There’s a subject which is discussed at meetings of trans support groups frequently, but isn’t often broadcast to those outside the community. That subject is the reaction of families and friends to our decision to live our lives according to our inner gender identity.
The reaction of family and close friends is more often than not, totally unpredictable but it’s my belief that much of the reaction is the result of the way we go about breaking the news.
People who just blurt out that they are no longer Marty but now Mary; no longer Mary but now Marty, and do so without regard to the emotional turmoil that the announcement is going to cause, drastically reduce the chance of any level of acceptance.
In my own case, which I describe in detail in DM&D, the way that my existence came to light in my marriage created a somewhat unusual circumstance compared to many of the situations I’ve come across. Be that as it may, the unusual situation didn’t make it any easier for our bride deal with the fact that I was part and parcel of the package she fell in love with and married. For my part, I thought she should have been delighted with this new best girlfriend who wanted to share her clothes and makeup. Short sighted? Oh, hell yes. And obliviously ignorant? Oh, hell yes again.
I’m not saying that I didn’t care about her feelings. I’m saying that I didn’t understand her feelings. It took me years to finally come to that level of comprehension about what she must have been feeling. Sadly, it wasn’t until after she passed away that I was finally able to reach that point in my level of understanding; was finally able to put the pump on the other foot, as it were.
Soon after Marilyn’s death I was at a meeting of one of the groups that I had become a apart of, when I came face to face with the other side of the coin. The group up to that point had been exclusively male-to-female. On this particular evening a relatively young and not unattractive woman was in attendance and made it known that she was transitioning from “Mary to Marty”. On an academic level I could totally accept and understand her decision. But, on a strictly emotional level my gut reaction was, “Why in the hell would you want to be what I was trying to not be?” What must her husband be going through?
And that was the moment … the moment when I finally realized what I had unknowingly put the one person who had loved me more than any other person had in my life, through. It there was ever a moment when I would have given my life to be able to turn back the clock and redo everything from a new perspective that was the moment.
The 2002 HBO movie “Normal” with Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkinson is an amazingly true to life depiction of the manner in which many spouses and family’s learn of the existence of “her/him”. It is also an accurate depiction of the way a normal spouse reacts upon learning the truth. In the case of the couple depicted in “Normal” the wife eventually, lovingly, though reluctantly, accepts the person her husband has always been emotionally. It happens that way in real life, but not usually. I highly recommend the movie to anyone who is trying to understand the issues inherent in late in life disclosures of this nature.
I have no idea how life would have been different had I seen it through that lens; had she survived the cancer which took her way too early in life. I only know that it would have most likely turned out much different and it makes me so sad.
Since then I have met a lot of people who are dealing with how to cope with the late in life awareness of gender identity conflict in the context of marriage and family. More often than not the same selfishness that I was guilty of rears its ugly head. What makes it even more ugly is the fact that unlike the presence of love that kept my marriage intact, self-centeredness of the person takes precedence over family and marriage. The result is a broken family; children irreparably hurt by the thoughtless actions of a parent who puts their own “happiness” ahead of those who loved them the most.
In my own situation, my two oldest children have refused to speak to me since the publication of DM&D, each for their own and totally different reasons. It saddens me no end for them to feel that way. I do appreciate the fact that they would both prefer to have “Dad” back on a permanent basis, but to totally cut me off and refuse any attempt to understand me or my decisions is nonetheless painful.
My message to any who would listen, and the message I begin every presentation I make to the groups I am asked to speak to, is this: If you or anyone you know, has even an inkling that gender identity is doubtful, figure it out before you have a family to be destroyed by the issue. Life will be so much happier and productive if the question is resolved early in life rather than later. If necessary, I beg of you to seek counseling to help avoid decisions and actions that are irretrievable and all too often end in the taking of one’s own life.
Many of the decisions in this area of our lives are irreversible so proceed with caution. Stop, take a deep breath before taking each step. Taking a little bit longer to act will not hurt anyone and will ultimately lead to a decision that one can live happily with for the rest of ones life.
Make the decision an investment in happiness … not a price to pay.