Transition is not death
December 22, 2014 § 92 Comments
We need a better way to talk about trans children.
Christmas is the hardest time of the year for me. Not for the reasons why it’s so hard for so many trans people – their reasons first, and then mine.
This time of year brings it home – in mundane, everyday little ways – that trans people are so often people without families. Or, rather, without families of origin – by necessity, we’ve become adept at building our families of choice. A facebook status asking for a donation to help homeless trans teenagers, or a recommendation for a trans-friendly shelter for victims of domestic violence – overwhelming numbers of empathetic responses rooted in experience. Invitations to alternative festive events, on days when most people are expected to find themselves with parents, grandparents, the in-laws. Survival guide blog posts for those trying to face their family of origin – knowing that it will mean misgendering and confusion at best – confrontation and abuse at worst. All of that with the same message spouted by festive adverts and TV specials playing in the background, that Christmas is the time for family, for understanding and compassion – just not for certain types of people.
For me, it has nothing to do with being trans. Seven years ago, my brother Jonathan – my best and closest friend – died on Christmas night, after two and a half years of constant treatment for brain cancer. He was twenty years old.
I admit that, initially, there seems little point in bringing together these two tragedies: one so personal, yet affecting so many people across the world – and another born of systemic, cultural cruelty towards a misunderstood minority, not common enough to be regularly reported on. And yet the two come together in my mind because of a turn of phrase so often used by parents of trans children – in the mainstream media and reported back in conversations.
“It felt like my child had died.” And worse, words either hurled or spat out in anger – or delivered calmly with practical procedure: “you’re dead to me”.
My family is in the fairly unusual position of having had one child transition, and one child die – and with that, I can and must say that the two events are not comparable. More than that – we shouldn’t continue to treat them as though they were comparable – not personally, not socially.
The second, I’m sure, most people would agree is unacceptable – but I know, already, the reasons given for allowing the first. It might be hyperbole, yes, but surely that’s allowed for someone who’s had a shock? Who’s found out something new and different about their child? Who’s mourning the loss of their dreams and expectations? All change brings its own form of grief – and finding out that a child is trans can (in some cases – not all) be change on all kinds of fronts.
Of course it’s true that grief is a necessary part of change – but change is not bereavement. This isn’t a pedantic or semantic argument, but something at the core of our misunderstandings about what it is to be trans. Death is the end of possibility – transition is its opposite.
It matters that we continue to allow and expect those words. Not only because it’s an inaccurate and harmful way of talking about trans people in general, though it is that: normal up to a point and then BAM – announcement, transition, different person. But more – when using those phrases in the context of relationships, families, parents and children – it feeds into a culture where young trans lives are not only theoretically devalued, but are genuinely more at risk.
PACE and Scottish Transgender Alliance have the numbers, and they’re shocking. Young trans people are nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide as their cis (non-trans) peers. Suicide and self-harm are often complicated, and rarely have one cause – young people with loving and supportive families still die from suicide – but isolation, rejection and family abuse are powerful contributing factors in the deaths of many trans people.
Hopefully, most parents who use those words don’t mean them literally – although it’s important to remember that some do. Still, when trans people are told, openly and by implication, that they are less valid, less ‘real’, less valued, less loveable – then those words do not exist in a vacuum. They come from somewhere – they ripple out and cause change. It can feel like we’re worth more as a memorialized, idealized, supposedly ‘cis’ child than we are as living trans people of all ages. When a child telling the truth is comparable to a dead child, what does that say about the truth of who they are?
And so hearing those words – hearing them when you know the impact those words have had, knowing that so many trans people will die from suicide – knowing people in our community who’ve died from suicide – they matter. And it makes me want to grab the parents that say those words, in public and in private, and say to them:
A trans child is not trying to cram lifetime’s worth of ‘I love yous’ into the last few weeks you have left – or never having the chance to say ‘goodbye’ at all. Not keeping watch over the body of what used to be your loved one until the undertakers arrive, and not picking out a coffin, writing a funeral service, making sure the death certificate’s in order. Not – after all the ceremonies surrounding death have been completed – facing that constant, gnawing absence that can never be filled, and trying to make a life with half your heart gone.
