The Perceptions of Loss When You Come out as Transgender-Mila Madison-Transgender Universe - Mila Madison talks about why friends and family often mourn a transgender person’s former existence in “The Weekly Rant”.

They say when you transition your loved ones also transition along with you. Those who are close to you go through their own adjustment period. In some cases, it is a complete shock when you come out as transgender to your friends and family. In other cases, it may be surprising, but maybe it is not as shocking or there might have been some signs along the way. Either way they usually go through a period where there is a feeling of loss or a time of mourning.

“Watching people mourn the loss of you while you are standing right in front of them is a surreal experience that only someone who is transgender can truly understand.”

From my perspective as a transgender person, I must admit I am perplexed by the grieving period. Watching people mourn the loss of you while you are standing right in front of them is a surreal experience that only someone who is transgender can truly understand. It feels as if you are Patrick Swayze in the movie Ghost when he is trying to talk to Demi Moore, but she doesn’t see that he is there. Except in my case, I am trans girl and of course, I am not a ghost, but I guess in a way my former existence is.

The Perceptions of Loss When You Come out as Transgender-Ghost-Transgender Universe - Mila Madison talks about why friends and family often mourn a transgender person’s former existence in “The Weekly Rant”.

I am right here, living and breathing. I am the same person, with the same brain, thoughts, and experiences. To me the only thing that has changed is my gender presentation. But I also see myself as finally being alive, finally living that life, and no longer in denial about who I really am. I am no longer this miserable person who could not get out of their own way. The one who was too afraid to be whom they really were. I see myself as a better and more honest representation of who I am. I wish it were easier for everyone else to understand it as easily as I do now, but that is not realistic considering how long it took me to realize these things myself.

My problem is that I find it difficult to comprehend how others can be so attached to anyone’s gender. To me, it doesn’t make much sense because I know people who are all over the binary spectrum. I have non-binary friends where if I were attached to their gender presentation one day, I would be seriously disappointed the next when they presented otherwise. To me, the whole notion is silly, but I have been dealing with gender all my life. Most cisgender people never had to even think of it, and now when they do, particularly when it comes to a friend or family member, there is a sense of loss.

The Perceptions of Loss When You Come out as Transgender-Transgender Universe - Mila Madison talks about why friends and family often mourn a transgender person’s former existence in “The Weekly Rant”.

I must admit I often feel torn over this. Though I am lucky to have people around me who are accepting, I can sometimes sense the feeling of grief in their voice when I am speaking with them. Sometimes I just see it in their eyes. I have my daughters, and though we have evolved past some of the feelings of loss and our relationships have become even stronger, a part of me still feels horrible that they may feel the loss of having a male figure in their lives. On the other hand, I am proud to have raised strong women who realize that gender has nothing to do with one’s ability to be a good parent. They realize that all that matters is love, and though fitting in with society’s norms may be an easier road, the more difficult path bears fruit to a truly honest and unconditional love that many people never truly get to experience.

“Usually, we can easily accept someone’s changes in presentation without having to grieve, but when those perceived changes have to do with gender, it is a different story.”

However, I do find it a bit ridiculous that another person could mourn the fact that my gender is not what they thought it was. We all change throughout our lives, but usually we don’t mourn the fact that someone changes their hair color, or the way they dress in their day-today lives. We don’t grieve when someone loses 50 pounds or their old nose when they have a rhinoplasty. Usually, we can easily accept someone’s changes in presentation without having to grieve, but when those perceived changes have to do with gender, it is a different story. It is because our society is built around the concept of a binary existence. Ironically people see what I have gone through as change, but to me it was just an acceptance, a revelation of truth. I find myself feeling responsible for their sense of loss because previously I wasn’t honest with myself. If I were able to understand who I was and had I presented myself honestly all along, there wouldn’t have been anything to feel a sense of loss over.

The problem here is perspective. From the way I see it, the thought of mourning my former presentation is ridiculous, but that is because I am only able to look at it from the perspective of someone who is transgender. I am not able to understand this sense of loss. That is something only a cisgender person who going through these feelings can truly understand. Cisgender people don’t usually spend their whole lives wrestling with gender, so it is different from their perspective. In the end, just as much as being the one who is grieved while they are still alive is something only a transgender person can understand, the sense of loss that those around us are feeling is something your loved ones can only understand. As happy as I am now that I am living my truth, a part of me is still sorry for their loss.

