Good Mourning

An online friend on Mastodon posted the following:

Some cis people mourn who a person was when they transition.

What they don't seem to grasp is that we mourn too.

In much the same way you might mourn if you woke up to learn that you were in a coma for two or three decades.

You're awake and alive, and existing now, but what of the life that would have been?

This is so important to understand. This topic usually comes up in the context of a parent mourning the loss of a son or daughter who is transitioning. The parent may feel that their son has died and have trouble recognizing their new daughter.

This is a completely natural and understandable reaction. How the parent deals with it is the big issue. Does the parent deny the daughter? Does the parent welcome the daughter with joy and open arms? Does the parent have compassion for their child and help them through the transition, love and support them and think of their child’s well-being before their own. Do they have the maturity and self-confidence to realize that their child is not doing this to hurt the parent or embarrass the parent. Does the parent have the ability to deal with their own feelings while also helping their child?

As a parent my instinct is to protect my child against every danger in the world. My kids are grown and have moved out on their own, yet this instinct remains and I have to restrain myself from trying to fix everything and let them do it and learn how to be confident and self-reliant adults in the world. But I am always there for them.

A parent who thinks that their own feelings about their child are more important than the child’s own feelings about itself are narcissists. I can hear the phrases, “Why are you doing this to me?”, “What will the neighbors think?”, “What do I tell Aunt Karen?”, “Why are you being so selfish?”, ”You killed my son.”, “My son is dead”. None of these things do anything other than hurt the child.

I feel a better way to frame it is to realize my child has been suffering for so long. If they had any other long term medical issue, I would not be angry at them. I would not try to talk or threaten them out of being sick. I would seek professional help and do everything I could to help my child.

Much of this attitude comes from ignorance. Ignorance just means not knowing something and is understandable, as long as they seek to learn the truth. A parent that refuses to learn, or refuses to accept the truth of gender dysphoria is directly harming their child.

But, few people understand that the trans person also mourns. They mourn the loss of what could have been. If you are lucky enough to have realized your reality at an early age and were encouraged and supported in your gender exploration and presentation, you don’t have as much to miss.

Those of us who were unable to face their gender issues until adulthood, in my case, my 50s, have missed plenty. I grew up a boy. I did boy things, I wore boy clothes, played with boy toys, played boy sports, and was a Boy Scout. At the time I didn’t know any different. I didn’t mind these things, and some of them I enjoyed, but I was never happy, never satisfied, never content. I was not able to form deep meaningful relationships with friends. I knew there was something wrong with me and I was afraid of opening myself up to anyone. At the time I told myself I was boring and overweight, and no one would be interested in spending time with me.

I realize now that I didn’t know who I was. I wasn’t me, the all American boy. I was a confused kid. I spent my life feeling that; Insecure, unsure of myself and my place in the world. When finally, in my 50s, the truth broke through. I finally realized who and what I was. I was a woman, I should have grown up as a girl, and suddenly it all made sense. All those puzzle pieces fell into place. I now knew why I was so out of it as a kid and through the rest of my life.

Here’s where we get to the mourning. I began to realize all the experiences I missed growing up. I didn’t get to do the girl stuff. I didn’t make friends with other girls, have the sleep overs, learn the behaviors and mannerisms of being a girl. I didn’t get to learn all that fun girl stuff, like fashion and makeup along with the not so fun stuff, like heartbreak and periods and so on. Of course, I am not reducing girlhood to these few things, I am trying to give some examples.

I realized that I will never get those experiences. I will never know what it is like to be a young girl, a teenage girl, a young adult woman and an adult woman. I now hopefully get the chance to experience being a mature woman. I particularly think about my high school and college years. That is the time for lots of confusion and problems, but also joy and freedom. I had a ’79 Jeep CJ-7 that I loved and always had the image of driving with the top down and my long hair blowing in the wind, looking good, feeling good. Doing that as a boy was great, but not the same in any way.

One TV show that appealed to me back then was the Mary Tyler Moore Show. That is who I wanted to be. That was the life I wanted; a young, single, confident, capable, and intelligent woman. Needless to say, I missed out on that fantasy. My daughter is living that now and I am envious of her and I support her as much as possible.

The feeling of missing out on a childhood, lost experiences never to be found, is real and painful. It really is mourning a lost life. Parents, friends and others should be aware of this and be supportive.

The joy a trans person experiences when they accept themselves is profound. They may appear almost giddy and full of life. But underneath, next to the fear of coming out and the reactions of the outside world, is also the disappointment of realizing all they missed out on in their life. While they are celebrating the birth of their new self, they are mourning the lost childhood they never got to know.