acceptance, allies, beliefs, children, coming out, Counselor, culture, death, dying, Enterprise, family, family member, friends, GoFundMe, hate, Helen Boyd, Holy Spirit, indignity, James T Kirk, Jennifer Gable, Kobayashi Maru, Leslie Fabian, MTF, no-win scenario, parents, rejection, religion, siblings, spouse, Star Fleet Academy, Star Trek, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, strategy, support, TDOR, therapist, Transgender, Transition, Transsexual, vulnerable, Wife
I am old enough to remember when the original three seasons of Star Trek were on television in the 1960’s. The hard core following of fans (Trekkies) eventually led to movies featuring the original cast, a number of new television series that were sequels plus one prequel, and more recently an alternate reality Star Trek. It has been an impressive run for the franchise.
The Kobayashi Maru test was not introduced until the movie “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”. But it has been revisited a number of times since then in Star Trek literature, video games and even the alternate reality.
In brief, this test was designed by Star Fleet Academy to see how their cadets would react to a “no-win” scenario. There was not supposed to be any way to pass the test in the sense of achieving both of the desired outcomes (rescuing a civilian ship in distress in the neutral zone and preserving the Enterprise and the lives of the crew members).
Eventually, it is learned during Wrath of Khan that Kirk was the only person in Star Fleet Academy history to pass the test. He did so by secretly reprogramming the computer prior to taking the test. Rather than being punished for cheating, he received a commendation for original thinking. However, he is accused at a later date of having cheated death rather than facing it.
Whether it is large or small, most of us have a family. For those of us who are transsexual, intertwined in making the decision to transition is deciding whether to tell our family members. Associated with the decision to come out is the expectation of rejection.
This is the source of Kobayashi Maru for us: that sense that we are in a no-win situation when we come out to family members. We are faced with not two but three choices that appear to be less than satisfactory: tell our family and be rejected; quietly leave our family so they feel rejected and don’t know why it happened; grit our teeth and suffer in silence as we hide our secret behind a mask as we deny ourselves and fend off transitioning.
Like the Kobayashi Maru, each of these choices carries with it a sense of dying. In the first two choices, we die to family. The only difference is who makes the choice to pull the plug. In the third choice we die to self, a little bit more each day. But in some ways, the third choice is an illusion. For most of us, our self-preservation instincts kick in and we narrow the test down to the first two choices. We realize that it is transition or die. But in the saddest cases of all, the trans person chooses physical death. In tragic irony, to spare one’s family of losing the child, sibling, parent or spouse they thought they knew, they cause that very loss.
Family rejection is all too real. This week, you may have read the story of Jennifer Gable. At age 32, Jennifer was suddenly struck down a few weeks ago by a brain aneurysm that occurred without warning. In life, her family rejected her. But an even greater indignity occurred when she died. Her birth family was able to determine how she was treated post mortem. In her obituary, her funeral, her final resting, they denied that Jennifer ever existed. All references to her used the male name she had rejected. For the final viewing and burial, they had her hair cut short and had her dressed in male clothes. In her obituary, they only referred to events that occurred during the portion of her life when she was in her male persona. They covered up anything about her female persona, even though her transition occurred when she was in her twenties. The only pronouns used to refer to her are male.
When we observed TDOR in recent days, we were reminded anew of the indignities that are perpetrated upon those of us in the transgender community and our allies, indignities that accompany the taking of lives. And now we read of a family so hateful toward their own daughter that they would extend those indignities into the grave.
A friend of Jennifer has created a fund to try to set things right. For those of you who believe that this is a worthy cause to consider, here is a link to its GoFundMe page:
And if you want to read the full story on Yahoo, here is the story link:
So far I have painted the bleakest picture. Not every family rejects. In rare but joyful cases, the entire family accepts and embraces their trans family member. Hopefully, this is happening more often, especially with the families of transgender children who come out.
Then, there are the cases where the reaction is mixed. Some accept and some do not. Yes, that might mean increased family tension, but at least the transitioning person has some family members to lean on.
If surveys have been done in terms of which family members are most likely to be accepting, I am not aware of them. There’s little point in speculating on who is more likely to be accepting. Would mother be more likely than father? Does birth order or the gender of the siblings play a role? Ultimately, all that matters is the individual trans person’s experience. The sample size equals one. How the family reacts trumps the statistics.
