For families: a summary

  • Posted on August 25, 2014 at 3:28 pm

I have written a number of times about family issues. Just click the family tag below on the right for all of them. But here I want to summarise because I may not revisit; maybe I have no more to say.

First of all, the support for transsexual and transgender people may be poor and pretty much do-it-yourself, but support for families and friends is much worse, in fact almost non-existent. This is why I’ve written these past two and a half years: to observe, take apart, relate and describe, for better understanding at each stage.

If you are a friend or family member, partner or spouse, there are a few basic facts, which you may not like, but one way of another have to face, or live in denial of.

Your first fact: gender dysphoria exists

This means that transsexual people exist. Sometimes we say transgender, and maybe there isn’t a lot of difference, it’s just language after all. Whatever we do in response to our self-identity, whether transition, live a mixed-gender life, a non-binary life, or in complete suppression, does not affect this truth, that for perhaps one or two per thousand of the population (any country) the assignment of our gender according to birth genitals makes no sense.

This is currently termed gender dysphoria. Like autism or a fractured femur, and any other diagnosis, it is applied to people who are aligned with certain clinical criteria, and like a lot of diagnoses, the cause is not clearly understood. But it exists. You may not like having an autistic child, because it can turn your family life upside down. But if anyone suggests you should have had an abortion, you may well be the first to say that this is the most terrible, inhumane, unloving suggestion you could ever hear. You might not. You may resent an autistic sibling, or even parent. On a lesser scale, you may resent the family member on the eve of an ideal long-planned holiday who has broken their leg. You can blame their carelessness, or curse bad fortune – the leg is broken. There is nothing you can do about this in either case. And whatever you like or not, this person, this fellow human being, exists and if it messes up your life, that is for you to deal with.

It is just as true that society in general has little awareness of, and sympathy for, people with gender dysphoria. Don’t let that ignorance or indeed bigotry make you a less caring or loving person. Society can be very cruel over things it doesn’t understand. Worried about your children, as a parent? Their friends at school? The truth can be tough but it is still the truth, and hiding it is worse. Understand, and pass it on. Most of all, don’t be the one that places stigma on your own children, by blaming the trans person, making it all their fault just so you can avoid responsibility for facing the facts about gender dysphoria.

See also:

Your second fact: there is no cure

So someone in your family finally announces (previous clues and disclosures or not) that they are trans, that they have gender dysphoria. What is your reaction? That this is their choice? Or that this is a diagnosis of something true since their birth? You can argue that someone is not really autistic, or that a leg is not really broken. Your first reaction may be to ask if it can be cured. In the case of autism, there are strategies that can help the person fit in, socialise, and live with their autism. In the case of the leg, almost certainly there will be things that can be done so that it mends, even if not perfectly.

What you want as a cure, probably is not! Your idea of a cure is like the broken leg. In this sense, gender dysphoria has no cure. Rather, like asking the autistic person not to be autistic, the female person can’t be asked not to be female, and to behave like their genitals say they should (or vice versa, the male person). Gender identity is so innate that it can’t be changed by drugs, electric shocks, cognitive behavioural therapy, or anything else. Think about yourself: imagine a bank of therapies being tried on you to convince you that your gender is not what you say.

No, the only ‘cure’ is to allow the person to live in the gender identity they know to be authentic. Frequently this means hormone therapy, often followed by surgery to modify incongruent parts of their body. This is the only way to remove the gender dysphoria; it is not a psychological thing, it is a physiological thing. Like autism or a broken leg. And in all three diagnoses, we have learned a lot about how to get the treatment right.

See also:

Your third fact: the body is not the person

Sometimes it is the body that you want and love. It looks right in your home and out there with friends, and so long as a nice person lives in it, that’s OK with you. Whilst that might sound cold and nothing you would ever say, please ask how much it might be true for you. How did your romance begin? Love at first sight? Handsome/pretty person across a crowded place? Just looks nice, and interested? Visual prompts play a very big role in the way we partner up, and we shouldn’t deny it. But life is not just about partnering up, not if the person is a friend or a sibling or a parent, certainly! But a partner of many years?

This is not the body I chose to touch, hold, trust, be seen with, known to love.

Ask yourself, whilst these thoughts are churning in you, what that sounds like if you substitute ‘person’ for ‘body’. If the body has to be right for you to associate and love another person, then this is your truth, but the person with gender dysphoria is the same person at birth, as when you met them, as when they come out and tell you, or receive their formal diagnosis. Try to think of all the things you have found attractive about them, or likeable, or have respected, that perhaps make as much sense now, or more, now that you have listened to what they say about their dysphoria and their gender identity.

