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November 9, 2018

4 Tips for those who Love Someone who is Transgender.

No one has ever questioned me about the gender designation on my birth certificate.

I am a woman, I look like a woman, and I identify as a woman. I am not afraid of what other people might think of my “womanness.” Most adults experience their gender the same way.

My husband’s gender has been questioned. He is a man, he looks like a man, and he identifies as a man. His birth certificate says he is “female.”

After the election in November of 2016, my husband feared for his life. He felt he would rather be dead than live in this country. He thought about moving out of this country, away from family and friends forever.

Is there a way to learn acceptance, to grant “personhood” to transgender people? My personal acceptance did not come easily. The day my wife told me they were supposed to be a man, I was dumbfounded. I use the term “they” in this case because my she was soon to become a “he” (my language was not ready for that!).

During the transition, we lived in different homes. Neither of us were sure where the process would take our relationship. We were certain we wanted to be together in some fashion. We agreed to separate and date other people—this soon became dating each other exclusively.

Who else would I want to date? We had been married as two women, not in the eyes of others, but certainly to us and our closest friends, for 13 years.

After a year or so living separately, we decided our relationship was not based on body parts—we loved each other. We reunited under one roof and completed the transition process as a couple. We have now been married legally as man and woman since 2007, together for a total of 32 years.

Our experience is rare; historically, 90 percent of couples who experience transition of a mate split up.

How is my experience of him different from my original experience of her? Quite simply, there is more of the person I love available to me now that he is a man. He is more able to be himself.

His creative expression is multifaceted and exciting to see and hear. He writes, paints, plays several musical instruments. He even sings and dances—something he never did as a woman. This might be because he now has the voice and the body he can sing and dance with.

How can a government redefine a whole group of people out of existence? In North Carolina, the infamous “bathroom bill” was created and passed to prohibit men from using the women’s restroom. The result was that my husband was prohibited from using a public restroom for men. This was less than two years ago.

The current executive branch governing the United States has announced they will redefine gender so that there will no longer be any recognition of gender other than male or female, strictly as designated on ones birth certificate. I suspect they fear what they don’t understand.

There are only girls and boys, right? Anyone who considers themselves to be anything else is clearly making it up.

The earliest known use of the word transgender was in 1974. The concept has been known for centuries. Native Americans have identified five genders: their “two-spirit” people are often revered as shamans. In our culture, however, many people have difficulty accepting something they have not experienced.

What does it mean to be transgender?

Merriam Webster defines transgender as: “Of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.”

In a June 2016 survey, the Williams Institute reported that an estimated 0.6 percent of adults, about 1.4 million, identify as transgender in the United States. There’s no way to erase over a million people in this country. It won’t happen. However, the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed changing the definition of gender to exclude transgender people.

In response to recent statements, the Oregonian reported on November 1, 2018, that more than 50 major companies have issued a call to respect transgender rights: “We oppose any administrative and legislative efforts to erase transgender protections through reinterpretation of existing laws and regulations…We also fundamentally oppose any policy or regulation that violates the privacy rights of those that identify as transgender, gender nonbinary, or intersex.”

The business and medical communities have accepted transgender people. Schools have granted personhood to transgender children. There is no mistaking the facts—transgender people exist, live, love, work, pay taxes, and shop for groceries. I suspect many who have had a conversation with a transgender person did not know the person they spoke with was transgender.

What will it take to grant rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to the transgender citizens of our nation? I knew nothing until my husband transitioned—I got “woke” by necessity.

Here are some ways I’ve found to gain knowledge of transgender people and their issues, and to support loved ones who are transgender.

Where can we meet a transgender person open to sharing their story?

Many communities and universities have specifically designated areas, LGBTQ centers, where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can safely meet others, discuss issues of concern for them, and find allies who will listen and understand what they are going through. Most welcome allies to join them and become a part of their family.

Where can families touched by transgender issues find help they need?

In my experience, the best peer-to-peer support organization is PFLAG, the extended family of the LGBTQ community with more than 400 chapters nationwide. They welcome LGBTQ individuals, family members, and allies. To find your closest chapter, consult the PFLAG website.

Who fights for their rights?

Find out what organizations support transgender people and advocate for their rights. You may find a branch of your local government or a nonprofit group with a mission to provide services to transgender people.

The group I rely on for up-to-date information is The National Center for Transgender Equality.

Where can they worship?

If your expression of spirituality includes membership in a religious community—church, synagogue, mosque, or yurt—find out if they are welcoming and affirming of people who identify as members of the LGBTQ community, specifically transgender.

Some groups are welcoming, in hopes that they can “pray the gay away,” but are not affirming of the worth of all in the eyes of the church.

My life with my transgender man has been and continues to be extraordinary. We openly share our experience with young people, family members, and couples grappling with issues of gender identity.

We’ve even come out globally in an 2007 MSNBC TV series, “Born in the Wrong Body.”

I suspect many people will find life enriched by including transgender people, just as trans lives will be enriched by that inclusion.

It may even become clear why they will not and should not be erased.


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