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Truth and reconciliation

  • Posted on December 7, 2013 at 10:26 pm

The whole world learned this week of the death of Nelson Mandela. I’ve heard and read a lot of opinion, recollection, reflection and analysis over the last few days, some seeking balance about a man who refused to renounce violence. But no-one can refute or deny that here was a man who changed the world. It wasn’t just his incomparable role in dismantling apartheid, nor his fortitude through 27 years in prison, rather it was his ability to seek reconciliation rather than revenge, and working together rather than division. He became the paradigm for truth and reconciliation, to be used as a model elsewhere and into the future.

Beyond politics, beyond nations, there is a principle in truth and reconciliation that was unique at the time, but which speaks in many situations now.

I tried writing a letter. I rewrote it. I asked myself how much I was writing for myself, and how much for the recipient. My expression of care and concern: was it because I wanted to be heard, or because there was something that did need to be said? Was it my place to speak? Or even be concerned? Was it more my seeking to be understood, or genuinely to help the other, where understanding might be helpful?

It was quite a quandary, and in the end the letter went into the recycling. I wasn’t sure about the motive, and in the end it became a much reflected-upon telephone conversation. It was, I felt, much-needed communication with my almost-ex wife who, I felt, has not really worked much out in a deep way about my transition. I shall never know what it is like to be faced with having an unexpectedly transsexual spouse. She will never know what it’s like to face up to being transsexual. Between us we have very deep questionings about the nature of love and the role of the body in showing and sharing love. Some find it easy, some impossible, some in-between. I guess that’s us.

Truth

I guess we both know the truth as we see it. I feel utterly rejected and betrayed because the worst I did was understand the way I was born and adjust to it. The best I did was to love in the same way as always and hope to continue. But what was forced upon me was the deepest and most honest assessment of my identity, my self, my expression of life itself, and I fell into place, looking and sounding somewhat different from the husband-as-was. I shed fear and self-hatred but gained the agony of losing the love of my life.

She was never rejected, nor her love, but must have felt my rejection of the male role that defined her role, quite keenly. It’s not really for me to say on her behalf. I do know that my female presence felt competitive rather than complementary, and must have challenged her sexuality. But she was not obliged to dig as deep, as I was, into her furthest recesses, and I expect has surfed the loss in order to keep going. Don’t we all do that much of the time? Yes, it’s easy to over-analyse, but it’s also a lot easier to cope with things by skating lightly on thin ice, hoping to get to the other side.

We each have truths to face full-on, if we are to remain balanced people. Mine is to recognise that even the most in-loveness and commitment does not signify unconditinal love. I have to accept that the reality of human love truly can be entirely contingent and dependent on being what’s needed. Yes, I was to a sufficient degree wanted for my body more than my loving, for my means more than my self.

It’s a truth, and it’s hard for me to chew on.

Her truth is that if indeed I was born female with male body bits, as per my complete clinical diagnosis, then she was married for over 30 years to a woman. That neither of us knew this possibility is immaterial. The truth is that I have not become a woman, I am just a woman who is finally aligning her way of life and body to what she is.

It’s a truth, and it’s hard for her to chew on.

Isn’t truth a difficult thing sometimes? It won’t go away by not thinking about it, or by making excuses for prior beliefs, and the best thing you can do with it is to speak to it, voice it and embrace it. We have to change to fit the truth, because it won’t change to fit us.

So why am I blogging this? Isn’t it just a tad unfair to be the one who always writes, and about pretty personal stuff? These dialogues are very one-sided when I write them out, and maybe I am inventing what my wife is really thinking, presumptuously and unfairly. I don’t know, because she hasn’t expressed these things as I have. All I can do is try my best to imagine what it must be like (see also, from earlier days: Who does she think she is?).

And that worries me on her behalf, and I know that she will be no more alone as a spouse/partner of a transsexual person, than I was as an emerging transsexual person myself. For every one of us who is married, there is a spouse coming to terms. As transsexual people, we get to know each other, go for diagnosis and resolution. They have little or no real support or help, no reason to meet, and have less to invest than we do. They can walk away and rationalise it as they wish. We can’t, and that makes it different.

And yet we reach a truth that makes sense. We are leaving fear, self-hate and denial, and finding self-love and acceptance. They may never do that, and rather find themselves feeling diminished, self-doubting and fearful, or in denial.

That’s why I write – to observe and present these difficulties as issues to properly resolve rather than avoid.

Reconciliation

I have sent over-long texts, emails and letters. I have been overwhelming in my self-explanation and insistence that I, myself, me, am still here. That what is in my head and my heart, my soul – is unchanged. More openly understood and expressed maybe, but not different. Don’t I deserve to be loved for myself?

I try to be honest about my motivations, but yes, I have often written just hoping for a touch of that old love, affection and partnership. Wrong fishing line, wrong hook, wrong bait. Truth must precede reconciliation.

So what is reconciliation? It means no more nor less than bringing together again. I don’t expect anything more than friendship, but it does imply acceptance of truth and being able to step beyond old understandings and beliefs into a shared space.

And divorce? Isn’t that about irreconcilable differences? Or is that also about unwillingness to face truths? Our grounds, for pragmatic reasons of a gender recognition certificate, had to be those awful declarations about my unreasonable behaviour in wearing women’s shoes (among other things) and being seen in public!

