When something big has happened in your life, how do you want others to react? If you share good news, do you want hooray and good job and hugs? If you share bad news, do you want commiseration and compassion and hugs? And if you share news that’s hard to reveal, do you want others to listen, to truly hear you, to dig in with their love for you … and hugs?
This piece is about how people have reacted when a loved one or colleague told them they are transgender. To set the stage, I return to an event of thirty years ago.
Back in the days of my working in an office, one afternoon a car veered off the road, came into our parking lot, and hit the car of one of my coworkers. Her husband worked nights and they lived nearby, so she called him.
Some of us were in the parking lot as he arrived. Exiting his truck, he was huffing and puffing and screaming bloody murder: “We’re going to sue!” He did not wait for anyone to speak. He asked no questions. He only began ranting. His embarrassed wife tried to calm him.
I had never seen such a display of someone with no concern for anyone else, who took no control of his temper. Any respect I might have had for him was out the window.
Our immediate reaction to a big event can set the stage for everything to follow. Think of your first impression of people upon meeting them. It’s the same idea.
As my books are gradually finding a wider audience, I’m hearing from more folks—the trans persons telling family of their gender dysphoria, and the family members of trans persons. I’m struck by the first reactions.
I return to Julie’s first reactions to me. Before we married, I told her I was a crossdresser. Her reaction was to calmly say she knew nothing about this, that she wanted me to teach her, and that she could tell this was an integral part of who I am.
Twelve years later, when I was crushed with gender dysphoria, I told Julie I didn’t know if I would survive if I had to remain male, that I might need to transition to living as a female. As previously and according to her nature, she calmly replied, “We’ll figure it out.” (Here’s what I wrote about it, in 2016: https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/well-figure-it-out/)
If Julie had replied with the “We’re going to sue!” equivalent—“I didn’t sign up for this”—I can’t imagine our marriage surviving or, perhaps, me surviving.
As I went public about my experiencing gender dysphoria, the initial reactions ranged from understanding to judgmental. When I announced I was transitioning, the hardest ones to swallow were “The devil is leading you by the nose” and “You’re following the ways of the world” and, addressing the severity of my suffering that was leading me to try transitioning, one pastor said, “Surely, it’s not that bad.” That ended our relationship.
Many first reactions were two quotes of the Bible. First, that God created males and females. Second, that men shall not wear women’s clothes and vice versa. Every time these reactions were presented, the person thought they provided the absolute judgment and the case was closed.
I wish I’d kept track of how many times I was told, “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Of course, this is true. Also of course, it has nothing to do with the topic. Using this with a person whose sense of self is in conflict with his biological sex, that it can’t be because God doesn’t make mistakes, is akin to telling a person with cancer that it can’t be because God declared “good” the creation of everything and, clearly, cancer is not good. I guess these tumors are all in these folks’ heads.
The reactions I’ve quoted all served to shut down the conversation. In some cases, I suspect that’s what people wanted. It’s like with an in-person conversation, when someone says, “Well, I just don’t agree!” and leaves.
In other cases, they kept writing to me on social media and using email, but never came off their initial reaction. While they might have been convinced that I wasn’t making my case, because of their initial reactions I feared they had their minds made up and there would be no budging.
I won’t make the joke, “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” but I’ve thought it often.
On Super Bowl Sunday, I received an email from a woman. She’d just found my books, bought both of them, and was midway through reading. That evening, she had finished them.
Here are the opening words of her review of my memoir, A Roller Coaster through a Hurricane:
Suppose you found out that a terrible fire had left your adult child a burn victim? You would look for every answer that might minimize your loved one’s suffering. If you found the memoir of someone who himself was a burn victim and had been treated by the finest care available, you would scour that book, searching for understanding of how your child feels and any clues to effective treatments.
Now, there’s a first reaction for the ages.
Her full reviews are worthy of reading. Here are screen shots of both. Following them are the links to both pages, where you can read many more excellent reactions.