Through her own parenting experience, Christy Hegarty has become an advocate for families with transgender children. During her talk at TEDxBloomington, Hegarty shares what she has learned as the mother of a transgender child. She explores the concept that we should be able to accept that our children may be different than we expect them to be and that we should not be afraid to allow them to express themselves. She challenges us to consider the idea that human evolution is more about being human than it is about being a gender and the important role acceptance plays in our evolving world.
An open letter to our trans partner
I am the wife of a trans woman who transitioned during our marriage. I am writing this to support partners as there are significant areas in common for us all but each of our paths on this journey may be very different. I also write to the trans person and just hope you both talk to each other. We want to keep our marriages intact.
There is no clear cut care pathway for partners here so do not be afraid to seek help and counselling. This journey can’t be done alone. Local GPs and counsellors are not specialists, so the more we speak up the more awareness will be raised. This is not a life choice for either of us; something that took me years to understand. I still ask myself: ‘why me’?
I had advanced notice before we got engaged that my husband was cross dressing since childhood. She agonised over telling me but we still got married and have now been together for over 30 years and married for 27. The prognosis for staying together is much higher if surprises and shocks are limited. We decided never to have children and life is a lot less complicated. However, it was still a shock when my partner decided to transition and, before I could understand the implications, she was self-medicating secretly. I went through hell. Women are good listeners and can be sympathetic, but I don’t like dishonesty, hiding or deception. We can detect little signs, and you may think your partner is having an affair if female clothing is found in the house which does not belong to you.
For the trans partner: please remember that this is like a bereavement but with no body and no funeral. If you are going to throw clothes from your previous gender away warn your partner and, perhaps, allow us to keep some sentimental items – even if just for a while, so we can grieve in our own time. Acknowledge this grieving process is just like any other, it HURTS!
Keep open channels of communication at all times and also agree to stop talking if it is getting too much. My counsellor suggested we have a password to use if this is happening, and we then agree to talk later at an agreed time. So far that works for us.
The trans person may be tempted to rush into transitioning (coming out, HRT, ‘real life experience’ and possibly surgery) because it is a lifelong desire to change gender. For the partner, it is a constant ‘in your face’ tornado of selfish wants that completely ignores and threatens the relationship. The effects of HRT on the mind and the body are visibly shocking and can be upsetting for the partner who knew another person intimately. Thankfully, there are now several good books out there and web sites. Bear in mind that by ‘outing’ yourself as being trans, you do the same to your partner and they may be concerned about what others think. The partner of a trans person may worry about peoples’ perceptions: are we a lesbian couple, sisters, sisters-in-law…?
Our particular relationship has been strong enough to overcome this. My partner first attempted a kind of dual life of living as a woman outside work many years ago, but this time around its permanent and that was a big adjustment for me. In transition we now tend to avoid the same haunts we frequented because waiting staff would recognize me and wonder if I have a new relationship as we sit at the same table ordering the same favourite meals. Even in places we have never been to, the ‘couple’ in us still comes out as we say ‘we’ the whole time when talking. I have to be very blunt here and say a part of our success is that my partner is completely convincing and I doubt if I would remain if she was not. Do not ‘carry the monkey’: other peoples’ reactions are their problem not yours. Who to tell and when is up to you. We have now told all our best friends and family, but my partner’s family proved to be the most negative.
For me this is not a linear process either. I have not gone smoothly from timid enquiry, anger, depression, thinking and reading to acceptance. Some days are better than others. Several times I revisit each emotion forwards and then backwards. This is where counselling helps. You are not alone. Also, bear in mind this is no-one’s fault so try not to blame when you are at your most angry to accuse. If you think that is easier said than done, I totally agree as I am guilty of doing that often – even now. I was quite shocked in one professional counselling session in the UK to be told I had in fact married a woman all along! To be told it was all to do with conception, what happens in the womb and the brain was earth shattering. Read, read and read. I have found it quite fascinating, painful and absorbing.
Having gone through more than a woman should for love, my partner wants a Gender Recognition Certificate. In 2014 with same sex marriage legal, the process is still unclear for married people where a partner transitions and, yet, retains the same legal rights. The irony that we already live as same sex couples after surgery is lost on them.
To end on a lighter note; there have been many fun moments, e.g. I now get to buy more clothes than before as she understands the need, but co-ordinating what to wear out can be a laugh. In the end love is more important than gender.
(Photograph is not of the post author but of Helen Boyd and her partner, Betty Crow. Helen is the author of She’s Not the Man I Married.)
