All too often I hear partners and family members of transgender folks talk about all the things that they fear about transition. Being rejected from social groups, extended family or places of worship. The fear of financial deprivation due to you or your partner losing a job. Fear of what the neighbors might say or do. Fear that physical harm may befall their transgender partner or spouse. Fear of hormones and surgeries. Fearing their own reaction to their partner dressed as their true and authentic self. The fear of what some people call “death of their sex life.” The fear of not being able to have children. It is all truly depressing, however, it has prompted me to do some more research on the subject.
The definition of fear reads like this: FEAR- an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. This makes complete sense in my brain when I think about getting on a roller coaster (Never liked them, never will). To me, a roller coaster was putting myself in unnecessary danger of being injured. I just can’t wrap my head around the notion that this type of entertainment is fun. To me, I think this definition is useless when thinking about the fears I hear from people about transition. So I went to check out what Psychology Today had to say about fear at psychologytoday.com, and I think it hits the nail right on the head.
All About Fear
Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger—if we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from life-or-death, and thus hang back for no good reason. Traumas or bad experiences can trigger a fear response within us that is hard to quell. Yet exposing ourselves to our personal demons is the best way to move past them.
They also had a list of the five real fears.
Extinction– the fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist.
Mutilation– the fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure.
Loss of autonomy– the fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, imprisoned, smothered, or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control.
Separation– the fear of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness.
Ego-death– the fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the self.
So what is it that we are really afraid of? Surely, if our partner or spouse transitions we will not die or be physically hurt. Our extended family members and children are not in any physical danger. So what then? Each of us needs to look inward to examine our own feelings. Pin point which of the five fears best fits us and then search for ways to overcome them. Personally, I identify with two of the five fears, but as long as my heart is pumping, I will fight them off. I saw a quote about a year and a half ago on a social media site and screenshot it so I could save it to my phone and look back at it when I needed a little inspiration. I use it constantly when talking with my children or my students. “Feel the fear, but do it anyway.”
When examining my own fears, I must say that the number one would be losing my spouse to suicide. If I asked her not to transition because I couldn’t live with a woman or that it made me uncomfortable, or because my parents and friends would not approve, chances are that she would take her own life. More parents, siblings, children, and partners need to understand the real fear in transitioning is NOT transitioning. I know for me if one of us lost our job we would find a way to pay our bills and feed our children. If my neighbors want to stand on the corner and shit talk me, I can live through it. If great Aunt Betty never wants to speak to me again, I’m pretty sure I will live. However, if I had come home and found my spouse dead at her own hand, that would destroy me. Find empathy and try to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine waking up one morning and finding the wrong genitalia when you go to the bathroom, or what it feels like to be trapped in a room alone. For one second make your partner’s feelings a priority. When we understand each other’s struggles we can then work toward a common goal. If there is love and commitment in your relationship, fear can surely be conquered.