See also:

Your fourth fact: disclosing gender dysphoria is emotional

Typically, people with gender dysphoria have felt wrong or different, ‘not belonging’ perhaps, for a very long time. They have struggled to fit with what they were supposed to be according to everyone else. The only exception is people with gender dysphoria who have voiced this, and have been believed, at a very early age. The rest of us have lived with this all our longer lives, and probably suppressed it with self-hate and denial all that time, probably in isolation.

Of course understanding you have gender dysphoria is emotional! Very few people are jubilant about standing up at the start of this realisation and shouting ‘I am transsexual’. For many of us it is a journey characterised by stigma, rejection and significant material loss.

Yes, it’s emotional, and it isn’t because of the hormones! They may help us to cry at last, and more freely, but they don’t cause the emotions. You are never more vulnerable as when you tell people you love that you are not the gender they have assumed you to be. This is also a cork out of the bottle moment: a pressure release of a lot of pent-up energy. For them, a relief, but knowing that the consequences are entirely unpredictable, including telling you.

See also:

Your fifth fact: this is all about them

If your child is born with any congenital abnormality/difference, this is about them, not you. Yes, you become the parent of the child-with-a-difference, and you get right down to being a good parent. Is this just because you feel you have no choice, that this is the hand of fate? Whatever you believe, part of your resolution resides in your capacity to see the child, see the person, feel the love, accept the change in your life.

So no, this is not about you, about what your friends will say, your family will feel, or the way you look out in public, your child visible, or any stigma you may feel from people who don’t understand.

And this is exactly how it is when someone you love, or who simply is part of your family, or is a partner or spouse, discloses their gender dysphoria. It is about them, not you.

Now how you respond to that is up to you, but let’s get this straight, they are not there to be suppressed in their identity for your sake, to make you comfortable, or to avoid the stigma you feel by association. Your needs are just as valid, but you must find your resolution within yourself, not through denial, rejection or refusal to see a gender dysphoria diagnosis as real. Yes, it will challenge your self-perception and the nature of your love for the other. The dysphoria, however, is theirs, not for you to challenge or change. What is about you, is your capacity to understand that the person is not their body, that they are inevitably very vulnerable and emotional, and that the only resolution is to allow the person the self-respect of their own identity, not how you want them to be.

You both have deep needs at this point, but the diagnosis is theirs, your response is for you to sort out.

See also

Your sixth fact: this includes you

A disclosure (coming out as trans) changes you. You can never again be the person who does not know someone with gender dysphoria. Always the child of a transsexual parent, or the brother, or sister. Forever the person who married someone transsexual, or transgender, transitioned, transitioning, or complex-living. This is not an adjustment, it’s something that will never un-become part of your life, part of your explanation, defence – or denial: even that will stay with you. The trans person didn’t choose this, they were born with it. It’s nobody’s fault, so stop blaming or cursing the universe. The reasons why they could not understand and accept and disclose themselves before are very close to the same reasons you are finding this so difficult now. They were not lying to you just because they were struggling with something unknown about themselves.

Find out as much as you can about what might justifiably be called a ‘condition’. There is plenty of information. You can’t avoid this, or pretend it isn’t there any more, so at least respect the person you care about and get knowledgeable rather than defensive or opinionated. What you do after that is your choice, but it is more a choice than the trans person ever had. Right now they may feel the choice is either suicide or to live in their true gender; nothing exists in between. Which way are you going to push?

Yes, you matter too, but accept the foundations of your choice. These include love, respect, social stigma, inflexibility, sense of sexuality, ability to cope with change, and many more. But you are here now, and if counselling will help, or meeting transitioned trans people (rather than what can seem a bizarre initial process of change), or family members of transitioned people, or reading, or finding people like you online, please, go do it – and stick with it until you know what you need, without placing coercive pressure on the trans person.

See also:

In light of the facts

First of all you can do this together. You might not agree, but you don’t have to fight. Respect each other’s feelings, and recognise that one of you has been living with this a long time, the other has probably been hit hard and fast by the unexpected. Things are not going to go back the way they were. Whether you interpret this as broken, or as an opportunity to rearrange, is for you to work out, maybe with outside help. This much is your choice.

You have to sort this out between you, but accept the facts, not how you would have liked life to have been. Life is not as you were brought up to believe, and gender is not what you thought. You have to get over this, because the family member or friend you knew before is still there; all of them, with thoughts, memories and aspirations, and a shared life with you that they had no intention of losing. Whether you can change and accommodate the new reality is up to you both, but accept the facts, and see the person. Do you have the love to go through this with them?

Please search this blog site, it is the tale of my own transition, and is only me, observing my situation, not a paradigm. If all it does is inform, help you understand and make you think, then that is good. Stay honest with yourself, and communicate as much as you can, as openly as you can, listening as much as speaking. None of us chose to have gender dysphoria, and we feel it to different degrees, but we are still the people you used to love. Let’s be kind to one another.


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