I was talking to a friend last night who is going through a rough patch due to her transition. In the course of our conversation she said something pretty profound: “I wonder if it’s possible to make it through transition without major loss.”
I thought about it for a while and told her, no. I don’t think you can make it through transition without major loss. Though not everyone loses the same things, I’ve never heard of anyone losing nothing. We learn to cope, we learn to smile, and we learn to move on. But the loss is there, and sometimes it’s hard to hold the emotional toll in check.
There are plenty of obvious losses, like jobs, marriages, wealth, and status. Lots of attention is focused upon these things, for good reason. But the thing my friend’s question got me thinking about wasn’t any of those. It was about relationships.
Relationships – with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, etc. – are incredibly vulnerable to loss during transition. It’s not only that some people choose to leave your life, but also that the people who remain so often change dramatically in the way they relate to you. You can feel a serious loss of intimacy from people who still return your phone calls and send you Christmas cards.
In my case, I didn’t realize this going into things. I had mental columns for “out of my life,” “still with me,” as I prepared for my coming out. But it didn’t work like that. Very few ended up on the “out of my life” list. But most of the others weren’t so much “still with me” as “Still in my life, but acting like virtual strangers.” In my own experience, over time this has balanced out with new friends and renewed relationships. But the initial shock of loss felt devastating… and still can at times.
If all this sounds scary, it should. To paraphrase something I’ve heard in various forms from others, “transition is not for sissies” (to preserve the irony we can perhaps change it to “transition takes balls” for the FTM’s out there).
The hardest part about all of this is that we normally cope with loss in our lives through the support and comfort of our friends. But this kind of loss can, by its nature, severely impair the support you can receive this way. You can be left feeling very much alone – you against the world – during a time when that is the last thing you want to feel.
All this being said, I would caution anyone from letting the loss experienced from transition tell the whole story. It’s simply part of a larger narrative – a life story akin to the mythical Hero’s Journey. We must suffer great loss on the way to greater reward. It’s dangerous to discount the importance loss plays within this narrative. But it’s even more dangerous to discount the reward which is only available through perseverance.
The same thing so many people are saying to LGBT teens these days, serves as salient advice to all suffering the loss of transition: It gets better.