Twice a month, the Ingersoll Gender Center opens their doors to the SOFFA (significant others, friends, family, and allies) group. I’ve attended 3 times, each of which have been so different, which highlights for me the transformation I’m going through in this process.
I won’t talk much about this group in specifics, as the privacy of those who attend is very important. What I will say is that the strength of those who attend continues to impress me. Each meeting, everyone goes around the room and introduces their name, gender pronoun preference, and any gender news of relevance for them. This is a room full of people who once per week gather in search of consolation for their circumstances, who are going through unbelievable hardships as a result of their gender non-conformity. Some of them have been disowned by their families. Some can’t find a job. Some don’t have homes. Some have literally no where else to go. Some have been attending this support group for the 40 years it has been around. Some are brand new. Some are just starting their gender journey. Some are well into it, even consider themselves Allies, and not members of their transgender category. Yet, despite each person’s individual hangups, the entire room welcomes each new member when they introduce themselves, uniformly and with compassion. Each parent that walks through the doors is hugged by another parent who has been through the same experience. Each person trying their new name for the first time is applauded in a snaps as loud as snaps can be. It’s a truly humbling experience. The connection of the strangers in this room, their capacity for understanding and having empathy for their peers is incredible.
Last night, I hugged a woman whose child came out as transgender just this weekend. I sat across the room from her and her husband and listened as she asked questions about where to go from here. I teared up after they introduced themselves as I explained to them how impressed I was that they could be so brave for their own child in a way that Katie’s parents have struggled to do the same. In this same room, as one person talked about resenting their spouse, another talked about not trusting theirs because of the secret that was kept for so long. We are fundamentally different in our cultures, our ages, our stories, but in this one room we connected on a topic that so few of us get to connect on. It was the first time I could really talk to other spouses, which was such a release.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of The Outing. It has been 6 months since I sat on that couch and watched my wife step towards the light. Last night, there was a question in the room about how someone knows they are transgender. I explained that I’m not sure how people know they are. I have never experienced dysphoria so I cannot presume to know the experience of others. That said, I know with all of my being that Katie is. In the past 6 months, I have watched my wife evolve into a “Kyle-2.0” version of herself. She talks to me more about her experiences and anxieties. We don’t have secrets. She laughs without inhibition when we sled down mountains. She is more mentally present. She is the bravest person I know. She tells complete strangers she’s transgender. She gives the name “Katie” when we eat out at restaurants. She stands up for herself.
Sitting in a room full of people who are in the beginning of their spouses transitions, some only a few days in, I am so grateful for the progress I have made. I cry less on my way to work. I know how to say what I need. I (and we) have work to do, of course. I still cannot predict what will happen in my marriage, or whether we will make it. But, I know with all of my heart this is the right path. The mother sitting across from me could sense that too. She sobbed as I explained to her how I know that my wife is doing the right thing, that without a doubt, she is transgender. As the meeting wrapped up, I opened the door to leave, and this woman hugged me. As I hugged her back, I explained that this pathway isn’t easy. I told her that she was brave, that her child will benefit by her willingness to start this journey. The result of the struggle is knowing her “child-2.0” version. She will have a more ornate and complete picture. She teared up again and thanked me as she released from the hug.
For those of you that have questions about gender, yours or your loved ones, I cannot say enough good things about Ingersoll. Their website is here. Go. Educate yourself. This organization is incredible. They do good work. They bring together good people. Who doesn’t need more of that in the world?