When You Transition Everyone You Know Transitions Too
I began my so-called “path to transition” at the age of 54. That is when I finally said the words “I am transgender and I have to live authentically” out loud.
Of course, I knew that I was trans decades earlier. I was not able to put a name to it, but I knew there was something different about me even before I started kindergarten. 50 years later, I was a husband, father and senior business executive. To most other people, I had the stereotypical type-A male personality. I was a hard charger who worked 60-plus hours a week and reveled in the privilege that mature white men possess. Of course, much of what people saw was an act. Finally, after all those years, the pressure had built-up to the point where it needed release or I would sink into an unrecoverable depression. Thank goodness I said those words.
As most LGBTQ people know, there is an amazing amount of angst that is associated with being in the closet. There is also an intense feeling of being free when you step out into the sunlight. That, of course, it where Newton’s third law of physics kicks in. It says “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
In other words, while you may be finally stepping out into the light, many of the people in your life begin to experience their own worlds of anxiety. In effect, you are transferring many of the burdens you have been carrying to them.
The Terror Associated with Rejection
When a trans person comes out to a family member the first thing they worry about is rejection. In my case I was married for over 30 years and I could not imagine not having my wife by my side going forward. I also had a son who is the light of my life and I had a small but close group of friends and work associates who I depended on. “What,” I asked myself, “would happen if they reject me?” Would I be alone? Would I be disowned? Would I lose my livelihood?
Those were great questions and I am happy to say that the response from my wife and son has been all I could have asked for. My career is still going strong (here’s to being self-employed) and most of my friends have been supportive. In fact, I have only truly lost one close friend throughout the process thus far. I guess I did a pretty good job of picking the people with whom I associate.
Here Comes Newton
Like I said though, Newton’s third law does apply. I came out gradually to my friends and relatives. In person when I felt I could and in letters, emails and phone calls when appropriate. Each time I did so, virtually everyone made the right noises and had the desired reactions. But, as I have been transitioning, some of the people who matter the most to me have struggled.
My spouse, who has a large network of friends from our old neighborhood, through her church and her job stopped inviting friends over to the house because she did not want them, me or her to feel uncomfortable. To make matters worse, I was so wrapped-up in my world, I did not even notice until she brought it up two years after the fact.
My son was engaged to be married. In my mind, it was important to let him and his fiancé know about me and my pending transition prior to the wedding – after all, it was only fair that she know what she was getting into. Unfortunately, despite an initially positive reception, soon thereafter, the engagement was off. To be sure there were other issues involved, but there is no doubt that my transition added to their tensions. Now I ask myself, what will be the impact on his future relationships?
In my business circles, I began the coming out process as well. I have largely done so by having individual conversations but coming out in this slow-roll fashion has its costs. One of them is that I asked my associates to hold my “secret” while I worked through my list. That is definitely unfair. Plus, clients and business contacts have not known which name, email or phone number to use. Even more critically, it forced them to pause and think carefully about how they addressed me in meetings or group emails. This was confusing, a time waster and an unfair burden.
My friends have had to pay a price too. I am excited about finally getting to live my life in a more genuine fashion. That excitement can lead to fixation where all I want to talk about is transition and everything related to it. Luckily, a friend recently said to me “You know, it does not have to be ‘all trans, all the time.’ How about we change the topic.” After a bit of shock and self-examination, I came to realize that I may not have been paying their friendship back very well.
There Are Two Sides to Every Coin
Partners and spouses definitely have a challenging road. While a transitioning person’s path is not an easy one, for them there are clear mileposts along the way to achieving an ultimate goal. That is not necessarily the case for a partner.
Think about it…beyond navigating the issues of potentially coming to terms with a new version of their sexuality and the possibility of being ostracized by friends and relatives, there are dozens of new rules (mostly unspoken) that have to be renegotiated. These range from who buys the flowers on Valentine’s Day to how you introduce your partner at a party to how you sign greeting cards during the Holidays.
In other words, prior to the transition there was a relatively easy to understand script to follow. Now the script has been torn-up and there are few resources available to help a spouse or partner to find a new one. It is no wonder surveys show that fewer than 50% of all relationships survive a transition.
Is Transition Selfish?
The quick answer is “yes” and most trans people I know have struggled with the guilt associated with that selfish act. But, in the long-run you cannot take care of the people who matter to you most if you do not take care of yourself first. In my case, I had to come to the realization that while transition is something I am doing for me, it is not exclusively about me. This is a reality that most transitioning people come to terms with sooner or later.
Our family members may grieve just as we feel we are being born and our friends and coworkers will have to make significant adjustments in their thinking and relationships with us. But, in the end, if everyone truly cares about each other and are willing to negotiate and make the adjustments necessary, transition can be successful for all parties.
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Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by Lehigh Valley Renaissance.
About Lehigh Valley Transgender Renaissance
The leading organization for support and education around transgender issues in Eastern PA and Western NJ, our focus is on supporting transgender individuals as they work through their journey to become their authentic selves while helping the community at large learn more about what it means to be transgender. If you would like to learn more about our Lehigh Valley transgender support group or to write an article for our blog please contact Lehigh Valley Renaissance or better yet join us at one of our monthly transgender support meetings! Note: The opinions in this article are those of the author and not necessarily that of Lehigh Valley Renaissance or the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center.Note: This article originally appeared in The Gay Journal's Fall 2018 issue