The arms that hold you might be more or less muscular than they were, and the voice higher or lower – but they are there. The life your child is living might be different from how you imagined it – it might, in fact, be similar in all but outward appearance – but it is a life. Children confound and challenge their parents, and trans children are no different. But that’s the point – we’re no different. Being trans is not some category apart, some terrible thing that severs people from each other – it’s just another variety of being human. All children grow up to be their own people – that’s all. It’s not a death sentence, let alone a death.
I’m not so hopelessly optimistic that I think that a short think piece like this would change the minds of the kinds of people who abuse their trans children, emotionally blackmail them into pretending not to be themselves, turn them out of home, cut them off practically, financially and emotionally. But if you’re reading this and have a suspicion that your child might be trans – or are having difficulties accepting a trans child, the practicalities, even the idea – please reach out. Reach out to the amazing groups like Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence who help families with trans kids. Reach out and fill your brain with the writing, the art, being made by young trans people – the communities we’re creating for our families and friends. Most of all, reach for the possibility that the narrative you’ve been sold about trans lives is reductive, limiting bullshit – the actuality of who we are and can be is so much more than that.
Transition is not death – it is the embracing of life. So many trans people – even trans children – can only find the words to name themselves to another when they’ve reached the limit of what they can endure. To take that step, to trust someone enough to share that with, in the hope of building a better future – that’s the opposite of a dead child. It’s a child full of possibility. We owe it to them to repay that trust and help them to live.
This post was written after many long conversations with my mother, Rosemarie. I am so, so thankful to have her in my life.
cn, I think it must be difficult for a trans person to understand the real grief that can affect a parents of a trans child. My husband and I both felt the most awful grief – even though we knew our child wasn’t dying. For me there were reasons – the grief over the unhappiness that my child had hidden for the first 14 years of her life, and the loss of a familiar relationship. A relationship with a son is somewhat different to that with a daughter. We thought we had a son – and although the future wasn’t even thought about during their childhood – there is subconsciously an expectation of the future that one might expect with a son. Suddenly all that went right out of the window and the future was unclear. And at the same time our new daughter really hadn’t yet ‘appeared’, although we knew that she would blossom eventually.
All this happened at a time when she hadn’t yet seen a specialist, and for us was before the internet had appeared, so this was a situation about which we could find very little information. We also hurt over worrying about her future – especially her safety – and how the other close family members would react. Over a period of about 4 months we talked with her and each other – and the GP, who helped. Slowly the grief subsided to be replaced (for us) with acceptance,and a determination to do whatever was needed to make her feel complete.
Other parents may not go through this grief, but many whose children have managed to hide their true gender for some years may well feel real grief, for varying periods of time – but grieving does not mean that we do not love our children, or that we do not accept their feelings. It just happens, we do not choose to grieve.
To be clear – I don’t doubt, or condemn, the grief that many parents feel. What I’m saying is that grieving a living child is not the same as mourning a dead one.
I find what you say interesting. However i strongly believe those are entirely separate ideals. Grieving over a dead
Child is more amoung the lines of loss and grieving over a living one enters into an emotionally biased ideal. Could it tie with resentment, jealousy of yours over the rest, disliking the gender whether that be physically or an emotional state of mind of the child. Just let them experience life with your provided guidance away from any severe trauma in their at least early developement.
Having washed a dead 13 year old son before he was taken to the transplant lab i do know there is a big difference. I also know my transition caused pain and discomfort but i certainly agree the language of death is not the same as giving another child permission to put a teddy bear in your child’s coffin. I hope parents can embrace their children with warmth and love during the holidays regardless of gender.
Hello Charlize – I do wish more parents would be kinder to their trans ildren, even if they are unable to be supportive. The parents on our forum are full of love and determination to help their children, even those who are desperately hoping their child will decide they are not going to transition. I wish there were more like them.
Maybe you wouldnt have felt grief had you not assumed that your child was any particular way to begin with and allowed yourself to accept all possibikities. The paradigms of gender affect us all in a negative way. Maybe use this experience to help teach others to not label their children so quickly. Dont assume your boy wants a truck or your girl wants a bow. Dont assume your children are all straight until they tell you otherwise. Just my humble thoights not meant to be a personal criticism. Its an epic societal problem.
