Just when you think that things are moving along in your transition, something happens that totally derails all the progress that you thought you had made. Someone in your life says or does something that calls everything into question. It has been years since I came out to my family, and as far as I knew, things were fine with everyone. I had reached the point where just about all the people I knew in life were aware that I was transgender. I had assumed that all the losses I would experience as a result of it had been counted. I had moved on from those who I had lost and I was living the life that I was meant to.
It was with great surprise that I recently learned that certain members of my family were still having a “hard time” with my being transgender. It had appeared as though they had accepted me over these last few years, so I was having trouble understanding what exactly they were having a hard time with. Were they embarrassed of me? Ashamed? Perhaps I am at fault for assuming everything was fine because my family hadn’t exactly turned their back on me? All of a sudden everything I had assumed was my reality has become all but certain.
"MY FAMILY SEES MY TRANSITION AS A DEATH, AND THEY ARE MOURNING THE LOSS OF THE PERSON WHO I USED TO BE."
I had also learned that members of my family had made the decision to use my deadname when speaking about me in the past, and that they only use my chosen name when speaking about me in the present. That is when I realized what is happening. My family sees my transition as a death, and they are mourning the loss of the person who I used to be. I feel foolish for not noticing it earlier, but I realize the “hard time” they are having is getting over their perceived death of me.
It was all right in front of my face. All the pictures in their houses are of me from my former existence, right there next to all the other people who have passed. It has been years since I came out, yet there is nothing representing the person who I am today. To them, I have died, and looking at me only reminds them of that. In a way, I am the person responsible for taking their loved one away.
I understand that the mourning process is a real thing that families and friends go through when we transition, but I still struggle to wrap my brain around it. From my perspective, the only thing that has changed is my gender presentation and the fact that I am no longer in pain. People don’t mourn the person you used to be when you had cancer if one day you end up beating it. I had severe dysphoria for all of my life, and with it pain and depression. Now when I am finally starting to beat it, I feel as if I had done something wrong because others are feeling pain over it. I guess where I am at fault is that I did such a good job of hiding that pain.
"WHAT I AM BEGINNING TO REALIZE IS THAT MANY OF THE PEOPLE FROM MY PAST DON’T ACCEPT ME; THEY TOLERATE ME."
What I am beginning to realize is that many of the people from my past don’t accept me; they tolerate me. When I am in their presence, they address me by my correct name and pronouns. When I am not, they see me as the person I used to be. In a sense, I am a complete stranger when I am around them. I just happen to be a stranger who knows every intimate detail and experience of the person they used to know. By being around them, I remind them of the person they lost.
Acceptance and tolerance are two completely different things. To accept me you have to see me for who I truly am in our past, present, and future. You have to refer to me as Mila when thinking about the moments we shared. You have to use she/her pronouns. In that acceptance, you have to realize that I was always female. If you don’t, then you are only tolerating me. You are just willing to put up with me and play along. To be honest, I am not interested in the charity of tolerance.
Though I had often thought that things had actually worked out with my family and friends and my transition, I realize that I may have been wrong. In the end, people are either going to be able to see me as always having been the person I am today or they will see me as someone they lost. If they see me as the person they lost, I will most likely end up seeing them as the people who I lost as well. For some of us, people turn their back on us immediately like ripping a Band-Aid off. In other cases it is more subtle and happens over time. Eventually you realize you are only being tolerated and not accepted.
I have to decide whether I want to stay and fight this battle. Should I try and do something to make these people see things differently or do I accept that the past is lost and most likely the future as well? For the first time, I am not sure if I am up for this fight. It may just be time to write everyone off and move on. As I get older, my skin gets thicker. My patience for ignorance runs thin and I don’t want to waste any more of the little time I have left. Right now I am thinking that it is time to let the past die. It is a casualty of my existence. We will have to see what happens. Though my transition has been derailed in so many ways by this new revelation that all is not as I had previously thought, it won’t stop me from getting right back on the tracks.
Read more stories by Mila Madison: