Transition is a journey. Don’t go it alone.
It made for a rough evening, the night before New Years’ Eve 2014, as I read a story of a trans woman who took her own life. I couldn’t make it through the story on first reading, but after the second I proclaimed my existence and intentions all the more loudly.
“Transitioned at 40. It *can* get better, but it’s hard work. Surround yourself with support. If I can help you, ask! #RealLiveTransAdult”
Then I pinned the tweet to my timeline.
Seven months earlier, nearly to the day, I was told my marriage was over. It wasn’t. Not quite, anyway: we found a couples counselor and put divorce on the back burner. But I’d returned from a trip in a fragile point looking for support and found only pain. It would linger for months. In the moment, it felt like I was the only one putting emotional labor into attempting to fix things, and for my effort I was initially rewarded with a cold demeanor. Deprived of human touch and warmth, I pushed on anyway. I believed things could be saved.
When I tweeted that, I meant it. It had been hard work to get where I was, but the year was ending with a marriage that seemed functional again. While there was ample other stress in my life, it seemed like things were headed the right direction and better days were near. I wanted to share that with other folks like me, folks for whom the world would ongoingly take its toll.
But all it takes is a long-time partner telling you it’s over to lose stability in your life. Within hours of a full year after I tweeted that offer of support, I found my own crumbling around me. My gender transition made me especially vulnerable to this very outcome, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. I ended 2015 devoid of income and home, a situation which lasted well into this year.
I often joke about how straight marriage has treated me, but to the end that I turned out not to be what the bill of sale represented the goods as, the conclusion wasn’t surprising. Indeed, most marriages do not survive a transition, weakening even the tenuous base of support most folks start with. Even before the end of the line, we sought compromise, a way to continue being together while still meeting the needs the other couldn’t. We sought other relationships beyond the one we shared.
So, on the day where I learned that my marriage was done and my home of the last seven years was unmade, there were other folks in my life with whom I’d built intimate ties. Sadly neither was the same city as me at that moment, and the night ended with me alone, in the attic bedroom of friends who graciously and lovingly took me in. It would be the same bed I slept in for much of the first half of the year, each night alone. On each of those nights, deprived again of a human’s touch, my spirit dimmed a bit more. I found myself averaging under 6 hours of sleep a night.
Mere weeks later, a trip to Boston after 10 years away resulted in another relationship. As winter turned to spring, I felt poised to leave the city which had always been my home. A couple places seemed likely targets, but I soon laid eyes on an end goal of Somerville, Massachusetts. I kept traveling to see friends elsewhere, though, at least when I could afford it. But come mid-June, I had a plan. By the beginning of September I was sharing an apartment in Somerville. I found myself lucky enough to have landed amongst an intimate, loving community. Starting anew might have been so much more painful otherwise.
Today, two years after the moment I felt moved to offer that tweet, my life is ongoingly enriched by the emotional bonds that have developed, tempering my remaining issues significantly. But transition is hard work, and much of that revolves around relationships. While I am fortunate to have found people who love me, the lingering damage from yet another divorce continues to undermine my self-worth. Each night in an empty bed, each moment you are reminded that you are important, but no better than second-best in the eyes of those who love you, is another chink in the armor.
When I hurt most, I wondered if it could actually get better. I considered unpinning that tweet, or even deleting it. But it would be dishonest to suggest things are not better even with the difficulties this year has presented. I’ve still sometimes been alone in my darkest moments. But when I have asked, help has often come, albeit not always in the ways I expected.
Your transition can feel quite solitary, but you need not be alone. Seek support from those around you. I will never be able to pay back the support I have received especially from unlikely quarters, but I can and do aim to pay it forward. While I worry that the factors which combined to carry me through cannot be generalized, it makes the offer all the more important: I see you. I am here for you.