The New Girl: Rhyannon Styles On Facing Transphobia In Her Own Family

When ELLE's Transgender Columnist was told to stay away from her nan's funeral she decided she had to go - to stand up for who she is, the person her nan had loved

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One afternoon last March, as I sat in my nan's kitchen, she recalled a memory of me.

Aged seven I had asked if I could wear two aprons, one at the front and one at the back, to resemble a makeshift dress.

I had also asked for a ribbon, so I could attach it to a hair slide and wear it in my hair.

Nanny Marge was always supportive of my desires. When I had been after a My Little Pony wall clock for some time, she bought it for me – much to the disapproval of other family members.

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I was overjoyed to finally have something which I felt expressed the femininity I craved.

In April 2012 I began a transition from Ryan to Rhyannon, but I didn't know how I was going to tell my family, especially my nan.

When I started the process of coming out as trans to my family I was told by my dad that my nan should not have to take that to her grave.

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That Christmas I visited her and presented as the old me, as Ryan.

She immediately knew something was wrong, my behaviour screamed uncomfortable, my personality was different and she asked me 'Where's your sparkle gone?'.

I was wearing 'boy' clothes for the first time in six months - it made me deeply unhappy.

But I couldn't bring myself to tell nan that I was transgender.

Nanny Marge is 90, love this woman. #family #transition #springtime

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The consequences of losing her as a supportive relative felt too risky – I wasn't ready.

When I started the process of coming out as trans to my family I was told by my dad that my nan should not have to take that to her grave.

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Which, in effect, meant I could never see her again as I would never step back into the costume of Ryan for anyone ever again.

This hurt me. I desperately wanted to continue seeing my nan and build a new relationship with her as Rhyannon.

I put off telling my grandparents, I didn't see any of them for over ten months.

They didn't know that I was living my life in London as a transgender woman, they didn't know that for the first time in my life I felt comfortable in my gender role.

This felt dishonest but it was the way it was. My mum told her parents by reading them the letter I'd written to her. They were shocked and confused, it was a familiar story.

Before long the news reached Nanny Marge.

It wasn't me who told her, and the revelation upset her because she was the last to find out.

By then Nanny Marge was ninety years old and still had all her marbles.

Once I knew that she knew, I spoke to her over the phone. The first thing she said was 'I'm not surprised'.

From that point on, whenever we spoke she always corrected herself and apologised if she used the wrong name or pro-noun.

Whenever I saw her we'd joke about my changing appearance - 'Ooh I say Rhyannon, you look more like a woman every time I see you!'.

We were comfortable together and it felt fantastic to have this relationship with her.

Nanny Marge died last year, a week before Christmas. I was distraught.

To make matters worse I was told by some members of my family that I wasn't welcome at her funeral, that my presence would spoil the ceremony.

I was advised not to attend.

It felt like the chance of saying good-bye was being robbed from me. I broke down and cried, I couldn't believe this was happening.

It was obvious to me that my visibility as a transgender woman was causing this prejudice.

The day before the funeral I was told by email 'You are no longer the person that nan loved, stay away tomorrow'.

My nan did love me, she sent me birthday cards, introduced me to her cleaner as her granddaughter and allowed me to push her around the village in her wheelchair.

The day before the funeral I was told by email 'You are no longer the person that nan loved, stay away tomorrow'.

I addressed the transphobia directly.

My reply stated - 'You've left me with no choice but to attend the funeral, to stand up for who I am, the person that nan loved.' I refused to be silenced.

Accompanied by my boyfriend Ryan, I attended Nanny Marge's funeral.

It was a highly charged, emotional day, and I felt uncertain. Ryan and I crept into the service just after it started and we left via a different door to avoid any possible conflict.

The only person who acknowledged me was my cousin, who gave me a reassuring wave and a smile.

Personally I needed the ceremony, not the drama.

Attending Nan's funeral brought closure to my relationship with a woman whom I'll never forget, who taught me to stand up for myself, encouraged my creativity and showed me unconditional love.

Love, after all, is an action and not words.

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