Actually my children (then ‘one of each’) had a range of both masculine/feminine/gender neutral toys! We’d accepted that our then 14 y/o son was probably gay, but this was in the early 1990s, before the internet arrived, and a time when trans issues were rarely mentioned anywhere in the media. I had seen a half hour programme about Caroline Cossey which I’d viewed with real sympathy for her situation. In the end, as my child wouldn’t tell me what was wrong (and something obviously was) eventually I managed to guess what it was, so I did have a bit of a clue…. But it still hurt. I loved my child unconditionally, so I supported, I helped, I provided (as did her dad). In 1995 I was a co-founder of Mermaids support group, and for nearly 20 years now I have been active in offering national UK support, advising young people, parents, professionals etc on what being transgender means. The reason I responded to CN’s post was to try to explain to others exactly why even loving and supportive parents often feel grief when suddenly having to adjust to having a trans child. Not every trans child is open about their feelings – many hide them successfully and then come out in their teens, as mine did, and believe me, the news can knock you for six, no matter how broadminded you are, or whether or not you have transgender friends/family/neighbours already. As I have stated, for me it’s not about the person dying, but the death of a familiar relationship when the new relationship (and all that it would mean for the future) hasn’t yet become established. At the time, it hurt. Now, it doesn’t- she’s my daughter, I love her still and wouldn’t change her for anything.
I agree- but sometimes, grief can feel like a bereavement, even when one knows it isnt. And sometimes people struggle to find the right words for how they feel – and the ‘b’ word comes close.
I would just ask that they be sensitive to those who have lost children, and also to those children who can hear what they’ve said. Sadly, I do know quite a few cases where those terms are used by parents yo punish their trans children.
I also think it’s fair to say that, unless one has lost a child, it’s not appropriate to say that something is the same. If patents have had a child transition and a child die, and they feel that it us comparable then obviously that’s their experience. But – both through bereavement support circles and trans circles – I’ve never met parents who’ve experienced both who’ve believed that they’re analogous situations.
I dont think that any parent who feels grief when they discover that their child is trans really compares the situation to having a child die, but the feeling of loss is very strong. I knew my child wasnt dying – but at the same time I knew how she felt, and I knew that her stress was so severe that if she didnt get medical help very soon, she might really die. That made my own feelings worse. It isn’t analogous, but acknowledging one’s loss and working one’s way through the grief is for many an important part of coming to terms and being able to be completely comfortable in one’s acceptance. Finding the right words to express how one feels is often difficult too – so sometimes a parent will say that they feel their son or daughter has died – perhaps similar to someone who feels so low and depressed that they say they want to die…. even when they actually don’t. It’s a way of putting difficult feelings into words. It took me some years to figure out why I grieved – as I knew my child wasnt dying. But the feeling was painfully acute.
I agree with you that people should not use such terms to hurt their children – directly or indirectly. There’s no need for deliberate cruelty.
I think it’s also fair to ask for sensitivity towards those who have suffered the death of a child. We all struggle to find the right words when life shocks us – but I hope we can still have conversations about how best to understand and support each other?
I agree 100%
I might ask to draw a line here, if that’s okay. It’s a hard topic to open up about, particularly around Christmas.
I agree, CN – it’s OK. This is a subject that presses my buttons, and also affects many others. May your Christmas holiday time be a happy one – and may those for whom it is not a good time find peace and love and all the support they need. In case it’s relevant, the Mermaids helpline and emails will be answered most days over the Christmas break.
Beautiful, thank you for writing this
God I loved this so much. Really a beautiful article. I’m really sorry about your brother.
I grieved when my wife came out as trans. The way I felt, the way I cried, was very similar to when family members had died. But I never felt like my husband was dying. I wasn’t grieving the person; I was grieving the loss of our marriage as I knew it, the loss of my “normal” life. We are accustomed to associating grief with death, but you can grieve any major loss or life change. So I think it’s possible to acknowledge the legitimate feelings of grief without saying you feel like your trans loved one is dying. Just take a harder look at what you’re actually grieving.
