Dear friends and family of trans-people,
It can be super challenging, on multiple levels, when a loved one comes out to you, especially if it never occurred to you that they might be transgender. You might not know where to turn, or what resources to access to help you navigate the changes they (and you) will be going through. There ARE resources though, plenty of them, and support groups (if not locally in your area, then definitely on the internet). It is not up to the transgender person to be your sounding board, your therapist, your coach, or your educator. In addition, as you work through it in your own way, please put a damper on the “transition as death” narrative. It is trite, outdated, and toxic.
If you feel like you are mourning a death, that’s fine – all feelings are valid (etc.) But why would this be something you need to work out publicly? We are very much alive. Almost always, transition is actually close to the opposite of death – it’s a time to finally feel out who we actually are. We may have felt like a “half-person” or a “shell of a person” or, to put it in those same grim terms, like a “walking dead person.” I know I did prior to transition, quite a bit. Coming out was a celebration of life. I feel like I have so much more to live for now.
When you claim that the person you knew has died, you are implying that the person we are becoming is not worth getting to know, or that we have slighted you, tricked you, we are to blame for your feelings of loss. And, actually, we aren’t even “becoming” a different person. We are the same person, just finally in technicolor, finally kaleidoscopic, however you want to look at it. If you took the time to see how much we settle into ourselves, how often our worst mental-health issues start to soften around the edges, how we can be more present in the moment, more peaceful, more calm, then you might understand that it is so far from a death that the analogy is utterly ridiculous and laughable.
Please reflect on the ramifications of claiming we have died.
And now for some hard evidence! Two sources that have been recently on my radar have had me in hyper cringe mode as they talked about the “death” of their transgender loved one.
First, an episode of the podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People: I generally love this podcast, and in fact, I’ve written about it before, because there have been 2 prevous episodes highlighting transgender narratives. If you wanna check that blog post out, it is: Beautiful / Anonymous: Trans-related episodes.
Episode #116, sensationalistically entitled She Killed My Father is a much harder pill to swallow. The gist is that the caller is an only child, the adult child of a transwoman who came out later in life (in her fifties), much to the surprise of those around her.
Caller: “Sometimes it feels like this person killed my father. And in a way, that’s right. You know, I, well, think about it this way: When you lose… my father, as a male, does not exist anymore. This person is gone. And normally when that happens, you have this grieving period, you have this ritual, this ceremony, you can go to this funeral or this memorial service and people bring you food and people give you cards and people just give you your space and they really support you and they let you process that. But for me, um… especially with my dad… I don’t have a dad anymore, and this person came in and said, ‘Your dad’s gone. Now it’s me….'”
Chris: “Wow. This is, this is, by far, out of all the calls we’ve ever done, one that is so much to wrap one’s brain around.”
Blaaaaaaaaaah!!!!! To be fair, I am just isolating this one thing, and of course it’s way more complex as we hear more of her story: Her father is also bipolar, and has issues with boundaries, always wanting to be more of a “buddy” than a parent, stuff like that. But really, nothing excuses this framework the caller has set up so starkly. Can’t get past it!
The second instance I’ve recently come across is in a book called, At The Broken Places: A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces. This book is co-authored by both mother and son, and it is in many ways a difficult but worthwhile read. It’s rich in its depth and complexity. Both authors are not afraid to show their wounds and flaws, and, to be sure, some of that is cringe-worthy.
She (the mother, Mary Collins) delicately sidesteps the specific “my daughter has died” scenario, but she has an entire chapter entitled “Mapping Modern Grief,” and there’s plenty of comparisons to the death of her father at a young age, as well as, “I am grieving the loss of my daughter,” “I understood my daughter would never return,” and this mindboggling way of looking at it: “My emotional journey with Donald seems to more closely mirror more nebulous losses, such as moving away from someone I will never see again.”
Not as in-your-face with the death imagery, but just as chafing, on an emotional level.
I’ve been binge-listening to Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, a podcast hosted by comedian Chris Gethard. The premise is so super basic: He “tweets” out the phone number when he is in the studio, and whoever ends up getting through talks with Chris, anonymously, for exactly one hour. Sometimes it’s just chit chat, sometimes the caller has an agenda and they want to make the most of this platform. Sometimes it’s funny, but more often, it’s sad, intense, and heartfelt. I’ve heard the experiences of someone in an abusive relationship, someone who escaped from a cult, someone who was a heroin addict, someone who was in an inappropriate relationship with their teacher, and so much more – including two episodes in which the caller is a trans-person.
What Not To Ask A Trans Person (Episode #54) In this episode, Chris deviated from the formula a bit – every so often, instead of taking a random call, he’ll ask people to leave a “pitch” as a phone message, and he will reach out to one of those people. In this case, the caller is a 28 year-old transman who is engaged to a transwoman… and, unfortunately, that’s about all we get to know about him as a person. The majority of the call is Trans-101 stuff – we are STILL only at this basic level with the general population. Chris puts his foot in his mouth a couple of times (he makes it clear this will be inevitable.) At one point he uses the word “transgender” as a verb, when he meant to say “transition.” Also, this exchange was super cringe-worthy:
Caller: “Even people who are not in any way transphobic, most people don’t know a lot about the experience being trans or the trans community, so they tend to be very curious. And this is fine, except that often it ends up that often trans people end up being … put in a position of having to answer all their questions, sometimes very invasive questions … like, what your genitals look like.”
