It seems to me that “I love you” should never be followed by a “but,” um, but, at times, it is.
• Humorously: I love you, but you can’t take my seat on the couch.
• Frivolously: I love you, but I also love hamburgers, and naps, and sunsets.
• Seriously: I love you, but I can no longer be married to you.
This love “but” tag is on my mind because of the cumulative affect it has been having on me—from my personal experience and that of some of my trans friends.
In 2013 and 2014 I visited with dozens of people, beginning with pastors and church officials, then family members and my closest friends, in the months when I decided I had to retire, telling them about my history with gender dysphoria and how I was going back and forth with whether I would attempt transitioning. I kept track, recording whom I told and when. Over that period, I gave the talk thirty times, with about double that number of people. I received every reaction in the book, from speechless to stumped to supportive. A few times, the reaction was, “I love you, but . . .” One will serve as the best example.
“Greg, I see how badly you’re hurting, but I don’t know how I am going to feel if you transition. I’ll always love you, but I don’t know if I could ever see you as a woman.”
So as not to reveal this person, I will use the genderless name, Pat, and the non-gendered pronoun, they/them.
Pat is a person who is very important to me. We have had a good relationship, and most of the time a great relationship. I want them in my life.
I’ve not talked to Pat since you can guess when. As long as I strived to remain male, Pat could deal with me. We could not talk about it—except that one time that they brought it up, but not to discuss the hell I was going through but something about me that was affecting them.
When Pat insisted they loved me, I affirmed it. The last time I talked with Pat on the phone, I asked if I could stop by but they did not want to see me even though I was in the period when I briefly returned to guy mode. At the end of that chat, they repeated their love for me. I replied with my love for them.
That was a little more than a year ago.
I understand about difficult things erecting walls for people. I sat with my dad the last hours of his life. My siblings and others visited, but a few people said, “I just can’t see him like this.” “But, he’s going to be gone soon.” “I’m sorry. I just can’t do hospitals.”
I did not challenge the love of the ones who said that. Now, I wish I had done so. Gently. But, I wish I had done it.
As a pastor, I witnessed plenty of folks who would not visit nursing homes or go to funerals. “I can’t look at a dead person.” “You don’t have to look into the casket. The spouse/kids/family would be strengthened by your presence.” “I don’t know. I get so creeped out.”
I never challenged the love of the ones who said that. Now, I wish I had done so. Gently. But, I wish I had done it.
You’ve probably heard of the “love chapter” of the Bible. It’s often read at weddings, though it is not about marriage, per se. Here it is, specifically 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
God the Holy Spirit had this recorded so that we might know what it means to love; what we should mean when we say, “I love you.”
When I think of the rejection which many of us trans women and men experience from family and friends, these attributes from love’s definition stand out:
Whew. As I typed that, it exhausted me. Love is a big job!
And that’s my point. When people are hurting, when people are in need, when people just told you the hardest news they never wanted to ever have to tell you, they need your love—they need you to be patient, and kind, and to honor them, and to not think of yourself, and to protect them, and hang in their with them, and to do all of this without fail.
I never challenged the love of the ones who said, “I love you, but . . .” Now, I wish I had done so. Gently. But, I wish I had done it.
For my part, I made it my number one job to demonstrate these love attributes to all people. Toward those, who have not been able to get off their “but,” I have been patient and kind, realizing the tough spot in which they were finding themselves, seeking to honor them.
I have had chances to press Pat, to see Pat. I have not taken them. I will not put Pat on the spot. I will remain patient.
To love means you suck it up and make that hospital visit. To love means you don’t look into the casket but you go to the funeral home and give the hug which provides so much to the mourning. To love means when your loved one just told you the hardest news they never wanted to ever have to tell you, you find a way to remain in their life. To love means when someone needs time, needs space, you give it to them.
That wall begins erecting itself, but you tell yourself, “This is going to be a challenge, but I have to do this for this person’s sake and mine, because I love this person and this person loves me. This is not about me. If I were in this spot, I would not be happy if this person rejected me, so I need to find a way to get over my lack of understanding, my misunderstanding, my never being able to truly understand, my being bothered by this situation.”
Yup. That’s what love does.
If you are transgender, and it helps for you to send this to one of your loved ones in order to open their eyes to see things better, I will be very pleased. If you have a relative for whom hospitals, funeral homes, nursing homes, or wherever is too much for them, I hope this helps.
We can do this! Together, when we all remember the Golden Rule, to treat others the way we want them to treat us, we can live out the lofty list of love’s length. When we do, all of us will benefit.
All of us.