01 August 2015
After The Losses: After The Guilt Has Passed
If you are now living in a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth, you have most likely lost at least one relationship that was very important to you. It might be the one you had with a spouse or partner. Or, perhaps, family members have—or your entire family has—rejected you.
Maybe longtime friends or professional colleagues have decided that you are less worthy of their esteem than you were when they knew you by your old name, in the gender in which you had been living.
I have experienced losses in all three categories. My partner split with me when I started my transition. (When I offered not to live as female for the sake of our relationship, she would not hear of it. “You have to do it,” she said of my impending change. “I just can’t go there with you.”) One family member has cut ties with me; others have kept some distance. And one friend—whose PhD, interestingly, includes a specialty in gender studies—said and did the politically correct things until she lashed out at me over an imagined transgression. Another friend, I now realize, simply didn’t have the courage to tell me to my face how he really felt. Over time, he stopped answering my calls and responding to my e-mails.
And then there was the former boss—the chair of a department in which I taught—who observed my class and wrote a glowing observation and sang my praises to his superiors and colleagues—when I was a guy named Nick. After about a year of living as Justine, I asked him whether he would write a reference or recommendation for me. He shook his head and gave an appraisal of me that completely contradicted the report he wrote about me and things he said to others, including the college provost.
I grieved all of those relationships. I hoped that my former partner would become the friend she said she wanted to be after we split. I hoped that blood would indeed be thicker than whatever hormones were coursing through my body. And I hoped that my old friends would get over the shock of the person they knew as a guy named Nick becoming a woman named Justine and realize that I was still all of the things they used to say I was: caring, compassionate, intelligent and sometimes even funny.
My old boss has retired, and I’ve moved on with my work, so I am no longer concerned with his assessment of me. Although I still recall some of the good times I had with her, I have long resigned myself to the fact that my former partner didn’t mean what she said about remaining friends with me. I have a similar attitude about the gender studies PhD: She was a really good friend once (She called me the night, long ago, when I’d traced a line on my left wrist; I didn’t draw the razor blade across it) but that—like the relationship I had with my former partner, is a memory. And now I realize—if you’ll pardon the expression—that even after my surgery, I have more balls than that male former friend, if I do say so myself.
I have not only accepted that I will most likely never have relationships with them again; I have even lost my desire to re-connect with them. I have also resigned myself to not being reconciled with the family members I mentioned, especially one in particular. I even promised my mother that if that family member decides to speak to me again, I will listen and not question or accuse.
That promise still holds. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that I’m losing not only my hope or wish, but also my desire, to see a renewed relationship. If that family member calls or approaches me, I won’t refuse. However, I don’t expect that to happen and don’t feel particularly troubled by it anymore. I get the feeling that if we ever meet again, it will be at the funeral of one of my parents. We will probably be the proverbial ships passing in the night; we might say the things relatives say to each other over the death of another relative, but I don’t expect to look to that relative for support any more than I expect to be looked to.
What I’m noticing now is that I’ve lost the sadness I felt over losing that relationship—and that I’m not feeling guilty about it. Some might regard that as cold or heartless. Perhaps it is. But to me, it seems no more sensible to pine for someone who has rejected me—and who, in our last conversation, said that rejection is about that person’s “stubbornness” (Yes, that is the word that person used) is the reason for not acknowledging me as I am, let alone having any sort of relationship with me—than it is to wish I were 27 years old again. It just ain’t happenin’, and I’m getting over it.