“I don’t understand”


A couple of weeks after undergoing sex reassignment surgery (SRS), I had a long, profitable, wonderful conversation with a man who is dear to me. I’ve not interacted much with this man since I transitioned, and have longed to have a meaningful conversation.

He had not rejected me; he didn’t know what to do with me. He didn’t know how to talk with me. He didn’t know what to call me, and admitted that he could not bring himself to use “Gina” for me. He didn’t know what to make of my being transgender.

We had very briefly seen each other, only one time since I transitioned, and he now admitted that he struggled with seeing me dressed as a woman.

It was easier simply to keep some distance between us.

How did we get reconnected? He gets all of the credit. He texted me, to tell me that he had been praying for me. He knew that I had just undergone SRS. I used this to seek a phone call. He was hesitant. He owned up to not being ready. I asked how a person gets ready for this, to take this step.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

NOTE: Soon after I posted this, Rick Cruse made some insightful comments.  I commend you to read them, below.  Rick’s comments reminded me that I neglected an important point: I had vowed to be patient with everyone in my life, grasping that I had surprised them with the revelation of my gender dysphoria, then compounding it when I transitioned.  In each one’s own way, my being transgender is as hard on them as on me.

As with the person in question in this piece, I have given everyone space, never pestering them or acting out to them.  It has been very hard, in many instances, to leave people be and give them time.  I continue to wait on many, am resigned to the worst with some and, thankfully, have had lovely success with others.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I hope I wrote gently, but I continued to press him to call me. I told him that being disconnected was very hard on me, that it felt like rejection. I assured him that I spoke the same as always—well, my voice would sound hoarse because I was still recovering from surgery to my vocal cords—that I talked and acted exactly as he always knew me. I told him that he could call me whatever was comfortable for him, either Greg or one of the nicknames that he’d used over the years.

He said he would call. Seconds later, we were saying our hellos. We immediately fell into talking with each other in the same manner as we had so many times before.

As we got into discussing my transitioning, and what that means for me being a Christian, a familiar pattern emerged. With his every comment after concern after question, he began, “I don’t understand.”

He asked me about everything. How I got to the point of transitioning. What it meant for my marriage to Julie. How I understood it as a Christian. What will happen when I die, and when we are resurrected from the dead. And more.

Everything was now on the table that had been left unsaid, unasked over the past few years since I first told him about my gender dysphoria.

It wasn’t long before I noted and addressed how he kept beginning a new thought, “But, I don’t understand . . .” I said, “Have you heard yourself? You have been saying how you don’t understand, and then you ask me an excellent question, a question for which I need to have an answer, and I’ve had good answers for all of your questions. Because you’ve never asked your questions, you have never given yourself a chance to understand. You’ve never given me a chance to explain. Now that we are talking, you finally have a fighting chance to understand.”

“Yeah. You’re right.”

We talked for ninety minutes. Eventually, we caught up on happenings in our families and shared interests. We made our goodbyes with promises to stay connected.

As I make the next statement, I do not mean it to sound judgmental, but simply as what the situation was: he let this situation become worse than it was and harder than it needed to be.

What happened with him is terribly common. When something is very foreign, really challenging, tremendously troubling, we all can be prone to avoiding it. I know that I’ve sure been that way plenty of times. We make the thing bigger than it is, harder than it needs to be, and it finally becomes virtually impossible to tackle.

We let “I don’t understand” tumble around in our head so long and so often that coming to an understanding seems so unlikely that we give up on trying to tackle it.

Relationships should be too important to allow “I don’t understand” to win the day. Whether it is parent and child, sibling and sibling, friend and friend, church and member, teammates or coworkers or fellow Americans, people who are important to us should be—no, need to be those for whom we will not allow unknown, troubling, and foreign things to keep us apart.

Love perseveres. Well, it’s supposed to, anyway.


I don’t begin to imagine that one conversation removed every struggle for the man regarding me, and those concerns he has involving the entirety of the topic of transgender. It didn’t have to. The first step has been taken. We are once again walking together.

5 thoughts on ““I don’t understand”

  1. Perhaps the following is analogous. When a person experiences a traumatic event (accident, death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, gender transition, etc), it is not unusual for that individual’s cerebral cortex to shut down (a purely chemical and natural reaction). In it’s place, the primary, more primitive part of the brain that functions is the amygdala. The natural functions of an amygdala-driven brain are fight, flight, or freeze. The basic elements of the traumatic event get fixed into a loop in their thought process. Normally, over time, the cerebral cortex begins to assert dominance, the loop is broken, and rational thought slowly begins to emerge.

    I wonder if, for those like this friend of yours, your transition is a traumatic event – not only for you but also for those who have known and lived alongside you for years. When they lack (or refuse) the opportunity to process it, each time they see you, speak with you and/or think of you, they are “re-traumatized” (they re-live the trauma) and react by fighting, freezing or fleeing. Only by processing it, as your friend was able to do via that phone call, can they move on from that traumatic mindset to more normal and natural thought processes. That doesn’t guarantee outcomes like the one you reflect on here, but perhaps it makes good outcomes more likely.

    Just thinking. Over to you….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate this very much, Rick. You nailed it. Thank you.

    For the person on the “I want to be understood” end of the relationship, there also needs to be understanding. In this case, understanding why it is so hard for the other. Sadly, too many trans folks don’t get it, don’t reckon that the revelation of their transitioning has proven to be a traumatic event for their family member, or friend, or coworker.

    If both sides of the relationship will exhibit patience and kindness, their relationship stands a wonderful chance of being recovered. This has been my attitude with my loved ones, understanding that I floored them with my news. It has helped me to be patient, to reckon that they were traumatized, even as I have longed for them to recover, so that we might recoup our relationship.

    Recognizing the situation for what it is, this becomes the question: how does one process the trauma so that healing might take place? Then, will one even process the trauma, or will they allow themselves to remain in it? Or, will they simply limp away, and stay away?


    1. I believe, despite the length of time required, the conversation you describe here is a significant demonstration of how one processes trauma. I wonder if it would help those like your friend to understand that they HAVE BEEN traumatized, though even communicating that (from your side) and embracing the reality (from their side) may prove difficult. If you don’t know you’ve been traumatized AND don’t understand that – in significant ways – trauma can rewire your brain, it’s difficult to see that there is anything to be processed.

      There are those who, for whatever reason, refuse to process trauma. In this case, I believe many see it as so outside their comfort zone and, more likely, so outside their religious worldview that they won’t take the time to think it through. It becomes a closed matter. The latter (religious) likely believe that their religious worldview is a “package” of many things, including beliefs on transgender issues. Thus, to change their mind about one item in the package might cause the whole thing to fall apart. They can’t allow that so they freeze, fight, or flee.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Once again, Rick, you have addressed key things, right on the mark.

    When a pastor, I had several members who would not address their own health issues – usually, I heard “I hate doctors” – often waiting until their situation forced them into seeing a doctor, when they were so sick they no longer could ignore or deny it, and sometimes it ended up with their dying very soon from the thing that could have been corrected if they had not become frozen to it.

    Thank you for your tremendously helpful contributions, today!

    Liked by 1 person

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