Your loved one has been keeping a secret. Why? Keeping their gender questioning, or cross-dressing a secret was probably the only way they felt they could fulfill their need to be themselves and preserve their relationship with you. So out of fear-they hid in the closet.
So now you know. Your life was going along smoothly, or at least, manageably when this reality came crashing in. Whether you "discovered" your loved one's secret, deducted it and confronted them, or were completely blindsided by the news...you have a new landscape before you that you may have dreaded, or never imagined possible. But its here.
So how do you feel? Shocked? Angry? Betrayed? Shut-Down? Ashamed? Sad? All of these feelings are normal. If you are on this journey, here are few things that will help you understand what is happening with you, your family, and your loved one. I can't tell you how your particular journey will resolve-that is really up to you and your family. But I can give you some tools to assist you along the way.
In my work with families and couples who have shared their trans-ition journey with me, I have learned about the resiliency of relationships-even in the face of what feels like tremendous upheaval. I'd like to share with you some important information that can assist you and your family during this time.
Why did this happen?
Prior to this revelation, your loved one was alone with this knowledge. So you may be asking why they feel the need to share this with you? The answer is probably very personal but I have learned from my clients that essentially, they tell you because they can not go on living with such an oppressive secret and they want to be loved and known for who they truly are.
I liken it to a birth process. Once the birth pangs of transition begin and the person becomes conscious and awake regarding their gender identity, their need for congruence and the pain of living in the closet, grow until they reach a kind of tipping point. They can no longer maintain the secret within themselves. Sharing their truth with loved ones, is a necessary and important step towards attaining a kind of wholeness. The need for this psychological integrity outweighs the fear and the tipping point is reached. Your loved one is probably still very aware of feelings of fear of loss, concern and worry about how their these changes may impact their loved ones-but their need to be congruent within themselves can no longer be ignored. To do so, for them, is a kind of living death. First Feelings
The way in which you have come to this realization will have an impact on how you feel and how you proceed. For example, if a you "discovered" your loved ones secret -you may feel betrayed, lied to, traumatized even. The feelings you feel are normal and part of your mind and heart making room of what is essentially a whole new reality that until that moment, remained hidden, or veiled.
As you deal with this new information, so entitled to your anger, that you want to stay there. You may hope that this could change the situation. You may even feel that humiliating or shaming this person will get them to give up their behavior. You may feel ashamed or embarrassed and therefore want to cut off. If so, this is a signal that you are shutting down your more painful feelings. You may need time to get ready to deal with deeper feelings of sadness or loss.
You are not mourning the person, but you are mourning your "ideas" of the person. You are even mourning the perceptions of yourself related to this person. This can be profoundly painful and even confusing. You may stay here a long time and you will return to this mourning again and again as you move ahead. A therapist, who is knowledgeable about gender issues, can be a helpful guide here.
We fear what we don't understand. This is a survival trait that human beings have used to protect themselves from danger. Here is the paradox: someone you know and love-embodies a concept that you don't understand or even fear. If we go with our automatic response we might shun, reject or demonize this person. Its too complicated and confusing so we shut it all out and refuse to deal with it. This creates more pain for us-because we are losing someone we love and value. It creates pain for our loved one, because they need our support in a time of great challenge. If we foreclose here, our family will fragment.
In a world where novelty and change is the norm-and at lightening speed, its adaptive to shed our tendency to demonize, reject, or attack what we don't understand. For families in transition-its essential. Gender 101 as I refer to it, is the process of deconstructing unhelpful and unconscious assumptions about gender identity, roles, expression and its interplay with sexuality.
Bond of Love
After the shock has subsided and you've had time to absorb this new reality you are faced with the question that will likely determine the trajectory of your relationship with your loved one.
Our culture, our families, our experience of the world is saturated in gender. We constantly reference gender in our relationships and our perceptions of others and self. So a mother perceives a daughter differently than a son and so on. Gender transition shakes that up!
The nature of your loved one, regardless of gender expression, gender identity, or roles, is essentially the person that you have always known them to be. Focus first on the bond with the person, rather than on defining the relationship.
Whether you are related by blood or marriage, you have a bond of family that connects you to this person. The question to ask is: What is it about this person that I really value? That I love? That I'm grateful for? The ways in which you relate may change-as roles shift-but the bond-can remain and even deepen.
Significant others who are in families with a transgendered child, parent or spouse, often feel they are grieving someone who hasn't died. And in many ways, that is true. I remember one father who shared with me how hard it was to "lose his son". He grieved his dreams for his son-which were really his dreams for himself, in relationship to his son. What he found in the process of learning about his daughter as she emerged, was that she was a truer and freer expression of the child he had always loved.
By focusing on valuing the child he had always known and loved, this father came to a place of gratitude for the gift of his daughter. The dreams for his child could still be fulfilled. You see, the relationship doesn't have to be defined gender. And that is the work of reconfiguring our perceptions to make space for the new expression of personhood in our midst.
In doing so, the landscape of your relationship with your child or your parent will be altered by the experience of trans-itioning together. By being willing to do the work of grieving what was, deconstructing gender and focusing on the bond with the person you value, new possibilities are created and family bonds deepened. Now that its here, what path will you take?
Resources for Families In Transition
Transforming Families by Mary Boenke
This is a wonderful book of true stories about families in transition. For some reason this book is pricey! You can find it on www.half.com for about $44. This is the lowest price I could find! Mary Boenke's writing is well known and she is the mother of an ftm child.
She's Not The Man I Married by Helen Boyd
Helen Boyd is a writer who is married to her transgendered partner Betty. She writes eloquently about the issues of gender, relationships and the challenges of a marriage in post-transition.
She's Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Jennifer Finney Boylan shares her journey of transition and that of her family. She continues to live with her family and her wife, post transition.
Additional resources are available on my website: