When Your Transition Goes off the Tracks

Mila Madison

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 hadnt exactly turned their back on me? All of a sudden everything I had assumed was my reality has become all but certain.


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.

Photo by Rhodi Alers de LopezUnsplash

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 dont 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 dont 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 dont, 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 dont 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 wont stop me from getting right back on the tracks.

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Comments (8)
No. 1-6

I am struggling with whether to move away and start new where nobody knows me, or to stay where I am and try to make a new path for myself....no easy answer here... and at my age, 60+, and just one year in transition, it’s much more difficult than I ever imagined...some family members I am relieved to lose, but others, not so much, and to leave my home and start anew, well, that is daunting to think about...but I think that’s what I am going to do...not easy here in the south...


I hear you. It is so invalidating to find out that someone you thought accepted you is merely placating you while secretly misgendering you. After 7 years in transition, I have no more patience for it so the moment I discover that anyone is only tolerating me, I cut them out of my life immediately. I've given people enough years to figure it out and with so much of society already against us, we don't need that pain in our personal life. For me cutting them off is emotional self-preservation.

Emily Wells
Emily Wells

Your story really struck accord with me. Like most transgender I have family (and close friends) mourning the loss of their son, brother, husband, friend ect. I also found this very strange. I mean, I am the person they knew and felt close towards.

I found their outward love and mourning for the persona I presented very confusing at first. After all, my dead-name was a carefully crafted identity, (s)he was indeed the ideal manly-man – I mean if it was a male orientated activity I was in it, did it, and often perfected it! I carefully guarded who I was and watched my actions consistently – except when I could safely be who I really am. I would be me – I would be free - I would feel the excitement of life and the horror as I went back.

Some family and friends state the presentation of my persona as being a deceitful tricky lie. They don’t see my persona as something I did to protect myself from them and society, though rather something I did to hurt them. These people don’t mourn the previous me, rather they detest me, have isolated me and severed ties with me.

Then there are other family and friends who mourn my old persona. A mixture of feelings towards me, they either accept me or tolerate me. I don’t particularly like causing hurt, so I out of a genuine desire to understand, I explored this strangeness. I found that it is a sense of their reality that causes this strange phenomenon.

As several family members put it across, it is like there was this bloke, we knew him, we loved him, and we embraced him. And then one day he was simply gone, and this strange woman was here instead. There was no body to bury, no funeral, no goodbyes, no closure. As one family member said, even when someone is lost at sea there's a funeral with mourning and celebrating the life that was.

I saw no difference, I did feel a sense of relief and a burden lifted, but in my reality, I simply just stopped pretending that I was a male. But everyone else observed a completely different person. My movements weren’t out there – the swagger was gone, mannerisms were different, interests had changed – beer, meat pies and football all gone. Now it was dresses, heels, nails and skin care.

There are family members and even a couple of past friends, who accepted, affirmed embraced who I really am. I also help by accepting, as best I can, their little indiscretions in using wrong pronouns and dead-naming me, particularly when reminiscing about the past. My children are close and still call me dad, I accept that I’m their father not their mother. So my children calling me dad in public i fully embrace - and besides it's worth the look of astonishment of other people's face!

I’m still friends with my children’s mother, there's a different kind of friendship but still a friendship. As she says, she misses her husband and really mourns her loss when she sees a glimpse of him in the way that I think or strategise. Today we go clothes shopping, get our nails done together, have dinner out, and even talk about our boyfriends. So, yes we’re friends – Well sort of because as she tell me that, “You’re the bitch who stole my husband.”


I experience similar things with my family and some friends/close acquaintances. And I do not have a problem with that.

We all have to find our own way, that's what we are telling every "new" trans person. Everybody deals with things their own way. Well, same goes for other people. Trans is difficult to get ones head around if you are trans yourself - if you are cis, it's probably close to impossible.

And somebody is gone who was there for other people. Probably not a very happy person, but they were there, and now they are gone. Hopes are gone, dreams are gone, and gone in a way that makes it quite clear this is forever. As if that wasn't bad enough, some people demand that other people let go of their memories, too. That is, in my opinion, just asking too much.


I agree with Emma-Gray. Even family can bring you down. I found a long time ago, very few people including family have your back. Time to start fresh somewhere else. Otherwise they will continue to make you feel down on yourself. Sorry it has to be this way, but your health, well being and happiness depends on keeping distance from the negativity.


I certainly understand what you mean about tolerance and acceptance. When moving to Seattle in mid-2017 I realized that merely being tolerated would be so lonely and sad so I intentionally chose to live within the city limits where experience is confirming not only acceptance but welcome.

I can also relate to your wondering about people who knew you before transitioning, their use of your deadname and pronouns. Old habits die hard even if people are accepting. I’m grateful that new friends I’ve made have no problems with my pronouns or name. They’ve only known me as a woman.

Maybe for your own mental health and progress it would help to move away and start anew. You can always stay in touch with old friends and family. Maybe distance will make their hearts grow more accepting and fonder.

1 Reply


Hi Emma, I have a friend who transitioned a little over 4 years ago. Her family definitely didn't accept her. Instead of staying around them and being continuously hurt by them when they refused to use her correct name or pronouns, she up and moved. She sold everything she had, cashed out her retirement, and moved to Alaska and opened her own business.

She became a well respected and very active member of her community and everyone loved her. She made new friends that eventually became her new family. No one every suspected that she was trans...until she went to the dentist that is.

By then she'd already been in the town for a year and a half. At her appointment the dental hygienist leaned over her and said "I know your secret". She could somehow tell she was trans because there are differences between men's and women's teeth.

It turned out very well for her though. She went ahead and came out to everyone in her town and no one blinked an eye. In fact I think the town loved her even more because of it. They knew that she was a super strong person to have lived the way she'd lived her whole life.

There's a really good ending to my little story here...she's now dating her dental hygienist. So that trip to the dentist was good in more ways than one.

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