The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began,
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
“It’s a dangerous business going out your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
– J.R.R Tolkein
The Lord of the Rings
The path of life is often described as the long, winding Road laid out before us at birth. Every step, every decision to turn this way or that, to go forward or turn back, will determine what options will be available for the next step. The only certainty is that with every step, we are forever changed by the choices we make. Some of those changes will be small and seemingly insignificant. Some choices will bring major changes that will affect us for the rest of our lives. Some choices may bring us closer to our true selves, while others may take us further away, leaving us wandering the maze looking for the path back to ourselves.
I titled this post “I’m Not Dead!” because I want to talk about something that happens far too often when a person makes the choice to transition. The belief by friends and family of the transitioning person that they must grieve the loss of the person they knew as if that person had died or no longer existed. We’re not dying. You’ve not “lost” us. If anything, you’ve “found” us. The true person beneath the masks of flesh we were forced to wear can finally be revealed. This is not a sad time of our lives. We have found ourselves and have made the choice to live an authentic life. We have finally triumphed over the overwhelming forces that kept telling us that we are not really ourselves. For many of us, it has been the ultimate struggle of fight or flight. Transition or die. We chose life. So why is everyone around us grieving our death?
When I made the decision to transition, it was like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I had been wandering the maze and had finally found the path back to myself that I had lost sometime around puberty. I was like a kid again, eager to run down the Road of self discovery. At times it was difficult for me to contain my excitement at my new found life. It was as if I had been trying to complete a puzzle upsidedown and someone finally turned the puzzle around so I could see the picture more clearly. Then more and more pieces of the puzzle started to fit. Everything started to make sense. My *life* finally started to make sense. But while the picture was becoming clearer on the inside, not everyone liked the new view from the outside. Some people strongly opposed my decision to live my truth, believing that I was choosing to become a fake me. Some were tolerent, wishing the best for me and my happiness, but not necessarily celebrating my new found sense of self. I was lucky in that I did have some people around me who could celebrate with me, however there was always this underlying tension. This unspoken question of “Who are you going to become?” as if I was suddenly going to become someone else.
Any major life change comes with some uncertainty and fear about what affects it will have on ourselves and those around us. Some of those affects may be known from the outset while others seem to come from out of nowhere to smack us upside the head. Change is inevitable in our lives, and whether the changes are joyous occasions or painful ones, sometimes they can leave us with a sense of loss for what we knew before. For most of these life changes, we navigate the joys and sorrows without losing sight of the continuity of the person changing. Friends and family members can go through major changes such as marriages, having children, changing religions, changing nationalities, or any number of things that would necessitate a change in how we might relate to that person. Of all of these life events, I don’t know any where friends and family would view the change as the death of the person they knew who is now replaced by a different person. So why does the transition of gender seem to be so fundamental a change as to render the old person “dead?”
Gender is the very first label we are given, often even before we are born. It is also the foundational label to which so many other labels are attached. It can determine other labels like our name, pronouns, family references, and even the form of occupational titles we can be given. We grow up believing that this label is unchangeable. It stands to reason that when someone does decide to change this label, those around them might feel that they are becoming a completely different person. It then seems natural to mourn the loss of the person they used to know. But while it might feel like the whole person is being lost, that is not actually true, and indulging in this type of metaphor can be harmful and alienating to the person transitioning. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t acknowledge their feelings. One of the first rules of our house is that each of us is allowed to have our feelings, no matter how irrational they may be. But along with that, we also acknowledge when our feelings are irrational and don’t align with reality. Sometimes we can’t help how we feel, but we can choose how we act on our feelings. While you may feel the need to mourn the loss of certain aspects of the person transitioning, please keep in mind that they will still be the person you already know and love. Yes, they will change. Everyone changes, but treating their transition as a type of death sends the signal that this change is akin to suicide. For many, transition is the triumph over suicide and a time to revel in the wonders of self discovery and self actualization. It’s a time to celebrate this new found life and get to know your loved one as their true self. It’s a party, not a funeral.