Stuck in the middle with you
Professor, author and activist Jennifer Finney Boylan and her family talk about staying together following her transition from M to F.
Jennifer Finney Boylan’s first book, She’s Not There, is about her relationship with her wife. Her second book, Stuck in the Middle with You, is about her relationship with her children.
An open letter to our families
We know that being the family of a trans* person is not something you sought or ever thought you would have to deal with. We know that in coming out as trans*, we are also forcing you out as the family of a trans* person. We know that you are concerned for us, for our welfare, for our healthcare, for our relationships, for our safety, for all the reasons that you have seen as headlines in the newspapers, and that makes you afraid for us. We know that you can’t be sure we are doing the right thing, maybe we are just going through a phase. We know that you will get our name wrong and use the wrong pronoun sometimes, which may embarrass you in public. We know all of these things and that’s why coming out to our families is the hardest thing we have to do. We worry so much that, if we can’t help you find a way through all of these issues, we may lose you. We don’t want to lose you, we want you in our lives. Our love for you doesn’t change when we transition but, sometimes, your love for us does.
In an ideal world, when we come out to you as trans*, at some point in the process, we would like you to give us a hug and say something similar to: “That’s great news. I’m so happy that you have reached a place where you feel able to express yourself in a way that is true to the person you really are. How can I best help and support you?” We know this is a big ask, but it’s not an impossible ask.
To our mothers and fathers: when the midwife placed us in your arms for the first time and said, “It’s a …”, would you have loved us any less if she had said our real gender as opposed to the gender dictated by our genitalia? To our partners, siblings, children and wider family: when you met us for the first time and were introduced to us, “This is …”, would you have loved us any the less if you had been introduced to us as the name that we have chosen for ourselves to match our true gender? If the answer to both these questions is “no”, which it probably is, then the problem with transitioning is not our gender or our new name, the problem is that we are changing from something familiar to something that seems unfamiliar.
Nobody likes change and our transition imposes a change on your life that you did not seek. Because of the process of transition, the news of this change is necessarily sudden for our families. Transitioning is never a spur of the moment decision and coming out to our families happens at the end of a process that may take years. Our families, therefore, receive the news of our transition with none of the preparation time we have had. Put like this, as the person transitioning, we have a responsibility to help those whose love and support we value to transition with us.
As the family of a trans* person, you have a right to ask them to accept this responsibility and to give you the help and support you need to manage the change that is happening in your life. This may include arranging for you to speak to a counsellor about your concerns or finding appropriate resources to help you understand the process of transitioning and why it is not a choice for the trans* person. To this end, we have added a post about the Transition Curve – the stages that everyone goes through when faced with change – that gives the trans* person in your family some guidance on how best to do this. You may also want to read it to understand a little more about why human beings don’t like change much and react in similar, predictable ways to it.
It is in our interests to help you cope with our transition. If we want you in our lives, we must make the effort. Communicating with you is, therefore, vital to the process. However much you might not want to talk about it, expressing your feelings is better than bottling them up. Please tell us how you are feeling. If you can’t do it face-to-face, phone us or write to us. If you need time and space, say so. We can respect that. Trans* Jersey’s post on communicating assertively applies to you as well as to us. Anger is a common reaction to change, especially change that is out of our control. Get angry, but please don’t get angry with us. Gender dysphoria is not something that we chose. If you need to get angry, get angry with the change, with the dysphoria, with the situation, but not with us.
To speak assertively: at some point, you have to accept that our transition is not just a phase, it isn’t going to go away. If you want us in your life, you must make an effort, too. Acknowledging this fact is the first step to accepting our transition and that goal of giving us a hug and saying something similar to: “That’s great news. I’m so happy that you have reached a place where you feel able to express yourself in a way that is true to the person you really are. How can I best help and support you?”
To answer the question, “How can I best help and support you?”, all we ask is that you are as proud of us as you always were. Be open and honest about our transition, don’t hide it. Be as proud that you have a trans* family member as you are of the other things we have done in our lives and the other members of your family. If you hide it, you are suggesting to those outside the family that there is a reason to hide it, that it is something of which to be ashamed. When people see that those closest to us accept our transition they, too, will take that attitude. After all, if those closest to us accept us, what right have others to find it “weird”? This also maximises our chances of staying safe from transphobic attacks – one of your fears for us. If we have allies who will step into defend us, we aren’t alone.
And that is what all trans* people who come out to their friends and family fear most – that they will end up alone as a result of their revelation. Please don’t do that to your family member, they will be much more vulnerable if you do and you will be the poorer for it.