It’s amazing how much we have been through in the past 3 months when I reflect back on it. Every week, every day really seems to present a new question we cannot answer and a set of anxiety along with it. This week, among many things, we have been predominantly occupied by whether to go to Katie’s parents for Christmas. The problem boils down to this: Are we sending a negative message if we don’t go, even if it means we are choosing to take care of our mental/emotional well-being by taking time apart? Or would going be a reparative act of good faith? We discovered our answer last night through no shortage of pain but, before I can reveal the outcome, I think it helps to explain how The Outing has gone with Katie’s parents so far.
We told Katie’s parents on a Sunday after staying overnight. We had much debate over several weeks over how to do it. They live far enough away that it’s easier to stay overnight, especially when considering they often drink wine with dinner. I encouraged a sober conversation which meant Sunday morning would be when we told them. As much as liquid courage is helpful when your nerves are literally going to vibrate off of your body, these emotionally taxing moments are best encountered when your defense mechanism isn’t tainted by alcohol. On that Sunday morning, we kept putting off when we would leave. We ate breakfast and talked about Seahawks traffic, but still didn’t set a time to leave because Katie had to get up the nerve to tell them. When she finally did, after a sleepless night and too many conversations where we outlined our predictions of how it would go, Katie told them. I’ve never seen her shake like that. Or seen her voice go as high-pitched. The entire couch was moving and she was so nervous. She outlined the story, the first time she realized she wasn’t in the right body, the moment this summer where the light-bulb turned on and illuminated a darkness we didn’t know how to name. They listened patiently. I watched all three of them intently, trying to assess their reactions, which was surprisingly difficult to do. They took it well and we left feeling hopeful. They asked thoughtful questions. They asked how I was doing. They had concerns about work. They seemed generally interested in our well-being and the steps we were both taking to ensure this was handled in a healthy way.
We went home and celebrated over dinner. We felt so good about it. All the fear and “what-ifs” had been answered and the relief was incredible. The following day, Katie’s mom said she had follow-up questions and wanted to talk after she got off work. This phone call has outlined exactly how much I don’t know about people, or how much pain this process will bring me, or Katie. I wasn’t on the phone, so I can’t recount the exact details, but questions and statements are not limited to the below:
- Why can’t you be gay?
- Why are you doing this to Natalie?
- Are you sure you shouldn’t get a second opinion?
- Are you sure that this is right?
- Why are you doing this to us?
- This will kill you grandparents. They are getting older can we just not tell them?
- How are we going to explain this to our family and friends?
- I don’t understand.
- How could we have prevented this?
- Were you molested?
- Why didn’t you tell us sooner?
To go from an absolute high where we thought that everything had gone okay, that they were at least on the good half of the reaction scale, to these questions was such a shock. The worst part is I totally understand where they are coming from in the sense that those questions are laced with fear and ignorance on this topic and I know they love their child. I also am not a parent and cannot imagine raising a son for 32 years only to find out that he is actually she. The very fact that they would be more comfortable with Katie being gay, and therefore not sexually attracted to me meaning we would be in a physically loveless and obligatory marriage speaks volumes to me. How is being gay better than transgender FOR ME? Also, pointing out the obvious, if Katie loves women as she does now, she’s not just transgender, but she is also, in fact, gay. Wish granted. Our society has so far to come in our understanding and acceptance of gender issues. Wether Katie’s parents can do so, I’m not sure. There is one fact that has come up across varying articles that has stuck with me in all of this: Transgender issues are where gay issues were over 40 years ago. I’m not sure of this accuracy as it’s hard to judge when I live in such an accepting city, but Katie’s parents do make me believe this must be true.
On that Thursday, Katie’s dad asked to meet in person. Katie went prepared with links to PFLAG and local support groups in their area that would help him understand. The meeting lasted 15 minutes. 12 of those minutes were spent telling Katie how much Katie’s dad will never understand this, doesn’t want to understand this, and how it’s against God. We didn’t even know either of Katie’s parents were particularly religious, but apparently God can make a comforting refuge in a time of fear. Katie attempted to give him the typed page of resources, he wouldn’t accept them, and Katie left. I’m very proud of her for leaving, for removing herself from a painful conversation. Before she met with her dad, we talked about this option in the event that Katie’s dad became, in worst case scenario, violent. We really didn’t know what to expect. I will say I am so grateful we have had an easy Outing. All of our friends have been supportive. My family has been supportive. If our only outliers are Katie’s family, we are doing much better than I’ve read about others. We are lucky. That said, this has been so hard.
The week following telling Katie’s parents is the worst week for me in this process so far, even worse than the week of The Outing for me. At work I had my final presentation for a leadership development program, a very stressful project as I hate presenting and I’m not very good at compartmentalizing what I do in a digestible way. In addition, the emotional turmoil of Katie’s parents reaction had drained us both. We could barely cook dinner. We went to bed by 8pm and slept until we would almost be late. We cried. A lot. It is still amazing to me that no one at work really knew during this time. I had told only my boss and a peer. They needed to know why I was such a zombie, why I was wearing my headphones more and had become much less engaged in socially bonding with my peers. One of the hardest part about this transition is it’s secrecy. There is a huge part of me that wants to tell my coworkers so that they understand why I’m leaving early for so many “appointments” and they can be leaned on when I need support. That said, the part of me that is terrified of being the gossip at work doesn’t want to tell them at all and doesn’t think they have a right to know. It’s painful because I’m very close with them and I hate secrets. Needless to say, the fact that I did a presentation at 8:30am on a Friday and I didn’t botch it with all this other crap going on in my life is amazing. I’m proud of me and don’t really care how overly-confident that sounds. I even wore make-up and ironed a shirt. Badass.
Since that week, there have been 3 conversations with Katie’s mom. The first one she reached out and asked for resources: a good sign. The second one, she apologized to Katie as she had learned from her reading that her reaction had checked every “What Not to Do” box: an even more promising sign. The third one, last night, Katie’s mom wanted us to to come to Christmas, but said she wouldn’t be able to acknowledge Katie, that only Kyle is invited. The conversation was 1.5 hours and felt like 3 steps backwards. We were back to the Monday night post-Parental Outing. I’m so sad about the steps backwards, but I’m also relieved. I honestly didn’t want to go. It would be the first time seeing her parents since their Outing and there just isn’t a way that wouldn’t be stressful, It’s a lot of pressure on them and on us, let alone the fact it would be Christmas. Katie is heartbroken. So am I. I’m optimistic they just need more time. I am hopeful they will come around eventually, when they see Katie is still happy and is more herself than ever. But maybe they won’t and that’s something we will both have to adjust to. If I’ve learned anything, we can’t sweat the big, unpredictable stuff because there’s just too much of it. I’ve equated this transition timeline to a 365 day calendar year, each step a different day. I feel like we are currently on Day 6 of 365 days. We have a long way to go and are just at the beginning. One day at a time. Sometimes one hour, but I will get through this and so will Katie. I do, even on the most difficult days, trust that.