I’ve known a few people who transitioned; all three of them I met in college or just shortly thereafter, and all were about my age.
One of them I met when he was still female-identified. Let’s call him Taylor. Within a few weeks of becoming friends, Taylor started hormones. I discerned little change in his behavior or personality, even as his voice pitch altered and he started growing facial hair. Some months down the road, he said he was having surgery. Taylor was one of the most gregarious storytellers I had ever met, and I felt I knew his family intimately just from his anecdotes of them. So I was very concerned how his conservative father would take the news that soon he would no long have a daughter, as I couldn’t fathom the father of Taylor’s stories being very pleased to hear as much.
He took the news very badly, indeed. Taylor remained surprisingly upbeat; he was just rolling with the punches, seeming to accept the rejection and hurtful words from his father because he simply couldn’t go back now. It was my impression that he had reconciled himself to transitioning for the sake of his happiness: he felt his life as a woman was a lie, as he often reasserted through telling me, “You know I’m xy, anyway.” I was in awe of how positive he managed to remain.
Unlike many other transgendered folks I’ve met, Taylor kept his birth name– it was technically a unisex name, anyhow. During the hormones but before the surgery, Taylor told me and his other friends to start calling him “he”. I was surprised, but then I was surprised that I was surprised; of course, that made sense, I supposed. I messed it up the first couple of weeks, but eventually it became naturally to me to refer to Taylor with male pronouns, even as the Essential Taylor stayed the same: upbeat, hilarious, bawdy, energetic, curious, adventuresome.
Eventually Taylor’s father came around, and accepted him back into the family– as his son. He seemed to figure out that Taylor wasn’t actually “different”, persay; in fact, he told Taylor that things “made more sense now”. “You were never into dresses or dolls,” he told his son. I also finally got to meet Taylor’s family in person, and they were exactly as I imagined them to be, as illustrated in Taylor’s stories. We shared a meal together and Taylor’s brother, sister-in-law, and father confirmed to me that Taylor’s “tall tales” were in fact true– life was just that crazy (and humorous) in their family sometimes. It was also obvious to me as I observed their interactions that Taylor’s father was really quite proud of him. I felt such elation for Taylor that he could live the life he wanted to, even if society tried to label such a life perverse, and still have his loving, crazy, funny family.
Another transgendered person I befriended during their transition was male when we first met and now lives as a self-identified female. Let’s call her Lisa. Lisa was a very polite, quiet, nice guy when I met her, the roommate of one of my good friends. Said good friend actually set us up on a date one time. Lisa was “the perfect gentleman”, but seemed immensely unhappy. She tried to describe to meet the root cause of her unhappiness, but was either unable to do so for fear of stigmatization on my part, or at that time couldn’t directly identify the source, herself. It saddened me to see such an intelligent, kind, interesting person spending their days in helpless melancholy, but at that time I had no idea what I could do to help, other than to listen.
Lisa and I fell out of touch after our mutual friend moved away, but we would see each other around from time to time. Almost two years later we ran into each after a particularly long dry spell, and I was surprised at the apparent changes in her. She seemed very guarded and anxious, which I only aggravated when I asked why she had painted her toenails black (a socially “abnormal” thing for a young man to do in America). She was very distant, and I let it go.
The next time I saw Lisa, it was in a picture on facebook. She was a woman, and finally it sunk in for me, her helplessness and hurt and anxiety over the years, and how my reaction was probably harmful in this regard. In the picture she looked joyful, and as if she had gotten her voice back. Because we were never very close friends, I didn’t come to hear about how Lisa’s family had taken her transition, but for herself it seemed to have lifted something off of her, or possibly restored something. It warmed me to see how well she was doing.
The most recent friend I’ve made who is transgendered is one of the most fantastic people I’ve met, though she probably doesn’t even know I think that. “Sarah” had already transitioned to become a woman when I met her, but after several weeks of being friends she revealed to me that she had been born male. Her transition had happened some time before I’d come to know her. I think one of the reasons she was hesitant to tell me is because she is an outspoken feminist– and feared that I would degrade or deplore her feminist proclivities if I knew she was actually “the Enemy”. My feminism doesn’t view males as “the Enemy”, but I think her fear was legitimately founded, considering that all-women “feminist” conferences, retreats, and so forth often exclude anyone who has a penis or xy chromosomes, even if they are self-identified females. To the contrary, my impression was that Sarah’s feminism had nothing to do with her gender, and everything to do with her belief in freedom and true equality. The “fact” of her “gender” in no way shapes my opinion of her right to promote equality, feminist style, nor reduces the legitimacy of what she has to say. I also felt honored and grateful that she shared her story with me. I wanted to hear about her experiences as a transgendered person; she expanded my sphere of consciousness so that I am not the same person I was before I met her.
NPR posted a story about a transgendered mother whose family, in spite of many difficulties, stayed by her side and supported her throughout her transition. His husband made a remark which struck such a deep chord in me that I felt truly optimistic for the first time in…well, a long time. As his wife transitioned and became male, he stopped being publicly affectionate with him; then one day he had a profound understanding of himself and their relationship: “I realized that I didn’t fall in love with a couple of body pieces.”
When I came out to some of my friends my senior year of college as bisexual, most of them were unfazed or even expected it, but some wanted to know, well, why? My answer was that I had had the epiphany that I don’t love genders. I don’t love races. I don’t love socially constructed groups of people. I love individuals. Sometimes those individuals happen to be male, sometimes female, sometimes Muslim, Khmer, older than me, younger than me, etc. Admittedly, I was a long time in coming to this realization (for many, complex reasons both interior and exterior), but when I finally did it raised my understanding of love to a new level.
Reading the NPR article brought me close to tears (and I’m not even on my period!), I think because I felt a deep empathy for the mother, for her acceptance and support by her family. When things like this happen, I see them as miraculous, as transcendent. I think, “Now we’re getting somewhere.”