I think that as transpeople, we often fail to recognize or acknowledge how our change – coming out, transition, whatever – effects those closest in our lives. We downplay the idea that the others in our life feel a real sense of loss – profound loss – and that there is grief associated with that loss. We take the anger and sorrow and hurt expressed by others and turn it into something against us. But sometimes, it isn’t about us. It isn’t about blaming ourselves, what we did or didn’t do, or about ‘asking permission’ to be. Sometimes, it truly is about the others in our lives working things out for themselves.
Grief exposes the relationships – known and unknown – we have with others in our lives. It takes us outside ourselves and places us beside ourselves – in the uncomfortable position of watching ourselves subjected to change which is outside our control. We are being changed – and we cannot predict the outcome.
To transition in any way is to – in a very real sense – cease to be one person in favor of another. To deny that this is the experience of others in our life is to not be realistic. We have lived this our entire lives – nurturing this ‘inner self’ for so long. We recognize that this is – in fact – who we are, and it is because of this that we cling to the “But I’m still the same person” mantra. By the time we come out / transition / whatever, mentally we already are this ‘other person’ – our ‘transition’ – in whatever form – becomes the physical manifestation if this.
But the others in our life – not just wives / partners but friends and family as well – they haven’t been living with this. They didn’t establish a relationship – forge a bond – with the ‘new and improved us’, they did so with ‘old us’: as a son, brother, father, husband, etc. To suddenly declare that “I am no longer that person” – or worse, “I never was that person” goes beyond some superficial changes. What we have done is take the carefully constructed identity with which our wives / partners fell in love – the identity we choose to show the world – and we have stripped it away: leaving in its place someone who is very much a stranger. It causes those close to us to re-evaluate all that they thought they knew about us — and in turn about themselves. And in the process, there is a loss experienced here to which words do not do justice.
I characterize the day my wife asked me “Do you want to be a woman?” and I answered her, “I don’t know…” as the day that I ‘broke’ her. Because I could not answer her with a “No.” she can never look at me and see the same person. It was on that day that Gary, as my wife knew him, ceased to be – and this other person stood in his place: much the same – but also very much a stranger. In the days and weeks that followed, I tried to convince her that no matter what, I was “the same person I always was…” – but the damage was already done: the act of openly acknowledging my transness changed who I was – and I would never be the same person I was to her in the past.
It took me a while to acknowledge that I had changed and was changing. We tend, I think, to not see the change in ourselves: seeing instead the realization of who we were all along. Because of this, we cannot acknowledge that the others in our life have actually ‘lost’ something: the ‘brother’ our siblings grew up with, the ‘son’ our parents raised – the ‘husband’ with whom our wife fell in love – they have all lost this person. It is a very real loss and that is something significant to them. It does not mean that they will not accept and love us, it means that the relationship they will forge with us is a new one – no doubt based in part on their past relationship with the person we used to be – but a new relationship nonetheless.