Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas for Two & Family Trans-Education

Jay and I were supposed to spend Christmas with Bradley's family across the country; we'd been looking forward to it for the past six months. We marveled at how wonderful it would be to spend the holiday together as a polycule, how lucky we were that Bradley's family would welcome me and my wife into their home.

It seemed to good to be true.
Because it was.

Last month we found out that Bradley's mom forgot to tell her husband that she had invited Jay as well as myself. Her husband had concerns about Jay's transgender "lifestyle choice," and made it clear that I was the only one who was welcome to join Bradley for Christmas.

Bradley was livid and wanted to back out of his family Christmas all together if Jay couldn't come. Jay was understanding and encouraged me to go without her. I was deflated but couldn't let Bradley miss his family trip, and there was no way I'd leave Jay alone with her unsupportive family for Christmas. So we split up our polycule for the holidays. Bradley flew home, and I stayed with Jay (my family doesn't celebrate Christmas). Jay was feeling too under the weather (physically but more emotionally) to go to her parents as usual, so we had a celebration for two. I surprised her with a mini Christmas tree and stockings filled with her favorite treats, and she cooked delectable feasts. We had a lovely holiday snuggling and watching movies.

Bradley, the ever amazing partner and advocate, is on a mission to educate his family and gain acceptance for Jay. In preparation for in-person conversations over Christmas vacation, he sent the essay below to his extended family a few weeks ago:

Things to Know

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people who love me unconditionally. This has been supremely important over the past year as my life and lifestyle have changed dramatically. The importance of this support is impossible to quantify.

Unfortunately, I have confused the unconditional love expressed by my family for the understanding and acceptance of those closest to me. This has led to significant confusion and fear — something which I was regrettably unaware of until recently. Such situations are best addressed by informing and educating those who do not understand so that they can know that they have nothing to fear. This is why I wrote this essay.

Last year, Jay was diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria. Gender Dysphoria is an officially recognized medical disorder (Described in ICD-10 CM and DSM-5) where a person experiences chronic severe discontent with the sex they were assigned at birth. It is estimated that gender dysphoria affects around 0.5% of the general population. The condition is life threatening — around half of those diagnosed with gender dysphoria have admitted to attempting to commit suicide at some point in their lives (compared to 1.6% of the general population). Gender dysphoria has nothing to do with which gender someone is attracted to, only the gender that they identify as.

The current (and only) medically-recognized treatment for persons diagnosed with gender dysphoria is to support the individual in physically modifying their body to better match their psychological gender identity. This process is called transition.

Typical procedures associated with transition include Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), and, for individuals transitioning from male to female, Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS). Because gender dysphoria is a formally recognized medical disorder, many of the procedures associated with transition are often covered by medical insurance.

In addition to the medical procedures above, transition includes taking steps to outwardly present as the gender that they identify as. For a male-to-female, this could mean wearing women's clothing (including possibly a bra), feminine hair styling, and/or use of makeup. The decision of when to “present” as their identified gender is complicated and based on many factors, but often happens several months after HRT.

It might seem that SRS would be the ultimate goal of transition, however it is only a means to an end. The ultimate goal for someone in transition is to be able to always “pass” as the gender that they identify as. While SRS is an important milestone for many in transition, it is not a requirement and should not be overemphasized. In daily life you don’t use someone’s genitalia to identify if they are male or female — you simply decide based on whether they “look” male or “look” female, based on a variety of factors including clothing, hair, bone structure, etc. In other words, if you are never going to be around an individual when they aren’t wearing clothes, you shouldn’t be concerned with what is between their legs. Period.

Transition is an incredibly painful and awkward experience, often taking several years. During this period of time, their presented gender may be perceived by others ambiguously. Simple tasks like using a public bathroom can suddenly become complicated dilemmas with significant consequences(“Which restroom should I use?”). General lack of education about gender dysphoria and transition confuses many people in the general population, leading to taunting, ridicule, and even violent attacks.

People who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria are referred to as “transgender”, or “trans” for short. Take care to not confuse being transgender with "transvestism". Transvestism is the practice of dressing and acting in a style or manner traditionally associated with the other sex. Transvestism is not associated with gender dysphoria.

It is important to recognize that being transgender, and the associated process of transition, is not a “lifestyle choice”. People who are transgender were born that way and had no choice in the matter. In the same way that no one chooses to have type-1 diabetes and take insulin shots for the rest of their lives, no one chooses to be transgender.

Jay is currently in transition from her assigned sex at birth (male) to the gender she has always identified as (female). She is presenting full-time as female and, to my eyes, passing beautifully. She has been receiving HRT for over a year now and is preparing for SRS and FFS. Jay is not changing her first name because the name is already conveniently gender-neutral. She prefers that others use feminine pronouns to refer to her.

Please try to always use the appropriate gender pronouns (She, her, etc.) when referring to Jay. This is really only difficult if you knew Jay before she started presenting as female or you have been around someone using male pronouns when referring to Jay. Using the appropriate pronouns is important even when not in her presence — doing this helps other people remember to use the correct pronouns. If you notice you used the wrong gender of pronoun, simply correct yourself and move on. If someone corrects you, know that they are trying to help you. Making an honest effort to use the correct pronouns is the most important part, not how infrequently you use the wrong pronoun. If you make an honest effort it will eventually become effortless. Don’t worry, she won’t ever be going back to using male pronouns, so you only have to go through this once.

So, to summarize:

  • Gender Dysphoria is an officially recognized medical condition characterized as one having a gender identity that differs from their assigned sex at birth. Think “a woman trapped in the body of a man”, or “a man trapped in the body of a woman”. (It isn’t always this clear cut, but you get the idea)
  • Gender dysphoria has nothing to do with which gender someone is attracted to, only the gender that someone identifies as.
  • A person who has gender dysphoria is commonly referred to as “transgender” or “trans”. This is the “T” in LGBT.
  • Do not confuse transgender with transvestism. Transvestism is NOT associated with gender dysphoria.
  • The officially sanctioned treatment for someone who is transgender is to support them in physically modifying their body to better match their psychological gender identity. This process is called “transition”, and helps to relieve the extreme emotional distress caused by the condition.
  • Getting treatment for gender dysphoria can be a life or death matter: About half of those diagnosed have admitted to having attempted suicide at some point in their lives.
  • Violence and discrimination against transgender persons — especially those in transition — is rampant, due to misinformation and lack of education.
  • Being transgender is not a lifestyle choice, they are born that way.
  • One of the best ways to show someone who is in transition that you care is to to always use their preferred gender when using pronouns(he/she, her/him, etc). Try to do this even when that person is not present, to help others use the correct pronouns.

Additional resources that I highly recommend:

In closing, if after reading this you have any questions at all, I implore you to ask. I will be more than happy to address any questions you might have. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll look it up for you.

Thank you. 
P.S. Attached is a recent photo of Jay.

Bradley has a loving family; they are good, kindhearted people. But education takes time. I am optimistic that they will eventually come around, and will wait patiently for the year when we can all be together at Christmas.


  1. This was lovely, beautiful, touching, and heartbreaking. But also joyful and hopeful. Big hugs and lots of love to you in this (post) holiday season.

  2. Aw, thank you so much for the lovely note, Kim! Big hugs and lots of love right back. Wishing you a very happy 2015.

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