  • Trace Elements

    As the mother of a trans son, I am familiar with this sense of grief that comes along with his transition. I absolutely still have the same wonderful human in my life, but I no longer feel free to discuss the little girl I raised, so in a sense it’s as if she if gone.

  • Susan Mallaun Gilleland

    I love this so much. Before my own son came out as transgender, I told a trans Facebook friend that I found it odd that his mother “mourned” his transition. It seemed almost offensive to me – not just to him, but to parents who have actually had children die. He told me he thought it was just something all parents went through – I told him I didn’t think I’d feel that way at all. A year later, my 14 year old told me he was transgender. I braced myself for the grief to hit – for the tears to flow – neither happened. I worked on pronouns, I got on the phone to make therapy and endocrinologist appointments, and I began researching top surgeons and legal name change processes. I never felt a loss. I never mourned. I felt joy that my son was able to determine what had felt “off” for so long, and that he was able to share it with us and to transition within the context of a loving and supportive family. What’s to grieve?

  • Trystlynn Barber

    Thank you for putting all of my thoughts, doubts and feelings over the past several months into such a tangible expression of words. The heart-wrenching process has been and still is very much a part of every day for me.

  • As a trans woman, I’ve experienced a little of this, but most of my friends seem pretty awesome and accepting so far.

  • Brandon Rauk-Mitchell

    I like the way you wrote this . you didn’t have a go , you simply stated and empythised . your a good role model

  • Diane Brown

    As we talked about at my last trans group meeting, my greatest detractors are those who had an investment in my former self namely family and my few friends. They couldn’t possibly see the person dying in my carefully constructed shell. When I tried to talk about it to them they got aggressive. When it started cracking they said nothing. When I finally came out it shouldn’t of been a surprise but it was and in their eyes. The shell is the person they knew and loved. Who is this ‘new’ person? They had no idea. They never knew me. This person had emotions and feelings and stood up for themselves. Someone [else] must be controlling them and they violently turned on anyone who supported me. They still cling to the hope that I’ll return to my shell. Not gonna happen.

  • Perceptions of loss? I envy your experience. The only thing I know is actual loss. Most everyone I know and family want nothing to do with me whatsoever. It wasn’t an adjustment, or a mourning. It was vile, hatred, and rage.

    • SharonAnne McC

      *
      Sara:

      This is not a happy ending.

      Loss of my own past – Nick / male? Nope. I take enjoyment in all my past.

      As far as loss of family, I absolutely agree with your sentiment. That I have.

      We apparently share similar experiences with loss of family. My immediate and extended families rejected me from my childhood days (from age 3) of ‘feminine protesting tantrums’ as the counsellors called them – they and family told me that I am the one who is crazy.

      Both my parents died relatively young; both hating me to their graves.

      My sister will have nothing to do with me. She created false impressions of me to her two children since their beginning. Unbeknownst to me, her son was recently here in the town where I reside; not once during those several weeks did he make any effort to contact me in any way, not even five minutes. I have a few living cousins; all will have no contact with me – some deny my existence.

      Those family antipathies mean that I must make my own ‘family’ as best as I can with friends whom I can find to share support and care for each other. I started with support groups as my best opportunity because we all experience the same issue of being trans.

      I can address my suspicions that my harsh experience is likely for the older generations – I am 60 years old, my sister is 62 years old, our living cousins are in their late-50s to 70s, their children are in their 30s and 40s. I see less detractors among the younger population – to their 20s; they are our community’s hope for the future of us all.

      *

  • SharonAnne McC

    *

    I began my transition at age 18 in 1974. I present the long-term perspective of more than 40 years.

    I can only write from my experience but maybe my experience will help both the trans person and their family and friends.

    Allow me to submit that I was myself one who adamantly rejected my own prior self (Nick, male) for many years. I promptly, eagerly did that ‘Nick is dead’ routine. Maybe time eased my feelings, maybe age and years to see in review allows me to mellow in nostalgia. I learned to accept my past; I am at ease talking of Nick and my life as male with friends who know and accept me.

    Of course, I have many people in my life who do not know of my transition. The context of our relationship never brought about my necessity to introduce myself to them with the preface that I am trans – it is my medical privacy. Thus, with them, I reveal my past as ‘modified interpretation’: I substitute Nick’s life for a closely-comparable Sharon while omitting male-specific activities (e.g., playing Little League baseball).

    Either way, my prior – Nick – never died and requires no mourning. He remains alive as part of my living Sharon.