Chris: [Talks super eloquently about mental health in the trans community, transphobia, and other vulnerabilities. Then says] “I do like that the first one you did mention was people asking you about your genitals. That’s gotta get real old real fast. That being said, on behalf of everybody who is wondering, I wonder what your, what your eh, your your…” and then he trailed off. DUDE. The caller handled it really well, making it super clear that that’s not a question that you ask people.
Chris: “Are there any stories… Is there any real life shit you can put out there and just make it eye opening of like, ‘yeah, this shit is real.’ You know?”
Caller: “You know, like, I think … the biggest thing is like, maybe stop murdering trans people.” He said this so casually that I laughed out loud.
One other thing that the caller pointed out that I’d never really thought about before was when talking about the high percentage of trans people who have attempted suicide – I always saw that as some concrete indicator of how outcasted the population is, how brutal society has been toward trans people. But for someone who is apt to brush that off and think that trans people are just mentally ill to begin with, that person will just cement it in their mind further that of course trans people want to kill themselves. They’re crazy. That’s demoralizing to think about.
Coming Out, With Katie Couric (Episode #77) This one also deviated from the normal format in that it was the second episode ever where Chris had a co-host. (The first one was episode #37 with Hannibal Buress.) Apparently Katie Couric reached out to him, really wanting to come on his show! The only thing I’d heard about her, any time lately, was that she botched an interview with transgender model Carmen Carrera in January 2014, asking things such as, “Your private parts are different now, aren’t they?” And then later, Laverne Cox stepped up, came on her show, and told it like it is, namely, (and yep, I’m reiterating this from just a few paragraphs ago) That’s not a question that you ask people!
Since then, I’d basically villified Katie Couric in my head, just assuming she’s too mainstream and out of touch. But, as she tells it, she had the opportunity to just edit all that garbage out, and she decided it was important to leave it in as a teachable moment, and admit her mistakes. And then! She went on to produce, along with National Geographic, a whole documentary called Gender Revolution, which came out in February of 2017. I had no idea.
So when the random caller for this particular episode happened to be a trans-woman (and she had no idea Katie Couric was there with Chris when she called), it feels serendipitous. And it’s a lot more interesting and personal than the other episode I’m highlighting, largely because it feels more meandering and off-the-cuff. Chris, again, is a little off (he isn’t usually, haha!) and Katie Couric is super thoughtful and poised. I kinda like her after this, even. The caller is at the very beginning of her journey, as a 20 year-old junior in college, studying math and economics. She has only told 6 people so far, and she’s just dabbled in painting her nails, little things like that. She’s been on estrogen for two weeks. She’s not yet comfortable seeking out support from other trans people, experimenting with clothing in private, anything along those lines.
It’s super interesting to hear from someone who is just starting to feel out her gender identity, as opposed to many of the voices from the trans community who seemingly have a lot of it figured out / are much further along in their journey.
Highly recommend these episodes!
I wanna recommend a podcast! It’s called How To Be A Girl. A while back ago, I had been following a blog, gendermom, on wordpress. It’s written by Marlo Mack (pseudonym), about life with her (now) 8 year-old transgender daughter, M. I really love reading/hearing from the perspective of parents, especially parents of young trans-kids. And this one in particular has a lot of input from the daughter. They are in it together.
In the summer of 2014, she branched out and also started producing a podcast. At first I was reluctant to check it out. I guess because although I was listening to some podcasts at that time, I preferred reading and connecting through blogs. But then one of the episodes was featured on a podcast I was already a big fan of, Here Be Monsters, and I made a mental note to go check out the rest of the episodes. It’s taken a while, but here I am to say it’s great, haha. I listened through episodes 1-6 twice now…
The first three establish some backstory and facts (I’m not going to give too much away!). At this point, M is 6, and she has the support of her mom and dad (who are divorced) and other family members and friends. Hardly anyone knows that she is trans (better to be more cautious at first and see how things might play out). She had been saying she is a girl, basically as early as she could talk, and although it took a long time to convince her parents, they are fully on board now. She likes the color pink, my little ponies, stuff like that…
Episode 4 is called Tom Boy Trans Girl, and it’s about, how girly do you have to be to be considered a girl? There are plenty of tomboys out there… M gradually shifts to liking blue over pink and getting into Pokemon and ninjas. Marlo Mack is afraid the being-a-girl thing was just a phase. M sums everything up super succinctly.
Episode 5 is about finding love. Marlo Mack has to navigate through transphobia from potential dating partners, and she talks about how she handles it. M also tells a love story.
Episode 6 is super cute. It is a straight-up interview, Marlo Mack asking M a bunch of questions. The perspective of this 6-year-old is really amazing and surprising. Well, she’s been through a lot, so I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising!
Some talk about the other episodes, coming soon!
My spouse and I have been talking about the idea of working on a podcast together. We have a local community of radio people we can plug into / in with, and I already do a weekly music show. This would be totally different though, and would involve a steep learning curve. We got some books out of the library (always a good place to start!), and I’ve been trying to pull apart, think about the elements that go into the podcasts I do listen to: the way the sound editing overlaps, the hooks to keep you listening, stuff like that. We’ll see. I think it would be a lot of work, but could be really rewarding.