I read an article by an ethicist who answered a question in the New York Times about the morality of gender transition pitted against the harm it may cause a family. It is a Hobson’s choice, really, as there is no good answer in the end. But, I guess that’s why ethicists get paid the big bucks.
Gender transition is selfish. No doubt about it. But, so is just about any medical treatment, alcohol recovery for instance. Gender dysphoria might just as surely kill you as alcoholism in my experience. Yes, I had both, and after several years of living in the proper gender and in recovery with all of the attendant hardship, heartbreak and happiness, I am perhaps uniquely qualified to say that both are a means of survival. I had to do both, or neither would have saved me from myself, so bad was my sense of demoralization and hopelessness.
Yet, behind me lies a trail of loss, separation and broken relationships. My decision to transition hurt other people whether or not their reaction may be perceived as just or warranted. Thus, I might be rightly asked whether it was the right thing to do. Was it just? Was it ethical? Or was it merely necessary irrespective of the consequences?
In reverse order, my need to transition was more than manifest at the time, so frail was my grasp upon a life not hell bent on personal destruction. Some may rightly conclude that my transition should not matter to others if I was going to be dead anyway, even if by my own hand. At the time, and for all the years since I have believed that I would not have made it, but for transition and recovery. But what if . . . ?
What if I had found recovery and reserved transition for later in life, if at all? Of course, I was already 48 when I began. But, might I have learned a way through recovery to live a sober life as a man, and still kept my job, my friends, my family and my marriage? Is that possible? Of course it is? But is it likely? That is a much more germane question, given the level of dysfunction following nearly half a century of gender confusion, fear, guilt, shame, ambiguity, etc., which was merely masked and drown out through alcohol dependancy.
The answer, then, is that it is much more likely that as the masks of dependency were stripped away, the difficulty maintaining the duality of self would have only grown worse, not better, and continually threatened the chances of recovery taking hold. But, even If I could have made it through reliance on God, a sponsor and a recovery group, what difference would it have made.
Would I have kept the relationships and people I lost in my transition – my children, friends, colleagues and acquaintances who have all turned away? Probably, but I must believe that those relationships would be strained as ever, particularly because recovery involves rigorous honesty. It is our secrets which often make us so sick. At some point, I would have had to tell my truth to the people in my life. I could not have continued to live vicariously through cross-dressing in private, for it would seem ever more the lie. And what then? What purpose does it serve to tell the truth and not live it – to be honest, but not authentic? Forgive me for waxing apologetically.
I never meant to hurt the people in my life, but, I still believe to my core that I did the right thing. Moreover, I could not foretell a person’s reaction, and, though I knew them well, predictions and expectations of how a person will take the news of gender dysphoria are pure and painful folly.
Therefore, I had to step out in faith, reveal the dysphoria and prescribed treatment and then deal with the reaction. It does not work the other way around, as there is no way to sort of test the waters before jumping in. People have no frame of reference, no experience to fall back on when a trans person reveals themself, and they can no more control their reaction than I can. It is a gut level, sometimes gut rendering response that typically involves either rejection or openness, if not confusion. If a person can be open and willing to accept the trans person, there is a chance at a continued relationship. However, if the knee jerk reaction is rejection the door may be firmly closed. And I have second guessed myself enough times to know that the process of revelation makes very little difference in the long run. Either a person gets it, or they don’t. And there is simply no way to know ahead of time which it shall be.
Thus, the trans person can take only one of two paths. They can remain forever inside their secret gender box with all the dueling emotions and resulting pain and dysfunction that hiding brings for the sake of their family and friends and to avoid the risk of emotional harm to others. Or, they can stumble blindly and uncertainly along the path to authenticity, assuming the risk that not all will choose to go along.
Gender transition is not a question of right or wrong, per ‘se, but rather it is one of possibility, necessity and risk. Can the trans person live without transition, and are they willing to assume the risks inherent in either choice – a life forever locked in dysfunction and incongruence, or one without the ones they love who also lose someone dear.