    *

  • Sara van der Merwe

    When I came out, my mom cried. She told me she needed to mourn her ‘son.’ She refused to let me transition until she was ready, not that I listened to her. To this day, she wishes I’d go back to before because although she accepts me as her daughter, she still wants me as her son. At least she does accept me, though. The rest of my family hates me. My father, old friends, everyone. I had to start over by moving to a more progressive city here.

  • Great article. Loved how you brought it all together. And, thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

    I’ve known basically all my life that I was not a male. I fought it by trying to destroy the woman in me by doing all the manly man things a person could do in one’s life. I accidentally discovered a way to live authentically in the early 2000’s and began transitioning in secret around 2009/2010. My ex, who is my best friend ever, and my four children knew something was up with their dad, but were not sure what.

    After nearly dying twice by doing some really stupid stuff to myself (ie overloading on phytoestrogens then later adding to that non-prescribed estrogens and testosterone blockers), I decided to live completely openly and honestly – in a big way. After seeing a therapist who immediately sent me to the KU Women’s Center with instructions to officially and legally start estrogen and spiro in March of 2016, I announced to the world in a front page story in the local newspaper and also immediately changed my name and gender markers on Facebook.

    There were two reactions of consequence from my big re-introduction: some did tell me that they needed to grieve the old me, others were immediately fine with it – those being my ex and children and some others. My college classmates all wanted to make sure I was fine and had support. Others rejected me outright – some even saying I needed to get a shotgun and blow my head off (cousins). Only one of my siblings talks with me. I have five. My mom will talk with me, but only because I am her child. She is not nor will ever accept me as me.

    These are difficult things to go through. I am so sorry that they feel the way they do> I can not help it though – I must be real to me, or be dead to me. There is no choice.

    I will be 58 in May this year. It is tough, but life is better. In july of this year I will give away my daughter in Tuscaloosa Alabama as I and her son (my grandson) walk them down the aisle – as me.

    Please, if you are having difficulty with your transition, please reach out to someone. Reach out to me if you want. I will listen and understand. Hugs and God Bless you

  • For a married partner, yes, there is a very material loss. For a relationship that is based at least in part upon sexual and romantic attraction, that aspect of your partnership, the pair bond, gradually disintegrates when your partner transitions away from their perceived gender. It really is a significant change of the person you fell in love with in the first place; and even when you still love the person and stick by them, your relationship with them is never the same.

  • Interestingly enough, as a cisgender person, I’ve just had an experience that makes me understand this feeling of loss somewhat. My grandfather just recently died, bringing out of the woodwork relatives I hadn’t seen in some time. One of them was my cousin, a boy I remember as clean-shaven and a bit pudgy. He now is thin as a rake with facial hair. I found myself feeling not so much a sense of nostalgia at how much we’d both grown, but a loss to the world of that pudgy boy, who clearly grew well beyond that stage and into someone I had no feeling of connection to anymore. That, to me, is the little bit of “mourning” I feel when close friends transition (and I have had a few who have). It’s a change in presentation similar to, and in some respects larger than, my cousin’s…A change that not only changes the look of a person, but changes the type of person they show themselves to be. Suddenly, you are dealing with a person who has a male perspective rather than a female one, or vice versa or anything in between, and while for the trans person this is perfectly natural, you as a side character of their life have never before thought of them as having that perspective. It’s a shift in thought. Now, when I think of my cousin as a child, I think of that child as preparation for becoming his Bostonian, slightly shy, novelist self, with the facial hair and thinness, instead of seeing him as he was, a baseball-playing, outgoing kid. And I will never be able to think of him as that baseball-playing, outgoing kid again, even though five seconds before I met him at Monday’s funeral I absolutely did think of him that way. It’s a loss, because you realize that the perceptions you had of the person not only have to shift, but in some cases are no longer true. Most of the way we see people, is built up in our own heads. No one knows another person completely. It may be silly to feel loss over an image we created falsely, but if it was the only image we had, the only way we had to think of a person, sometimes you can’t help it. You lose some of the connection you felt you had to them, because your perception of them was so, so far off. But of course, most of the time it isn’t that far off…If you’ve been a close friend, then probably that person has been more or less themselves with you the whole time. So in my case, I’ve been able to quickly get over that little feeling, connect with friends again and understand they’re basically the same person as before, much more the same than my cousin and his former 8-year-old self. But I can see where it might hit some people harder…Especially depending on just how much the transgender person has been working to hide their true gender identity from loved ones, in the past, for whatever reason.

  • Andre Leonard

    The stories here run the gamut of love and acceptance, to shame and denial. Yet everyone is different in how they will accept ‘change/s’ and their coping mechanism.

