The Tentacles of Authenticity
There is Once Before a Time and there is Once Upon a Time. When one is transgender, the break between living as a male and a female is a continental divide. For those in one’s inner circle, it becomes their Once Upon a Time, when the narrative changes forever. Everything before is seen through a glass darkly.
What do you do with wedding albums, scrapbooks and family photos? It took me awhile, but pretty much every family picture has been taken down. Well, only the ones that included pictures of me. Maybe the day will come when I put them up again, but that feels a long way off.
You don’t think about these things when you are in the throes of depression, wondering how you can stay alive as you struggle with your gender identity. You just want the pain to stop, and the only acceptable way for it to stop is to transition. You are thinking one day at a time, and the rose-colored glasses of denial get you through.
I was talking with two friends who came out as gay shortly after I came out as transgender. We are all from evangelical backgrounds. My friends were noting the differences in our experiences. The friends look the same as ever. They have pretty much the same friends, minus the evangelicals who cut them off. At work and in the neighborhood, all is well. That is not my story.
I was not able to keep my work, and even if I had been, I would have arrived at work as a different gender. We are a gendered society, and that is not easy for anyone, regardless of whether or not they have assigned a moral value to your decision to transition.
A number of my neighbors are friendly and warm, but an equal number avoid me, which is not the experience of the two friends with whom I was speaking. And maybe most significantly, though the lives of their families have been greatly disrupted by their decision to come out, my friends still look the same to their children, and play the same parental role. Only their marriages experienced the kind of disruption that occurred in my broader world. (Of course, that alone is enough to play havoc with everyone’s sense of well being.)
At this point, my family is beginning to find a new normal. Because of their grace, I have been included in their lives. But the tentacles of authenticity reach far beyond family, co-workers and close friends. They reach out to the farthest reaches of my social interactions. When you are in the midst of the struggle, those tentacles are barely a passing thought. But with the passing of time, they become the struggle.
I had to think about whether or not I would be allowed at the funerals of my parents. I have had conversations with them. My father asked if I would preach the funeral should my mother die before he does. I explained that I could, but the majority of people who would attend would be extremely uncomfortable, if they came at all. He struggled to understand.
The youngest child of dear friends passed away last week. He was one of the kindest and most precious humans I have ever known. I wanted to jump on a plane and return to New York, but none of the extended family has met me as me, and this time needs to be about grieving, not about the family friend who transitioned genders. So I remain in Colorado and hold my own private vigil.
Every time I am asked to speak at a public gathering, those doing the asking have had to think about the impact my presence will have on their church, social club, company or non-profit. Extensive conversations were necessary before I got the invitation. I didn’t think about that before I transitioned.
It is easy for this kind of post to appear as a “Woe is me” kind of self-indulgence. That is not my intent. It’s just that I am constantly finding new levels of awareness. I ask, “When will life be normal again?” The answer is never. There is only a new normal.
If psychotherapy alone were adequate to treat gender identity issues, I’d be all for it. But most of the time it is not. It is a necessary part of the process, but it provides no cure. Some are able to get through life without transitioning. I wish I could have done the same. I could not.
For those of us called to transition, to that painful authenticity, we must extend grace to ourselves. That is hard to do when you come from a religious world that has judged you harshly. But if you keep your eyes on your Creator, God’s love is enough. And on your better days, you can say with Dag Hammarskjold, “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.”