Beautiful & important post. My heart goes out to you & your family.
Reblogged this on mkerns39.
Well, I’m not a trans guy but what I want you to know is that- after reading your post- I’ll definitely try helping trans people, as much as I can.
I think its hard because i have to get my little girl so much presents
Anyone who is willing to be their true and awesome selves, and not care about what morons think about it, is a living example of the essence of life itself. This is a superb and insightful post. You keep being you, and thus, being a part of the life in the world. Thank you for this post!
Thank you so much for this piece!!!
Reblogged this on pseudoselfless.
Reblogged this on Kira Moore's Closet and commented:
This is very well written and says so much.
Reblogged this on The Girl From Nowhere.
Thanks so much for saying all this!! I have been wanting to write about this and you said everything I wanted to say and more. 🙂
You are of course so right. There is no comparison between the two and I can see why the comparison is hurtful to you or anyone who has had a family member die and they hear these statements from parents or other family members. I felt incredible grief when my 14 year old trans son came out to us. I would question myself all the time about why this caused me sadness, after all of course he hadn’t died, he was right there in front of me and I loved him as much now as I ever had. He would say “Mom, I’m the SAME person”, why are you so sad? I have decided its the grief of ideas, the potential of where I thought my then daughter would go and that those ideas of her and her future would never happen, and I think to a large extent the grief of feeling like you have had a cosmic trick played on you when your child was born. I cried for months over this and would get annoyed with myself and would remind self “the child you thought you had hasn’t died, just the idea of who “she” was!” , why do I feel this way? Its a grief of loss but NOT a grief of loss of life of someone you love. I am thankful every day my son trusted us with this information and where we are now. Perhaps for those of us who have not experienced what you have its the closest we can come to expressing our feelings of a different grief but its not adequate and its not accurate. I am glad you posted this and it should be said.
Reblogged this on Big A Hammer Throw.
Reblogged this on where thoughts run unspoken….
Thank you for reaching out – from your heart with hope in this passionate plea that also offers practical action steps.
The comparison to a deceased child is interesting – I am sorry for your loss. I have lost a child (& a younger sibling) – I will never feel their arms around me, nor their voice again as long as I am alive. Life is precious – from the unborn to the elderly. Life is also fragile and to dismiss it so lightly is absurd.
To have a trans child is to be utterly selfless and knowingly giving of unconditional love – to a living worthy human being that is precious in God’s eyes as much as their parents. Let us all see trans population as not only acceptable but loveable and productive people as well. What is there to grieve? If they are at peace with themselves, feel fortunate and never let a chance go by to make sure they know it. The stats of ‘family abandonment’ are too high for this misunderstood group. They deserve equal attention and opportunity.
Of my 4 children, there was a time and season for it all. And when one needed more Love than the others, they received it in the best way possible, while the other siblings learned compassion at the same time.
Life isn’t fair and it isn’t the parents’ responsibility to hover over the LGBT child. Yet when they need it, that parent should feel gratitude this child of theirs has reached out to them rather than suffering on perpetual silence.
Thank you for your POV – hoping your holidays are charmed with a positive perspective. Your mother should be proud.
Writing may not change the minds of the cruelest out there, but it certainly will reach some. But most of all writing is so therapeutic for you. I hope you can feel this piece giving you a little more peace this Christmas.
Reblogged this on The Out Crowd.
Thank you for your kind words – it means a lot to me, and to my mother.
Just a quick note again about comments policy here: I don’t ask that everyone here agree with me, and it’s great to hear from a wide variety of views – but please no personal attacks, no general attacks, no hate speech…you get the picture.
Hope the holidays are as peaceful as they can be for everyone – thank you again.
[…] and thought-provoking piece about what trans people experience at this time of year titled Transition Is Not Death. There are powerful words on that page, words that claw at hearts broken and alone for no other […]
Trans people are courageous people. They blast gender stereotypes and roles which harm us all culturally and globally and prove that the possibilities are much wider. They grant us opportunities for greater empathy and sensitivity and learning and growth.
I don’t know you but I can tell you are AWESOME.
