “I was kicked out of the home. I wasn’t allowed to see my sisters on that side, and I was living with Jamie and his parents.”

During this time, both Jamie and Shaaba felt the need to analyse why they were together. “I definitely think there was an element of teenage rebellion in there. Were we together because we liked each other, or to make a stand for what was right?” Jamie adds, “There was always a bit of me wondered, ‘What if this is just because we’ve fought for so long?’"

“Unfortunately it got worse before it got better,” Shaaba says. “I was kicked out of the home. I wasn’t allowed to see my sisters on that side, and I was living with Jamie and his parents.”

In 2014 at Christmas, Shaaba was invited to spend it with her family. When she arrived at her mum’s house on Christmas day, all her family members started asking, "Where’s Jamie?” “I told them, ‘Of course I wasn’t going to bring him because you all hate him’. And then everyone just broke down in tears, and mum told me to bring Jamie over. It was this weird Christmas miracle.”

A few days later, four years after they first started dating, Jamie visited Shaaba’s mum and step dad for the first time since transitioning. “It was so weird,” he says. “They were grilling me for the best part of three hours, asking how I saw the relationship, if we’d talked about marriage, how I would be able to have kids, if I’d be willing to convert, and then loads of questions about my transition.

“By this point I had facial hair and my voice had broken. Shaaba’s step dad was staring at me and said, ‘You’d never tell [that you’re trans]. I’m really surprised at how masculine you look.’”

Gradual acceptance

While Jamie says having that initial chat did help, things didn’t exactly get better straight away: “Slowly, it got to the point where talking about me wasn’t taboo, then they began to use the right name and pronouns for me. Then, if I saw Shaaba’s mum we would say ‘Hi’, rather than not looking at each other.” Still, Shaaba was receiving phone calls from her grandma, trying to set her up with the “perfect man”.

Photo credit: cosmo

While many couples would have found this incredibly difficult to get through, Jamie and Shaaba stayed strong. “It was stressful and horrible, and I hated seeing Shaaba struggle so much with her family,” Jamie says. “But in a way, it pushed us closer together – which was the opposite of her mum’s intentions, to put pressure on us to break up.”

Ultimately, it was their persistence and patience with Shaaba’s family that paid off. Shaaba says, “We were both invested in making the relationship with my mum’s side work. We knew that being immature, lashing out or refusing to speak to them would never have worked. The only way that you can try and make people understand is to be kind and to be patient, and wait for them to come to you.”

The proposal

Ever since they first got together, Jamie and Shaaba had talked about marriage. “Shaaba has a thing for the number 17. Her birthday is on the 17th and the number seems to follow her. So, I wanted to propose in 2017, and at the beginning of the year I started planning and picked the date of September 2017. I wanted to make it really special.”

He had a ring made and planned to propose at the University of Essex where they both work and study, “It’s a special place to us, and there’s a really pretty lake. I wanted to make it even more special, and decided to have all of Shaaba’s immediate family there – even though her parents are split up and haven’t been in the same room for years.”

Shaaba says, “On the 17th of each month leading up to the proposal, Jamie was doing really cute things like giving me a present, or a list of 17 things he loved about me. I know, this sounds puke-inducing. On September 17th he took me to different places and gave me a new explanation each time – the college we went to, the train station where I’d meet him when I was pretending to go see my dad, a post box where we used to meet.”

They ended up at the uni, and Jamie got down on one knee. “I ugly cried like crazy. And then across the lake I saw my mum, step dad and three sisters. And on the other side of the lake was my dad, my step mum and my two sisters. There were so many tears and happy times, it was the best day of my life so far.”

Being accepted by Shaaba’s family at last has meant they can finally just enjoy being together like any other couple. Shaaba adds, “It’s been really liberating because things have changed massively since we first started dating. Now my mum is a lot more accepting, and Jamie will come to parties and there won’t be any tension. And, now we know we’re very clearly in a relationship because we want to be together – not just because we’re fighting for what’s right.”

Photo credit: YouTube/Nelson Bostock

Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, a charity that supports transgender children, young people and their families, points out the direct link that has been evidenced by studies regarding the positive effect of peer and family support for transgender people:

"Society still has a long way to go before there is overarching acceptance and celebration of all identities, so the ongoing discrimination faced by transgender people needs to be constantly challenged. It is not acceptable to perpetuate hate based on someone’s sense of self. It constantly amazes me that people believe they have a right to dictate how someone else lives, when it has no impact on them personally in any way.

"It is heart warming to see that despite the obstacles placed in this couple’s path, they managed to stay strong and true to one another, and challenge prejudice within the heart of their family relations. We wish them all the very best for the future."

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