The other day I wrote about facing life’s challenges – the ones that shake our foundation. Among the examples I gave from my own life were my father’s death, my mother’s cancer battle, and my ex-husband coming out as transgender. I was careful to explain that I did not equate one’s changing gender identity with death nor with cancer, but that I do consider it a foundation rattler. After I sent what I wrote out into the world, I worried. I worried about having acknowledged that this transition of his is hard for me.
Because it is so much harder for him. Because it isn’t my story. Because I want to show my unwavering support of him. He is so brave – after having lived four decades as a male, to have the courage to express who he really is. I am not the courageous one, he is. The other day I read that the suicide rate among transgender teens and adults is 40%. Let that sink in. My mother had a better prognosis with stage 3 breast cancer. I burst into tears when I read that statistic. It makes me cry again sharing it with you.
There are layers of reasons why the suicide rate is so high amongst this population, and of course at the root of it is people would rather die than to have to live in a body that feels wrong. They feel trapped, either because they fear not being accepted, or they have already experienced not being accepted, for who they are. They are trapped in the wrong body, and they don’t see any other way out.
I have always been supportive of LGBTQ rights, but I have to tell you I had never met anyone who was transgender. That was, of course, until I realized I had been married for ten years and was raising two children with a person who is exactly that.
Introduction by fire, anyone?
Soon after I discovered that my ex-husband is actually a woman, I went on Amazon (as one does in these situations) and looked for some help in the form of a book. What I found was, ‘Trans Bodies, Trans Selves”. One click and I would hold the answers to all of my burning questions right in my hot little hands.
It arrived weighting about ten pounds and looking like a college text book. I leafed through it – medical and legal advice, very graphic diagrams – this book was not going to help me. It might be a great reference guide down the road, but for me, a newbie, it was overwhelming. I knew I wouldn’t get my head around this situation with anatomy and law. I needed to get to the heart of it. So I read stories – real, from the heart, stories written by real people who have lived through this. For me, reading “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Boylan was so helpful. It is the story of a boy who always knew he was different, but didn’t want to be (of course) so he hid his true self. He grew into a man who fell in love with a woman and had two children. He became the Head of the English department at a prestigious college in Maine. Then, he came to a point where he felt he had no choice but to risk everything to be who he was. To be Jenny.
I realized in thinking about all of this that it is so important that these stories get told. It is so incredibly important that transgender people tell their own stories. It is stories from the heart that bring us together and help us to understand each other.
They make situations that seem so alien to us relatable.
It is for this very reason I think it is also important that their loved ones tell their stories too. We need to tell our own stories. I believe there are people out there who need to hear what I have to say. Someone needs to hear me say that this is hard. Someone needs to hear me say that this is confusing. Someone needs to hear me say that it is scary. They need to hear me say that sometimes I resent it being hard and confusing and scary. They need to hear me say that it is okay if their foundation has been shaken.
And frankly, I need to say it.
This doesn’t mean that we are not 100% supportive of our trans loved ones. This doesn’t mean we are being dramatic or making it all about us. These are our lives too, and therefore it is also about us. It is about all of us. It is about how we will greet this foundation shaker together.
It starts with us telling our stories bravely, just like our loved ones have.