I'm writing this as a personal response to the current situations of three friends of mine. These are three ladies - three trans women, all roughly at the same point in time regarding their transition from male to female. They have all changed their identities to female, in line with their gender identity, and are all currently living full time in role. This means living in the female role all the time - at home and at work.
All three of them have issues they are sorting out at work - these vary between them from day to day remarks made by colleagues which make a stressful job even more stressful, and extra workload/responsibilities, to the knowledge that one particular job placement is obviously coming to an end, and will mean the strain of seeking new employment.
These problems in themselves would be enough for most people to cope with, yet these ladies also have additional emotional burdens to cope with.
All trans people have families and loved ones whose lives are also affected directly by their transsexualism. It goes without saying that when one has a transperson in a family there can be many emotional issues that affect everybody concerned. This sometimes results in family members, and other loved ones, opting out of the trans person's life, as they find the change too difficult to cope with.
Trans people themselves are well aware of this, and many feel enormous guilt that they have hurt their loved ones in such a way. However, even though they may be aware of the hurt they may bring to their families by transitioning, the need to change is overwhelming, and in many cases when this point is reached, the only available alternative does not bear thinking about.
It is a fact that there is a high rate of suicide amongst pre-operative trans people, and that also many others seriously contemplate suicide even though they may not take this action. There is only so long that any human being can continue to pretend to be someone - something - that they know they are not. Living a lie is debilitating, and takes its toll. Transition is not a lifestyle choice.
Actually, if you think about it, who on earth would ever choose to transition, when you think about all the problems it brings? Would anyone choose to risk losing their loved ones, their job, and their friends, by changing their gender role? Personally I doubt it.
When I hear of a trans person losing their friends, family etc., due to their transition, I usually offer to be available to talk to their loved ones, should this be appropriate, as my family has also been affected by these issues. Some have taken me up on this offer, and I know that I have helped a few people learn more about the situation, and have been able to break down some of the barriers between themselves and their loved ones.
With others I think I have been able to at least give them a few things to think about, which I hope in time will encourage their acceptance. However, there have been some people who have point blank refused to talk to me - sometimes this is because people find it difficult to discuss their own emotional problems with a stranger, or find the whole thing so painful that talking it over is impossible - for these people I can only hope that time will be a great healer, and that they will learn that their loved one can still be a part of their lives.
Sometimes, sadly, I know it is because their minds are so closed that they do not want to learn or accept. As our young transwoman was living with us at the time, perhaps this closeness actually helped us to face the situation more easily, and to accept it. It certainly gave us plenty of opportunity to talk things through. Eventually the opportunity arose to meet other transpeople, and this also helped.
Perhaps those who live at a greater distance from their loved ones might actually find it more difficult to see them regularly - and perhaps this makes it easier to avoid having to face up to the situation?
Maybe. Living closely together, as we did, we still had all the same problems that other people have - we worried about how we would cope, how other people would react, how to tell people, and what the future might bring.
Yes, we did also worry at first about whether the decisions being taken were the right ones, but in time we gained more confidence in what was happening. We learned to accept that when someone tells you they have a problem, that problem does exist - and you have to take their decisions on trust. We learned to have faith in those decisions, and in the future.
Still, we went through a period of genuine grief - this is a quite common reaction. We were facing a loss - not exactly a death, but the loss of a familiar relationship, the loss of an expected future. We were in transition too, but gradually things changed for the better. It became obvious that our child was happier than ever before - more relaxed, more confident. Our relationship with her grew stronger as a result.
It was not just us who noticed this change - we knew other families facing similar situations to ours, and one Mum who had faced the "loss" of her daughter with grief and sadness, smiled happily at me as she looked over at her transman son. Although pre-transition he had been an able scholar, with a group of friends, he had been quiet, and not very outgoing. As we watched him - cheerful, friendly, popular, confident and outgoing - I commented on the additional change that was noticeable in her. She smiled once more, and said "Well, look at him, he's so different. He's, well, just blossomed". She knew that, like us, she had gained more than she had lost.
So I would ask family members, and loved ones of transsexual people - although it must hurt, and you will of course have a lot of emotional issues yourselves to work through, please do not cut yourself off from those who love you and need you - especially at this time - in their lives. Please, try to write to them now and then, to call them on the phone, even if you find it difficult to actually meet face to face. Hopefully this will help you to keep the links between you alive - and perhaps one day you will feel able to meet once more.
The first meeting must always be the hardest - yet once this is done, the second will be easier, and so on, until there is no barrier between you. They are no different really, you know - all the good bits that you loved them for are still there!
Some people worry about how children will take the news that a close relative has changed from male to female (and vice versa). I can only give you an example from my own life. In my teens my parents went through a rough time for some years - which meant many arguments, and sometimes you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. My younger brother (ten years younger than I) and I knew this was going on, and worried about it. If we asked our parents what the problem was, we were kindly told that it needn't concern us, it wasn't much of a problem, and that we shouldn't worry.
Well, we knew there was something up, we knew when we were being fobbed off with excuses, and the end result was that we both grew up to be very insecure adults. Children know when there is something wrong. They know when they are being fobbed off with fairy tales. They may not say so, but they worry - and damage is done that can take years to undo.
When I was 16, my Grandmother died - I was not allowed to go to her funeral, I was told to go to school. My parents believed they were making it easier for me, but in fact they were being over-protective (perhaps in fact they were protecting themselves?) which again caused me problems in later life, as I had not been allowed the proper opportunity to grieve for my Nan.
So when I had children of my own, and their own Nan became terminally ill, I didn't hide things from them. I tried to explain things to them in a kindly, simplified, but sensible way, and when she died they came to the funeral so that they knew that they were part of the family, that they were not excluded, and also to give them the opportunity to grieve for their beloved Nan.
I do believe that children are far more capable of taking things on board than a lot of adults are, they haven't grown up completely in a phobic society, they aren't born with prejudices, they haven't got the pre-conceptions that many adults have. Provided things are explained to them in a fairly simple but sensible manner, and an opportunity given for them to ask questions and to make their own decisions, then I would hope that they will find it easier to accept that (for example) Granddad is now an extra Grandma, or Uncle now an Aunt.
Perhaps, too, it might be better for them to know and love such a new Grandma or Aunt, than never to see Granddad or Uncle again, and to never hear them spoken of, and to wonder forever what had happened to them. Children are capable of a lot of love, and love is important in this world.
Love is an important emotion - it can be healing, encouraging, forgiving. I firmly believe that where there is love, there will always be love. And that where there is no love, then there ought to be. And if you love someone close to you, then please, don't shut them out of your life - and yourself out of theirs - just because you cannot yet understand what they are doing, or why.
Please keep the doors open, both ways. Let the love flow through them freely. And let you and your loved ones pass through them to each other.
COPYRIGHT Margaret Griffiths, 13th October 2000