    In the end, one must only be true to oneself. Family is nice, but in the end, if your disinherited, distanced or abandoned. Oh well. You cannot please everyone. Nor should you try. Life is a rather short season. Happiness is along the journey (yours).

  • Emily Wells

    When I started my transitioning one of my teenage (almost adult age) sons sometimes acted in a very negative and somewhat aggressive manner towards me. I knew that this was part of his coping strategies from grief and loss, so to keep the peace I merely accepted his behaviour in a submissive fashion.

    However, his negativity and aggressiveness increased in frequency and intensity and he started directing this towards his mother as well. Eventually my tolerance ran somewhat low and I tuned and said to him with a more authoritative tone, ‘Boy! Just what is your problem anyway!”. I read the shock of being challenged on his face and his response in a more meekly fashion was, “There is just too many soft female parents in this house.”

    Realisation dawned and I knew that he was missing that strong and dominating Cis-male persona who was also the disciplinary person within the family unit. I guess he felt with that person gone there was no one to keep him in line, so working with his mother we commenced challenging any bad behaviour. I also realised that I needed to stop feeling so guilty for transitioning and not be so meek and apologetic for being whom I really am.

    Yes, the sense of grief is felt strongly by your family left in your wake as you transition is very real; And I think the grief is made harder because as the real person starts to be and shines through, there are no goodbyes to the persona that was like there would be if there was an actual funeral.

  • Ettina

    “just as much as being the one who is grieved while they are still alive is something only a transgender person can understand”

    Actually, people with disabilities sometimes experience this too. Many parents and other loved ones mourn when someone they love is diagnosed with a disability – even when they’ve had it all along.

    At least for autistic people, there’s also another thing that can happen that is an even closer parallel. Autistic people are pressured to act neurotypical, which I think is similar in effect to being trans and acting like your AGAB. (I’m cis autistic, so take that with a grain of salt.) Even I got it a little, but many get it way more. A few are so successful at this act that they even get declared ‘cured’.

    But it’s still an act. And eventually, most autistic people either voluntarily give up the act or else get too exhausted to continue. Whatever the reason, when the act falls, they suddenly start seeming a lot more autistic, which can be very upsetting or confusing for loved ones who didn’t realize that the ‘cure’ was just an act.

  • jme1978

    Post transition and several years later i sometimes think about those days of loss and for me, my feelings today or perhaps better…my perspective has changed.

    Everyones transition is unique. And different. As unique as you are. So what you learn is very personal.

    In my life, i found MANY things changed about me personallly. I was NOT the same person. Transition evolved me. I found my priorities were different. My wants and needs had shuffled. Food tastes, reading material, health and fitness regimes. Even parts of my personality to past friends had sufficiently changed to be noticeable.

    I wasnt very sexual prior to transition. But i was hetero and as a guy with enough testosterone to matter…was attracted to my opposite. And i dated women. And i socialized with guy friends. As best i could anyway.

    Post transition…i stayed straight. Meaning attracted to my opposite. No longer ruled by testosterone and the changes psychologically and physically…suddenly guys started to smell nice. And look cute. In ways i never saw before. And a need or want to enjoy their company in ways i never before even felt an inkling of desire for tbh.

    Well its not hard to see that with all these very profound changes, how can any relationship i once had be expected to carry on? Socially my priorities are different. I cant go play pool or have a beer with guy friends anymore because i dont have in my brain …a wish to. Nor can i even see those guys the way i once did. I would fail at satisfying myself and their needs completely during those bonding times.

    Thats just one aspect or example i guess. Im not the same person. That person i once was is gone. And with it…gone are the relationships built from that persons personality and needs.

    The losses were a difficult stage. But i think necessary and normal. Always the possibility to maybe reacquaint old friends under new terms but generally i found that problematic. I ended up making new friends for the most part.

  • lanajwoolf

    As a parent of a trans son – I was quite surprised at my feelings of loss and mourning when my son came out. I realise that this loss is a loss of a perceived notions of solidarity of identity! That I had a ‘special connection’ based on our (previously) shared identities of indigenous-women-of colour- that are -lesbians- Really marginalised and oppressed identities, when put together there are not many of us! There are maybe 300K women of my ethnic identity – a handful of from that are lesbians – I imagined that my son would have become the matriarch of my family – now I wonder if I will have a granddaughter to pass the strong women of colour traditions onto. I love my son – and we do have a special relationship based on love and respect and all sorts of things – but I am definitely mourning the story of what I imagined would be…