People generally want to protect the children. And yet they may be the most resilient and understanding of all the family members. Once again, which ones will accept and which ones will not is guesswork. And it should be remembered that for all family members, the initial reaction may not be the final one. Someone who initially rejects may come around in time.
There are also external factors that influence the decision to acceptance or rejection. In particular, we can look to the categories of culture and religion. Decisions are made in an atmosphere of national beliefs and sometimes regional beliefs. They are made in light of their family’s spiritual beliefs. And it also depends upon whether the family member tends to conform to or rebel against their family’s norms.
I have saved one family member for last. I did so because this family member’s reaction is the most important in terms of future family stability. I did so because this person is a strong influence on the couple’s children. And I did so because this person is the most likely to be negative. I am talking about the spouse.
I am not familiar with any details of an FTM transsexual who was married to a man prior to transition. But I know a few MTF transsexuals who were married to a woman prior to transition. I know some whose marriages ended, some whose marriages are in the process of ending, some who are keeping a marriage together during transition (for some it is a struggle), and some who are facing what might happen to their marriage once they start transition.
This is the relationship that appears to have the most difficult time surviving. Typical comments from the wife are, “I didn’t sign up for this,” or “I’m not a lesbian,” or “I thought I married a man, not a woman.” This is where the no-win situation is the most frequent and most obvious. Transition and the spouse’s reaction to it often splits the marriage apart and leaves little common ground on which to stand. It is a profoundly grievous situation.
Even sadder is when a spouse feels justified in turning the children against the transitioning parent. Of course, we must remember that this often happens during the divorce of a cisgender couple. But it is especially hard on a transgender parent who usually is much more vulnerable and suffering loss from many directions.
Again, I will point out that some marriages do survive, at least in some form. Helen Boyd has written two books about her continuing marriage with a transsexual husband. More recently, Leslie Fabian has written a book in support of her trans husband, describing the three year process of struggling to be accepting and supportive to actually falling in love all over again with the person she married. But they are examples of the exception, not the rule. A husband’s transition is often too much for “till death do us part” and “unconditional love” to bear. And I even know of cases where the wife willingly admits that her husband has become a better person by casting off her mask and becoming her true self, yet still struggles to find a way to stay in the relationship.
Is there a way to implement the Kirk solution to the Kobayashi Maru for transsexuals? If there is, I don’t see it. When a transsexual comes out to family members, people are involved, not computers. But I do have some suggestions.
First, make any amends with loved ones that are due them. Do not require them to do so in return. I am not advising you to ACT like a better person. I am counseling you to BE a better person. Hopefully accepting your true self will help accomplish that. The closer you are to transition, the shorter your time to do this and some may be suspicious of your motives anyway. But it could help with some family members.
Second, plan an overall strategy. In what order do you tell people? Come out first to adults who are most likely to be supportive and an ally with other family members. Come out last to those who are either least likely to be supportive or who are most likely to gossip to other family members that you would prefer to tell yourself. Minor children will almost certainly require some negotiation with your spouse as to how and when they will be told, including who else needs to be present. Some may forbid the children being told at all. This area is especially likely to require help from your therapist/counselor.
Third, tailor your approach to the individual family member. I only needed to come out to one immediate family member, but I did also come out to a close cousin. And while I had to tell some clients and friends in a mass mailing due to time and geography limitations, I did tell a number of others in person. Their attention span, my awareness of their beliefs, my estimation of their likelihood of accepting and any other personal knowledge I had about them all went into tailoring my approach. When I was less confident during my early attempts, I relied more on third party material in case I became nervous. But I also had to guard against overconfidence when things started to go well. And if you like to joke around, you may need to curb it somewhat, and especially be on guard against a joke which could be misinterpreted and bring out the “icky” factor in the other person.
Finally, as a Christian, I relied on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. My own gender counselor closely questioned the decision on who to come out to first in my apartment building. It proved to yield many benefits far beyond where I live. Some of my TG friends initially chided me for being overly cautious and analytical. They later acknowledged how it led to my success. I was following the Spirit’s guidance in these matters.
On an even more personal note, the close family member I mentioned is my brother. Because we had other differences to patch up, I just came out to him two weeks ago. He is struggling with the news, but reports from his wife and from one of my cousins make me hopeful that things will work out.
Let brotherly love continue. – Hebrews 13:1