Okay, the title is hyperbolic. I'm not straight. I'm still queer as can be. That, however, doesn't take away from the fact that the person with whom I've chosen to spend my life is a woman. Over the past month, she and I have been coming out to our friends and family about her gender identity. The person you thought was your male friend, your son's boyfriend, your son, or your brother is, in fact, a woman, and I'm in a heterosexual relationship. Time to change your perspective. Surprise!
Once it started, there was a cascade of disclosures. My partner saw how simply and positively the first person who figured it out adjusted to the idea, which made the thought of telling others much less frightening. Suddenly, the constant hypothetical of coming out became a concrete reality. Each time she chose a person to tell, we made a plan, readied ourselves for the conversation, had a drink to calm the nerves (don't judge -- this is a difficult thing to work up the courage to do!), and dove in.
I need to explain how introverted my partner is for you to understand just how impressed I've been with her each time I've seen her say the words, "I'm transgender and am in the process of transitioning from male to female." She is historically an incredibly private person. She doesn't like sharing parts of her life that might seem too personal. It took a great deal of time together and, frankly, much discomfort before even I truly got to know the person beneath the exterior she shows. Now, however, she is in a place where she is sharing this person with everyone else in her life. To see her open up to people over and over again, in spite of her natural comfort level for that sort of thing is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
We started by informing our closest friends. One by one, followed by small groups, followed by larger groups, we helped our friends see what's been happening in our lives over the past year. With each positive, supportive reaction, the task at hand seemed simpler and simpler. We were both shocked to find that there were no negative responses. People asked the questions one would expect about our relationship, surgeries, hormones and timelines. They offered support and love. They offered concern for me, worrying how I could possibly reconcile her gender identity with my sexual orientation. We were incredibly relieved that no one rejected her or refused to accept her gender identity. It's a bit unbelievable, honestly. After reading so many horror stories from other trans* people, I had steeled myself to the loss of friendships throughout this process as some sort of inevitability. I've been incredibly relived to realize that won't be the case for us.
"I think I'm ready to tell our parents," she told me shortly before Easter. I was shocked. Her initial point-of-view was that this was too difficult and stressful a conversation to even consider. I recall a time at the start of her transition when she said, "I don't ever want to have to tell my parents. They'll just figure it out on their own, right? We won't ever need to talk about it." Obviously that's not reality; she knew that. Telling her parents was always something that was discussed in very far-off future tense, though. "Are you sure?" I asked. She was sure.
While it would have been ideal to talk to her parents first, timing dictated that we'd come out to my family first. Bracing ourselves, we started the conversation with my parents and sister. Much to my relief, their reactions were nothing but positive. I can tell my parents felt a bit awkward, but that's something digestion time will eliminate. My father has confessed that it will take some getting used to, but what's ultimately at stake for him is my happiness. If my partner and I are happy, he's happy. During the coming out conversation, he lightened the mood by asking what tee box she planned to use in golf from now on, if that's any indicator of how smooth and easy the conversation was.
Next came the big one -- the white whale of coming out. We planned a dinner, invited her parents and sister, and talked about what highlights we wanted to be sure to hit. I watched her nervously work up to saying it. When she did, the relief I saw in her was significant. She exhaled after saying the words she was unable to say for over 20 years, looked up, inhaled, and started answering their questions without hesitation. This was just 24 hours ago. Her family's reaction was complicated, as we both expected it to be. I know they love her, so I know things will ultimately level out to a place of support. It will just take time and openness.
I understand how people experience the stages of grief in this situation, as though they've lost a family member who is being replaced with someone else. I believe that's a relatively common reaction. I hope, though, that my partner's family, my family, and the families of other trans* people who come out can all get to the point where they realize there hasn't been any loss at all. There's a substitution of language. There's a shift in perspective and expectations. There's a change in looks and clothing. Ultimately, though, they haven't lost anyone at all. The loss they experience is a construction of how they viewed her, but the person? She's the same. She has the same interests, the same sense of humor, the same quirks and behaviors. But in addition to that, she's happier. She's honest. She's herself.
She understands that this disclosure has sent her relationship with her family on an unknown trajectory, but I can see the relief it's created even just a day later. We live in the same town as her parents, and today she dressed as herself for the first time to simply take the dog for walk. We walked down the sidewalk, the sun shining, and I looked at her walking beside me, smiling. Just... happy. She no longer has to check her presentation before stepping outside, worried something could get back to her parents. She doesn't have to double-check on whether there are any indicators that point too closely to female. She simply put on her shoes, stepped outside as she was, and joined our dog and me for a walk through our town.
This walk was a relatively small, simple moment. Frankly, it's unlikely anyone we saw even noticed us or cared. Nonetheless, it's a moment representative of a new chapter in our lives -- we're out. She's out. We're not hiding anymore. I'm proud to be able to say that my partner is the woman she is, and I am eternally grateful for the family that surrounds us, both genetic and chosen, who are so capable of the compassion and understanding they've shown. The amount of love I have in my life is staggering; I am an incredibly lucky man.