Just over a year ago, Mark, my husband of almost 15 years and best friend for 23, the person with whom I have had two remarkable children and have built a relationship and life that I am exceptionally proud of and care deeply about, came out to me as a transgender woman. Since then, she has started to medically transition, changed her legal name to Elizabeth, and started living as a woman.
As you can imagine, Liz’s revelation to me initially created a crisis in our relationship. It came as a complete shock to me and I found myself in the difficult, sometimes impossible, position of being supportive of Liz’s reality while also grieving the “loss” of my husband. Despite understanding with all of my being that being transgender is not a choice and should carry no shame, that so many people go their entire lifetimes attempting to bury the dysphoria that comes with being born with the wrong body, I often felt betrayed. It has caused me to really examine our present and future as a couple, as well as our individual and collective goals and identities.
I am a therapist and social worker, and the stories of my clients have caused me to ask myself many questions about relationships. Would I stay with my partner if he/she had an affair? An addiction? A life-limiting illness? Had killed my dog while in a meth-induced psychosis? Believe it or not, I had never entertained the question of whether I would stay with my partner if he/she came out as transgender several years into our relationship. It was so far out of my consciousness as a possibility that I cannot even recall the first time Liz told me she was a woman — I think it took a couple of conversations for it to sink in.
As a person moving through this world, I enjoy a certain level of security as a pretty typical middle-aged white woman and mother. This identify fits in well with my introversion and desire to exist quietly and blend in. Despite my outspokenness at times about urban public education and race, I avoid attention as much as I can. As a result, much of my internal dialogue throughout this process has been about my ability to tolerate the “fishbowl” quality of being a “transgender family,” even in the wonderful city of Philadelphia and in a neighborhood that feels like Sesame Street. I worried about what this would mean for us socially, particularly for our sons. How were we going to figure this out?
So, I am figuring this out the best way I know how: by getting up each day and putting one foot in front of the other, by being grateful for everything I have, by focusing on what really matters, and reminding myself of my commitment to live my life not based on fear or the opinions of others, but based on what is meaningful to my family and to me.
However, I would be lying if I said there isn’t a little fear, which is reduced incrementally with every experience to date. We are surrounded by supportive and loving people who are reminding me of how truly lovely humans can be. I am becoming even more confident in the power of unconditional love, acceptance, and family. I have maintained my belief that everything will be ok … eventually. I continue on this journey not really knowing what the future will bring, but trusting that we will all figure it out.
Jill Scott is a licensed clinical social worker and mother of two children. She and her family reside in the Graduate Hospital section of Philadelphia.