My mom sent me a Ted Talk this week on Valentine’s Day (now GALentine’s Day for me and Katie). She texted the link with the words “Have you seen this?? This is what you’ve been talking about!!” Naturally, I was curious. I hit play while in my car on my way to work, placed my phone face down on the passenger seat, and began listening to the first person I’ve ever heard describe with painful accuracy what my life has looked like for the past 5 months. (Link to the video here).
Ashley Clift-Jennings describes the process that led her to meeting her soul mate. She asks the audience to define for themselves what connected them to their soul mate. She describes how she thought of hers before meeting them. She explains how they met and the whirlwind romance of their story. She describes their dreams together and why they loved each other and why she believed they were soul mates. Ashley is charming and calm and quirky and the audience (including me) connects with her. The title of the Ted Talk, “Have you met your soul mate?”, is misleading with intention and that is part of why I love it so much. You click on it thinking you’re going to hear someone describe the science of how to find your soul mate, or why you shouldn’t rely finding one at all. You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop because no one could have a fairytale story and be delivering a Ted Talk. Then you are led toward the goal of Ashley’s story. At 4 minutes and 38 seconds, Ashley tells you that her spouse, her soul mate, the human she’s known and been married to for 6 years, is transgender. “You can probably hear a pin drop right now,” Ashley says to break the silence, subtlety chuckling at what she knew would be the reaction of the audience. She knew because she had told this story before. She had practiced it with her friends, family, and loved ones and received the same reaction from them in more intimate settings. I know this because so have I.
I cried my entire drive to work while listening to this Ted Talk. I’ve watched it more than 10 times and I cry every time. I cried watching it again to write this post. I’ve never felt as alone as I have since Katie told me she is not the man I married. I’m not alone because I do not have people in my life who are supportive, because I do. I am incredibly blessed to have understanding and patient friends and family who have listened to me when I needed them to. I am alone because I am the only person I know who is going through this experience. I’m the only person I know who is around the age of 30, has known their spouse for less than 10 years, and has come to realize that everything is great in their marriage, except gender. It’s incredibly isolating. The irony in explaining this to the people who are worried about me makes me feel more isolated. They often don’t know what to say. Their silence is like that of the audience when Ashley reveals her truth. Their empathy and loss for words creates more distance between their truths and hers.
Ashley describes her shock at the revelation exactly how I have described mine. It’s like a death. Someone is leaving and another person is coming in. She explains what “internalized transphobia” means to her:
“I think that as a society we have been programmed to think that people who don’t fit the binary, who aren’t men or women, or who were born as a sex they don’t identify with, that those people are different or weird or strange.”
She explains how she struggled to merge the image of who her spouse was, who she thought her soul mate was, with the image she had of people who are transgender. “What does that mean about my sexuality? Does that mean I’m a lesbian?”
I feel like Ashley interviewed me and made a Ted Talk. I wish I could meet her, talk to her, thank her for communicating so clearly the struggle I have been going through. I tried to find an email or contact information so I could send a “thank you” note. I hope one day she will know how profoundly she has touched my life, and probably others, through the vulnerability of her story.
“I think the lesson to take from all this is that people have a patina, they have a presence in the world, they have a look, or they have a job, or they have all these things that are outward-facing that everybody identifies them by and puts them into boxes; that’s how we categorize people and get to know them. But underneath there is a soul and that soul is so much deeper and stronger, and so much more identifiable than that patina.”
I sent this to Katie and asked her to watch it on her next break. I watched the Ted Talk in my headphones at work in between calls. I listened to it in the car again on my way home. I sent it to friends. This. Is. My. Life. I feel like Oprah must have felt when she saw Sidney Poitier accept the Academy Award. There is someone else out there who gets it.
I’m not a big Valentine’s person. I think it’s frivolous to have a day to tell someone who knows you love them, that you love them with chocolates, wine, and over-priced dinner. That said, it is my first official GALentine’s Day. We decided to eat pie purchased the Sunday before at the farmer’s market and watch Fixer Upper. I wanted to post a picture of us so to keep up the social media rouse of how fabulous our lives are, but struggled to find a picture that didn’t feel like a lie. Every photo I have is of this man in my life who isn’t there anymore. If 50 people like a photo of Kyle and me on our wedding day, but they don’t know it’s actually Katie, the post feels dishonest. Those 50 people don’t know that I’m celebrating GALentine’s Day now. I want people to know that I love my spouse with a picture of us, but how do I do that and remain truthful to the person my spouse is now? That’s when it happened. As we sat under the Justin Bieber blanket I bought as a prank once, we both farted at the same time. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. The resulting post below. Happy Valentine’s Day indeed.