I hope you have a very happy and merry and beautiful christmas. You deserve all the best.
Reblogged this on mrrobin86's Blog and commented:
this is a really good article, despite it being on a topic I am guilty of knowing nothing about, it has made me want to find out more. Thanks for writing it!
Interesting. As a transgendered man, I did not lose my family. I did become a single parent and now my 25 year old son is exploring gender (not exactly a surprise). But in mid-life, 15 years into transition and fairly exiled from “straight” community but not connected to LGBTQ “community” until recently, I have recognized that transition feels like orphaning yourself if your aim is to have continuity in a socially recognized gender that matches your identity. Quite a cost I have learned, the price you pay is isolation. A price I would have paid over again but am currently working to rectify.
Likewise those of us who have children prior to transition and do not lose contact, have many ways of defining that relationship. For me it is queered.
Transition is not death, it is rebirth, but one by which multiple parameters are redefined (each to his/own/their own journey of course).
Thank you for this thoughtful post.
Thank you for your beautiful and touching insight.
Reblogged this on aswilliams11.
Reblogged this on lerealtalk.
Reblogged this on silbershark110neverdie and commented:
I’m sorry christmas is hard for you. It’s easy to forget that not everyone loves christmas and that it can be a tough time to get through.
Reblogged this on Lauren Henley.
Reblogged this on Milla Ouazzani and commented:
A must read!
Reblogged this on aliaptech1.
Reblogged this on rebeccaryben.
This is so honest, thoughtful and moving. I agree about the finality of death and learning to live with tragedy is such a challenge. Learning to live as a parent of a trans child may be difficult but is a time to learn and accept more of life’s diversity.
Reblogged this on UNDERSTANDING LIFE.
Reblogged this on jadoremiya.
Thank you for being 🙂
This a really thought provoking piece, and a perspective that not many consider. Well done for wording something like this in such a lovely, explanatory, and poignant way.
Beautiful. I am a Mom of two teenagers and feel honored to be their Mother. My love is truly unconditional and I have a hard time understanding parents who’s love is not. I am so sorry to you and your family about your Brother.
This was a really good read 🙂
I am new to the site.
It would be cool if you could hop over to my blog and take a peek.
Reblogged this on Oh the Places I'll Go! and commented:
Wonderful because it is important to know. Whether you have experience with this subject or none at all, it is worth reading and understanding.
Reblogged this on thought traffic and commented:
this post really hit home. I urge everyone to read the full post; it’s worth it.
There’s still plenty of LGB people living in the UK today whose parents have not just rejected them but made clear that coming out meant they had died in their eyes … but that is changing. I used to think gender transition was of a different order but it’s not. Our expectations around gender are entirely cultural. It’s not really surprising that parents allow themselves to construct these expectations for their own children from the moment of birth. The historical gender narratives are so powerful and so pervasive. But the way the narratives around gay kids are changing shows how it doesn’t always have to be this way. I’m optimistic that as a society we are gradually learning to expect or hope for nothing of our children but that they find fulfilment in their lives … to see them as exciting possibilities rather than pre-ordained replicas of ourselves.
Perhaps hopes around procreation are more innate and difficult to change but then these can occur for many other reasons … and actually, when you think how illegitimate children would routinely be treated as non-persons by their extended families, there’s plenty of hope in the many innovative reproductive and family arrangements that we accept without a second thought today.
Reblogged this on Vajra Blue and commented:
Something to think about at the time of year when generosity is celebrated.
Please walk in someone else’s moccasins for a while.
Thanks for this.
I have taken the liberty of reposting on my own site.
I hope that this is ok.
Reblogged this on CHELAW RICHARD's blog.