No, somewhere beyond all that crap, I hope that there may still be the kind of friendship that only 30 and more years of shared memories and parenting can give. But we shall not get there unless the truths are faced. My plea therefore, is that attention be given to spouses, partners and relations to properly understand that having a transsexual partner does not change you, and that recognition of the underlying nature of another human being does not change their intentions towards you. At present there is absolutely nothing available. If you are diagnosed with a debilitating disease, there is support available for carers. It is respectable to be related to someone who suffers. Not so if that someone is transsexual. It reflects on you, makes you feel you must be something you don’t like or respond to (OMG – don’t even suggest that I may be bisexual, let alone lesbian!!). It is not obviously OK to tell your friends and family that your beloved is trans. (See my early poem: Not like a bone.) But it is almost exclusively the response from friends, that leaving a trans partner is the only reasonable thing to do. How can you explain? No pressure there, then!

For me, reconciliation requires the wholehearted recognition that I have always been a woman, unknowingly having the wrong outward appearance. It is also a wholehearted recognition that human love is not what we idealise, but is (perhaps most commonly) contingent on outward forms and meeting expectations.

The Mandela motif

To the last, Nelson Mandela was kindly, warm, smiling, human, both ordinary and somehow supreme. He achieved world-betterment through both truth and reconciliation.

Dear partners, wives and husbands of transsexual people everywhere: your truths may be unpalatable and force changes in the way you see yourselves and the world, but they are truths. They alone stand between you and reconciliation. You don’t have to want that, of course. But they also stand between you and peace with yourself. Whether you stay in partnership or not, there is no point in not being reconciled with yourself, and no future in not resolving your truths, between you and yourself.

Sometimes the world is just not the way you have been used to seeing it. Sometimes it is not black and white.

Understanding

  • Posted on November 10, 2012 at 8:26 am

How much can you know how another person is feeling? ‘I’ve been there’ is reassuring, if you believe the person really has, or has been close enough. Sometimes, in a deep, spiritual way, you know you are very close to being understood or to understanding, but as I’ve written elsewhere here, sometimes the best you can do is sit close enough to another person and allow yourself to resonate, and see how it feels.

Resonance is a funny thing. It is reported that when Nicholas Tesla discovered the power of resonance he almost brought a whole building down with a tiny device. Too much resonance can be destructive: the wine glass and the opera singer; or it can be rather fun: singing in the bath, or finding that note in a tunnel. It can be peculiar too: I remember talking to a colleague in a stair well, and his voice simply hit the resonant frequency of the space and boomed, so we had to move to speak normally.

That’s why I have suggested that no-one can understand gender dysphoria who doesn’t have it. But I think more importantly, others don’t know how to understand their own reactions. We are confusing, and we undermine many things others have held to be true. Sit next to us too long, and our natural tone might shake your self-understanding to bits. So what does it take to stick around long enough to know you won’t lose your own integrity? What does it take, to see the person, with the dysphoria, know their pain, and know your love for them still reaches through all that, and find them unthreatening to self? What does it take, to know that love is attached to something very different than the outer layers, and that staying vulnerable to them will allow them to love you without destroying your integrity, self-belief and credibility?

All the time, partnerships and marriages are falling apart, with anger, accusations, a lot of fear, distrust, as a result of gender dysphoria. In the fallout it is the ‘normal’ people who return to ‘normal’ relationships, shake off the weird episode, leave it behind and find what they think of as abiding love. Those who transition so often simply lose. They learn to live without partnership, without intimacy, without that one most trusted, most vulnerable person to love, without the daily reassurance and comfort, and grow strong, singular. It isn’t about loneliness, and it isn’t about becoming hardened. It’s about knowing that you may never again be desired, wanted, reached for, given to, taken. You stand on your own two feet, and trust yourself, protecting your vulnerabilities and try not to remember too vividly what it was to be loved completely. You rationalise that love was not what you thought it was, that it was attached to the wrong part; rope glued onto the paintwork rather than tied securely.

Who understands what it feels like to find the most precious, authentic expression of the best of yourself, the source of all the most profound feelings, hope and love you have ever had and shared, and be excluded because of it? To know that another would rather have no loving, no intimacy, no partnership or companionship, no shared memories – than ever have that with you again, if you are going to be like this.

This is not a recriminatory blog, though it is how things are. No, it is because – having read all the books of how trans* people have pulled through, leaving the wreckage of marriages and partnerships behind, all the stories of how impossible it is to hang onto love when your bud opens and the flower is wrong – it has felt that it is simply a tough fact that being trans* means losing those you love most. People don’t want to be changed by us – something I wrote on a long way back now. If I love you, you will make me gay/lesbian/bi (whatever I most fear imagining). Or: If I accept you, I shall be seen to be too liberal/tolerant of this … behaviour.

And then, too late, two books turn up in quick succession. I promise reviews of both, because I’d like you to read them.

The first to be published is Emma Canton’s If you Really Loved me. The second is Laura Newman’s A Love Less Ordinary: Sharing Life, Laughter and Handbags with My Transgender Partner (to be published very soon under Bramley Press).

Each is a deep personal exploration of that primary issue: what is the trans* partner doing to me by saying they must change? Yes; transition in a partnership is about two people transitioning. What will it make me, and what right do they have to expect me to be different? In sum, each is an exploration of what it really means to love another person, how that love is attached, what it is attached to, and whether it is, in the end, that important to you.