He’s Not There

He’s Not There (Part 1 of 2)

There are a number of good books on transitioning from male to female, including notable titles by Deirdre McCloskey, Jennifer Boylan, and Joy Ladin. Boylan’s book, She’s Not There is probably the best-known memoir of the genre. I do not have much to add to the discussion about pre-transition issues, but I would like to write about the trauma surrounding the post transition period. My working title would be, He’s Not There.

Early in the transition process I exasperatedly told scores, “I am the same person I have always been! Can’t you understand that? I am the same person!” However, I have learned it is not helpful to use that language. The vast majority of people do not see the same person. They see someone radically different. To most, Paul is not there.

Though I look out of the same eyes from which I have always viewed the world, the world sees with different eyes and those eyes do not see a man. Cathy does not see Paul. My children do not see Paul. My friends do not see Paul. They all see Paula. I was offended a year ago when a close friend said, “It’s a shame you can’t just have a memorial service for Paul and disappear into a new life.” I am beginning to understand the first half of his equation might not have been a bad idea.

People are mourning the absence of Paul. Even those sympathetic to my transition, maybe especially those sympathetic to my transition, are struggling to let Paul go. They loved and respected the person they knew. I had not shared my gender dysphoria with more than a handful, and for good reason. Just the information that one deals with gender dysphoria is enough to cause friends to scatter and work contracts to end. But it wasn’t just that I had not shared the struggle. The issue was exacerbated by the fact my looks and demeanor gave no clue I was trans. I hid it very well. For all of those reasons and many more, my transition was shocking.

I am no longer concerned about those convinced my actions were sinful, selfish, or self-indulgent. We are on such different wavelengths attempts to communicate are futile. However I am concerned about those who have been supportive of my transition. The euphemism we use for death, passing, is actually pretty descriptive of the experience most have had. Paul is gone. A friend and family member has died.

But of course, I am still here. Part of me is offended when people suggest Paul has died. I feel like Not Dead Fred from Spamalot. “I’m not dead yet. I can dance and I can sing!” I have all the knowledge Paul had, and more. But as I hear the same refrain, time and again, I cannot deny the feelings of many very good people. Paul is gone.

They are struggling because they were comfortable with Paul, even if I was alienated from myself. And the person before them bears no resemblance to the one they knew so well. I have learned that from the number of times circumstances have forced me to reveal myself unannounced to someone who previously knew Paul. Just last week Norma at the airline gate said, “Just show me your driver’s license and I can give you a new boarding pass.” “But you know me Norma.” “No, I don’t.” “Norma, I’m Paul Williams.” “No, you’re not.” “Yes, I am.” “No you’re not.” Then I show Norma my driver’s license and she says, “Oh my God!” It happens every week.

The truth is Paul is gone, and not only does everyone else have to accept it, I must accept it. My transition has disrupted life for a lot of people, and the tentacles reach far beyond my family. Maybe it would have been better if there had been a memorial service.

The most painful part of transition is how incredibly difficult it is for those I love. What I have to keep in mind is that the people closest to me saw my pain and feared for my life. And yes, it is difficult dealing with my transition. But they understand the other option was not having me at all. When one of my children was talking with a friend whose father had died, she spoke about the losses related to my transition. Her friend said, “With all due respect, I would welcome my father back in any form.” My daughter said that was a turning point.

This is all so difficult. Sometimes I think it is a wonder any of us are still standing. But one of the blessings of life is that we exist in time and space. Time is a great ally. And with the passing of time, friends and family can bring closure to the life we once lived, and move into a new era with a new reality.