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Experiencing a Parallel Transition From Inside the Closet

03/10/2014 10:40 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
Paul Garnier via Getty Images

I never expected to be back in the closet.

From the time I came out to my friends and family as gay at age 21, I was determined to live as openly, visibly, honestly and unapologetically as possible. For 10 years I did just that. I never worried about other people's reactions to my sexuality. I never omitted information or edited my narrative in fear of judgment. I never hid who I was dating. In short, I adopted a very Gen-Y attitude of "This is who I am, and if you don't like it, that's your problem."

Now, however, I'm back in the closet and keeping the reality of my relationship from the people in my life because my partner is a transgender woman who is not out yet. I've gone back into hiding and dusted off my dormant skill at playing the pronoun game, and I have to lie to everyone I know on a consistent basis.

It's a curious space to occupy. While my inclination is to adopt the same attitude I had when I came out by brusquely explaining the situation to everyone we know in very matter-of-fact terms and letting the proverbial chips land where they may, I am also fiercely driven to protect my partner's privacy and honor her process. It's conflicting to me, though, that this drive prevents me from being my authentic, honest self.

Every time I answer the question "What's new?" with "Oh, you know, same old same-old" and lie by omission, I feel simultaneously that I'm doing the right thing to protect my partner and that I'm doing myself a disservice by fracturing my life like I promised I never would.

Being the partner of a transitioning person involves a transition all your own. Let me be clear that my partner's transition is a tremendously substantial one; I certainly don't minimize that. Often, though, people in my position feel that focusing on our own transitions throughout this process is somehow selfish or unfair to our partners, whose transitions are far greater and more significant. We reduce ourselves to passengers and bystanders whose sole job it is to be pillars of support. While I am the first to say that giving support to your partner is wholly critical throughout this process, I would argue that neither transition is greater or more significant. They are different. They are incomparable. They are parallel.

There is very little conversation I've found about how we support ourselves through this process, in addition to supporting our partners. There's even less focus on how our transitioning partners support us. To my partner and me, it's critical that we both acknowledge our experiences and support each other so we can properly identify each of our own needs and ensure that our parallel transitions are as successful and healthy as possible.

A friend I've made online since I began documenting my experience said to me, "I think there's a lot of shame involved for the partners of transitioning people, not just that they feel shamed by the transition itself, but they feel shamed by their reaction to their own reaction." He's right. We are very quick to inhabit a vortex of shame and privilege that continuously and unceasingly turns itself inside out.

I urge you as partners, families, and friends of trans* people to experience these reactions without shame. Don't unnecessarily emotionally dump on your transitioning loved one in an effort to make yourself feel better at their expense, but truly inventory your own needs throughout the transition. It takes a considerable amount of introspection to accomplish this in a way that doesn't interfere with the emotional health of your loved one, but it is a necessary process in order to ensure your own emotional health throughout your own unique transition.

Sometimes this inventory leads to significant compromise. For me, I'm accepting a life of lying by omission and pronoun adjustment, effectively recloseting myself for my partner's well-being. It's a temporary stop, though. Eventually she'll come out.

And then I'll learn how to come out of the closet all over again as someone in a heterosexual relationship.

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