Transition can suddenly envelop you in a whirlwind of choices. Yet as Cameron soon realized, those decisions weren’t only about him – his family, friends, co-workers, were all transitioning along with him.
We Aren’t The Only Ones Transitioning
When we come to terms with our gender identities and find that they do not align with outside expectations, we are faced with a lot of choices.
It’s natural to get caught up in those choices and focus on how we feel and what we want to make happen for ourselves Our decisions around how we address gender and transition will fundamentally change our lives, the way we inhabit our bodies, and the way the rest of the world interacts with us. However, as someone who went through this process in the midst of a long term relationship involving children, exclusively focusing on ourselves and our needs isn’t necessarily the best plan if we hope to move forward through our transition with our relationships and families intact.
“Not only am I and the kids also in transition with you, you’ve taken your time getting ready for this. You’re well into your process and I’ve just started. It’s not fair to expect me figure all of this out faster than you did.”
It should have been obvious to me that I wasn’t the only one going through transition, but it wasn’t until my wife sat me down and said the words that I had my ‘Oh, duh!’ moment. I remember being stunned, feeling chagrined that I had been too self-centered to see the truth for myself. We were all transitioning. My wife, my kids, the other people I was involved with, my co-workers, the rest of my family, and on and on. Depending on their relationship to me, the people in my life had different challenges to face in coming to terms with my transition. And those challenges were different than the ones I faced, but not any less important.
The eldest of my kids was about 10 when I started moving from butch and female-identified to genderqueer butch-identified. My wife and I had always spoken out against gendered assumptions about haircuts, toys, activities and colors, so it wasn’t a big leap to start talking about gender in more depth. My daughter got the hang of genderqueerness pretty quickly, and didn’t have as many questions about it as I would have expected. The most challenging questions came from my wife and were about truths that were totally self evident to me, but really hard to describe and express in ways she could understand.
For example, how did I know, for real, that I wasn’t a woman OR a man? How could I know that? What did that feel like? I was stumped and a bit defensive. How dare she question that I know who and what I am? On the other hand, I’m a writer, words are my thing; and yet, I couldn’t come up with a succinct sentence or two to explain how I knew this really important thing about myself. The only thing I could think of to say were ‘I just know!’ and ‘How do you know you’re female?’ I’m still searching for the right combination of words to describe how I can know such a thing.
During a very vulnerable conversation one night, she admitted that one of her big issues about my transition was the fear of losing her queer visibility. At the time, I hadn’t started taking testosterone yet and still passed as a butch dyke. We’d been together about 21 years at that point and were very visible in our community as a lesbian couple. I remember that conversation being very difficult for both of us. I knew she was right, that the further I went towards masculinity , the more we’d be seen as a straight couple. I had my own issues with losing queer visibility, but my need to pursue some medical respite from my gender dysphoria drove me forward. She wanted me to be happy and healthy in my body and my life, but also requested space and respect for her grieving process.
Yes, grief is part of transition. It might come as the result of losing the love and support of family and friends, or perhaps the community we have come to rely on and feel at home in. I didn’t lose anyone important to me, and for that I am forever grateful. However, like my wife, I have had my moments of grief around losing my queer visibility. Where I used to be recognizable almost everywhere as a queer of some kind – butch, dyke, lesbian, gay man – I am now mostly unnoticed. Not only do I look straight, as time goes on and T continues to work its miracles on my body, I don’t look particularly trans unless I’m nude. This invisibility is something I’m not particularly thrilled about. I liked being obviously queer, I liked that look of recognition I’d get from across the room if I glanced over and saw another queer person. I liked being a burr in the mental sides of people who get uncomfortable around nonconformity. And now I look like just another straight, white cis dude. This was not a side-effect of transition that either my wife or I wanted.
My wife and I have gotten through the difficult early conversations and those initial months of transition. I feel that our relationship is stronger as a result. My daughters – now 6 and 16 – are growing up in the midst of my transition and watching their parents work through it together. They’re also learning from my wife how to be an ally while working through your own difficulties and fears. That’s a very valuable lesson.
The people in our lives who love us are going to do their best to support us. It won’t always be easy, and mistakes will be made, all the way around. Even people who are committed to being our allies will mess up. Our loved ones may use our old names, our family members may stumble over what words to use in describing how we relate to them.
Everyone is going through transition and everyone’s transition is different. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot of assumptions and societal expectations to break down and re-examine. The people who love and support us will work through all of that because we matter to them. If we can be open to the process others are going through along with our own, that compassion and empathy can help us and help them. By recognizing that my loved ones and allies were going through transitions of their own, I was able to step up and be an ally to each of them. And that has helped me be more patient and loving with myself as well.
Cameron Kyle Combs is a trans genderqueer writer, parent and geek. Cam is active in his community as a facilitator for Pizza Klatch, a group providing support and advocacy for LGBTQ+ youth and their allies in high schools. Along with parenting and community involvement, he contributes to the greater conversation about gender, parenting and relationships on his blog. Cam loves dark beer, dark chocolate and cool, mossy barefoot walks.
Join the Family
Join this colorful non-binary family by becoming a Gender Warrior through Patreon. And you don’t even have to pick Micah up from daycare.