I wrote this post a little over a month ago for Transgender Remembrance Day (which might be a U.S. thing or an international thing – I don’t know a lot about how it got started, only that, where I am, it falls on Nov. 20) and now that I’m rereading it, it feels clunky and ineloquent by comparison to what you’ve written. My friend had to move back in with her parents (for a few reasons) and she’s out to her mom and sisters who are supportive but not to her dad because…honestly none of us want to think about what he might do. I’m a ciswoman who identifies as queer/bi/pan but sometimes I feel like a total dolt when it comes to supporting my friend because being trans* can be really freaking hard and I don’t always feel like I have the right thing to say that will help support her. A couple years ago at a bar, I cavalierly dragged her into the ladies’ room (women going to the bathroom in groups…y’know…) not thinking anything about it – I mean why would she use the men’s room, right? It turned out to be her first time using a women’s public bathroom and it never dawned on me, as my drunk ass was hauling her off to powder our noses, that crossing that…uh…fragrant…threshold was a big deal to her. A little off topic from your post, but I felt like an idiot and I also felt a little honored to be there with her (I didn’t tell her that ’cause I didn’t want to embarrass her with my big, dumb feelings, I just gave her a hug). I dunno. All I really want – aside from my friend’s happiness – is to be more trans* literate. It’s important to me. So thanks for sharing your story. It helps. Anyway, here’s my post if you’re interested (it’s short). My blog mostly deals with mental health issues but also some LGBTQ stuff because it’s a part of my life. Thanks again and best wishes -LB
Reblogged this on kantarcmert.
Reblogged this on Twenty Fifteen.
My condolences go out to u nice story it hit me got a certain feeling
Reblogged this on thatgirl152.
Reblogged this on patternmasterkeeley.
Reblogged this on mdjhanif.
Reblogged this on Definition Of Poetry and commented:
Ah yes, the old ‘but my grief is valid’ story. I tell you what I’d grieve. I’d grieve having a child that grew up to abuse their privilege by lamenting their ‘right to be heard’ above those who are drowned out by those with more privilege. But really it wouldn’t be grief would it. It would be patronising disappointment or self-centred concern about how the lesser privilege of my child (in this case ignorance rather than gender identity or disability etc.) will directly or indirectly affect me but by labelling it as ‘grief’ everyone would have to be supportive surely, because grief is untouchable. Rant over.
This post had me hooked the entire time. I love it. I hope you don’t mind that I show it to my trans friend. Thanks for posting 🙂
This post made me cry. Mainly from the raw pain about losing some one, i lost my mother to cancer just as i was starting to het to know her as a person, not just a mother. But i also cried for the lonely and rejected. I could never imagine saying that sort of thing to a stranger, let alone my own child. I i dont see how them changing their gender would matter in any way other than itll make them more THEM. How would that change my ambitions for them? I would still want my child to be happy, fall in love, be strong and independant and have wee babbies (if they wanted to). I suspect my little sister is struggling with some gender identity issues and it would not surprise me if she was transgender or gay, i just hope to god she still feels as loved, supported, safe and secure as she does now, whoever she grown up to be. This was post was beautifully written by the way, it was a pleasure to read.
Reblogged this on bdchittagong.
Reblogged this on World of Sanity and commented:
We should not be afraid of life after death
Reblogged this on welcome to innocent chinaza madu's Blog and commented:
i came across this interesting post and i love it
Reblogged this on sambix.
Reblogged this on Little Me in a Big World and commented:
Reblogged this on infernosdivinity.
I think it is important for parent whose children at a young age starts asking question about their gender, should be ready to get educated about on the matter. Its a delicate time for both parent and child. Acceptance and fair treatment should be an essential part of the family dynamic without teasing or mocker; so later in life these transgender can adapt and feel well adjusted in their skin. Its all about living life in freedom and no parent should have come such grief of losing of a child because they were not accept into society as they are; It starts at home.
change is the law of nature!
[…] I remembered a post by a transgender blogger titled ‘Transition is not death‘ and I remembered about the white lesbian couple who gave birth to a black baby and sued the […]
Reblogged this on ibeamsite.
These articles fill me with hope for trans child of now.
And a gentle reminder I don’t feel good now 44 years old with older parents , who’ll never believe my claim to a gender that differs from theirs. That my claim is genuine.
My mother used words of bereavement devasted and loss far too often regarding my gender change, and until their death they will always hope I de-transition.
We still speak, and meet, with misgendering of course! Some folk cannot change 🙂 But the more they do the better for their children and society. We need support.
Does matter what people gay
Everybody has blood going through there veins
And breath in there body’s
As long as we can support as many people
As we can does it really matter