“I don’t want to talk about it!”

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When the going gets tough . . .

I wonder what percentage of us are tough enough to get going, that we might work through whatever challenge we are now facing. Conversely, I am curious what number blurt out, “I don’t want to talk about it!” and walk away.

I don’t know if I want to learn the answer.

As things often seem to come in waves, this has popped up with me in many of the conversations I have been having. While most of them have been with folks who have a spouse, who does not want to talk about their spouse’s gender issues, there have been plenty of other typical areas where ignoring the situation has been the insisted upon non-solution.

What would have happened to me if I had not opened up to Julie, or, if, when I did, she had responded to my telling her that I had grown suicidal because of my gender dysphoria with the all-too-common, “I don’t want to talk about it”?

I know what has happened to a number of couples, who have been in the spot where one spouse refused to address a serious issue. For a two-in-one example, I am thinking of two couples to whom I ministered, whose young children had died. In both cases, one spouse longed to talk about their child, about the ongoing struggle over the loss, while the other spouse didn’t want it brought up. Within a couple of years, both couples divorced. In both cases, the spouse who wanted to talk told me it was because they no longer communicated. In one marriage, it was the husband who could not bear to speak of his child, and in the other it was the wife.

One of my church members, a lovely lady whom, only weeks earlier, I had finished instructing so that she could join the congregation, found herself in the hospital, in what would be a few days from death, because her stomach cancer was inoperable. It turned out that, for months, she knew something was wrong. She told me that she ignored it, that she had not wanted to talk about it. When she finally did, it was too late.

In the three years since I have been getting to know trans folks, I wish I had a pizza for every time one of them spoke of a spouse, or parents, or other loved ones, who elected not to listen to them. As if, what? As if, by not talking about it, “it” would not exist?

Isn’t that the way we often play it? If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t look at it, if we don’t face it, it doesn’t exist?

Can you think of a single thing in life that, by ignoring it, it ceases to exist? It just goes away? Remaining deaf and blind to it made the boo-boo all better?

Can you think of a worse way to harm the love others have for you than to declare that you will not talk about the thing which is so troubling them?  That you don’t want to hear it?  That, should they try to open up, you blow up?

When you are in a tough situation—take note: I did not write IF, but WHEN, because we ALL find ourselves in tough situations—do you like it when others don’t want to talk about what concerns you? When they stick their fingers in their ears, do you feel the love?

A person told me, “I don’t want to force the issue with my spouse. If we start talking, it will just make the matter worse.” I replied, “No, the matter is growing worse because you are not talking about it. By not talking, both of you are forming ideas and making decisions about things which are taking you down paths of which the other has no idea.”

I believe that, if this couple doesn’t talk, they will wind up in divorce. The one is hurting tremendously. The other, also hurting, doesn’t want to face the issue. Their silent space will grow from cleft, to crevice, to canyon, with their sides winding up so far apart that it will be impossible for them to make the trek back to each other.

I knew a man who was not good at handling problems, something I found to be true as I got to know him. Issues troubling his wife, which only turned into frustratingly short, one-sided conversations with him, resulted in things she would not bring up. Left to work out her troubles on her own, she made other plans. She left her husband and filed for divorce.

He was shocked. He should not have been.

Isn’t this often the case, that we don’t want to talk about things, not simply because we don’t want to face them, but because we feel ill-equipped to address them, which contributes to their seeming to be insurmountable? “Maybe, it will just go away,” winds up sounding pretty good.

When I was a pastor, I sat several times with all of the couples I was about to join in marriage. One of our sessions was discussing communication, and one of the topics in that chat was the handling of problems. I asserted that not only do problems not have to drive apart couples, but the addressing and solving of them will serve to drive them to each other and strengthen their bond.

Julie and I are a walking, talking example of the truth of this.

Besides our bond of love, there are other keys as to why Julie and I succeeded, which are vital to all communication, especially when issues are challenging. When I opened up to Julie, I knew these things, that she would

  • remain calm, and
  • listen to me, and
  • not quickly or unfairly judge me or the situation, and
  • care about everything I told her, and
  • have my best interest at heart.

Because I trusted each of these aspects, I was able to open up and be completely honest with Julie. If I would have doubted any of these things, I would very likely have been stifled.

Who wants to expose his heart to a person who explodes in anger?

Who dares to declare her dreams to a person who will only dash them?

Who finds that it will only be a waste of time when things always become about the other person?

It comes down to trust.

It comes down to being trustworthy.

Not only does this go for communication in relationships such as marriage and with family and friends, it also comes into play when we are sick and really should see a doctor, when we have work troubles and ought to involve the boss, and innumerable other of life’s situations. We need people to have proven themselves trustworthy so that we might trust them now, when we are in a serious situation.

When this is the case, we have a shot at succeeding and, even if we still really don’t want to talk about it, we will be able to do so.

“I don’t understand”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.