“It’s not just about you.” It’s a mantra I repeat in my head, almost daily, still. It’s something I knew I needed to keep in mind before I came out to family and friends as transgender. And it’s something I tell people who are just coming out, or are considering coming out to family and friends.
When a transgender person finally works up the nerve to transition and live authentically, it’s like an overdrive kicks in. We finally feel free from the bonds which have held us captive, sometimes for many years. All we want to do is finally move on with living our lives. It’s easy to get caught in the euphoria of living your life for yourself, after living it for other people for years.
I spent several months in psychotherapy before I realized it was realistic for me to transition. I told myself all sorts of lies, to keep from having to deal with my gender dysphoria. I told myself I would lose the love of my parents, my sister, kids, extended family and friends, that I would lose my job, that nobody else would hire me, and I would end up homeless and on the street. I told myself that my four sons would question themselves, to see if they had the “something wrong” with them that I was always trying to fix in myself. I decided long ago that it was selfish for me to transition, because it would cause so much pain for everyone around me.
What I hadn’t allowed myself to hear was how much my gender dysphoria was affecting the relationships I had with everyone. I hadn’t allowed myself to consider how miserable I was, and how there was a chance I wouldn’t live to see 50. I wasn’t being honest, because I was chicken. It was easier to tell myself all the reasons NOT to transition, and none of the reasons TO transition. It would take a near meltdown and extreme despair for me to realize how close to the edge I was, ready to fall off into oblivion.
When I did realize how dire things were, I had to consider the risk of losing relationships with people I loved, if I were to transition. These people meant to world to me. These were people I yearned to have real relationships with, with whom I longed to remove my mask of masculinity. I thought about whether it was fair, whether I was selfish, whether there was any way I could live authentically and still maintain a relationship with my sons, father, sister and extended family. I ultimately realized that while I could have some affect on my relationships with these other people, it wasn’t all up to me. I didn’t have ultimate control over the outcome. I could only do my best.
I reasoned that while there was a risk of losing people I loved, I wasn’t being the parent, child, sibling or family member they needed me to be. I realized I wasn’t giving them my best, and that was robbing them of the very essence of who I was. I was robbing them of the person my closest friends loved so dearly, because I was myself around them. This theft of my personality was more unfair, more selfish, and less honest for the people who needed me most. After many, many years of living a lie, I decided in December 2014 to transition. This decision lifted the weight of the world from my shoulders. It was like letting all the steam out of a pressure cooker. I didn’t have a timeline. I didn’t know when I would begin transition, or how long it would take. I only knew I was finally being honest with myself. The next step was working up the bravery to be honest with everyone in my life, not just a select few.
My mother passed away in April 2015, 31 days after being diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. This sort of sudden and unexpected life-event tends to put a lot of things into perspective. I was fortunate enough to spend those days with my mother, by her side as she melted away. While driving back to Atlanta from Missouri, after her memorial services, I reflected on quickly life seems to pass by – how my kids seemed to grow up overnight – and just how little warning we can have when it’s our time to go. I thought of how my years had flown by, without me. Without ME. Someone else was living my life for me. Some dude. Some character played by me, an actor. It wasn’t whole. It was incomplete. I had already begun to grow my hair out. I needed only to make the decision to proceed with female hormones and start the medical transition.
All these many months in counseling, I considered the risk and how I could minimize it. I knew the news would come as a shock to many people. I knew they couldn’t be expected to immediately understand what I understood, to know what I knew. I had a responsibility to educate them and mitigate as much of the damage as I could. I played each conversation over in my head, a hundred different ways. I imagined how the conversations might go, and what I might say in response to a question or heated reaction. I considered the shock and misguided responses I might receive, and how I could help each person understand what was really happening.
But there was one thing I knew I needed to provide for each person, other than information. I needed to provide safety. I knew they would have fears, and if I addressed these fears on the front end, they would be much more open to really hearing me, and would have the best shot at understanding.
I also knew there would be bumps along this road. I knew the people who cared about me the most, had the most to lose, and vice versa. I needed to provide a soft landing, and gentile guidance as we all proceeded forward. This is where a lot of people mess up. They don’t realize that everyone around them transitions, as well. It’s not just my transition! It’s not just me navigating these waters. We’re all in this thing together, and we all need to support each other. We all have questions, and fear the unknown. I simply had my questions answered first, because I knew there were questions before anyone else.
I planned constantly for how to come out to each immediate family member. I also planned for how I could be supported along the way. I made sure I was capable of dealing with the needs of those around me, before I placed them in jeopardy by giving them information without context – without helping them understand and feeling safe about it.
Has it been perfect? No way! Have I been perfect? Of course not. I’ve made my fair share of assumptions, mistakes and missteps. I’ve been selfish when I needed to be unselfish. I’ve been thoughtless when I needed to be thoughtful and considerate. But I try to be as patient as possible with people who just haven’t had the opportunity I’ve had to process difficult information. And I’ve reminded myself each step along the way, that it isn’t just about me. It’s about them too. They’re the reasons I waited so long to transition, because I was so afraid to hurt them and alienate them. How much more important is it now to remember, it’s really all about them.