By Lisa P.
An article by Ellen (“Ellie”) Krug in a magazine I saw entitled “Transgender Persons: Understanding Human Authenticity” got me thinking. Ellie said in that article that she had married her soul mate (a high school classmate), gone to law school, remained married for 32 years, adopted two beautiful daughters, owned a house in the best neighborhood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had a country club membership and had her own civil trial firm (and successful trial practice). She fought dysphoria her entire life and finally had a moment of truth imagining herself on her deathbed. She said she realized that although she had all the love she needed and personal riches to go with it, she would always think of herself as a coward for not being her authentic (female) self. Her mantra became “human authenticity will not leave you alone until you listen to it.” I found her book on the subject, Getting to Ellen, both interesting and disquieting. She writes extremely well and you may wish to read it yourself to learn the full story from her own pen.
I also heard an interview on National Public Radio of Paula Stone Williams, the evangelical pastor who transitioned and now leads Left Hand Church in Colorado (among other things). She has written a book called “As a Woman” (published by Simon & Shuster and available on Amazon) about what transitioning has taught her about the male power structure. It too is extremely well-written and readable and is highly recommended, especially but not exclusively if you are a person of faith.
The words Paula uses in her book relating to this question of authenticity are: “living is serious business, and we are pilgrims, called by our better angels to live authentically.” With that backdrop, it is not surprising to hear Paula say in the NPR interview that she had left her marriage because she needed to live authentically. Paula described the final meeting with her marriage therapist, who told her and her wife that they were among the 1% of couples who make it as far as they had. But, the therapist also observed that Paula is a lesbian, and her wife is not, so it just couldn’t work for them to remain married. That statement hit me particularly hard, because I have no physical attraction to men myself (indeed, I am only interested in an intimate relationship with my wife), and because my wife actually said to me during one of our heart-to-hear talks, that “I am not a lesbian, and I can’t think of myself that way.” I understand her dilemma — you can’t have two women in a sexual relationship if one of them doesn’t want an intimate relationship with a woman.
Back to Ellie’s mantra, which Paula’s interview comments and book excerpt would seem to support:
I admit that I can’t dispute at least part of her statement. My gender dysphoria definitely won’t leave me alone. I must rhetorically ask, however, whether I must listen to it (which would require transitioning) simply because it won’t leave me alone.
There is more to my life than listening to whatever is demanding my attention, inwardly or outwardly. When I got married, not only did I pledge my life figuratively to my new wife, but I also made a promise in my heart, that I have never told anyone (including her). I told myself that if my love was real, I would be willing to sacrifice my life for hers. I didn’t mean that in a figurative sense. I meant that I told myself that I would actually allow myself to die if that protected the love of my life. That promise has left me willing to do anything for my wife. And, while I wish she wouldn’t have asked me to do it, she asked me to stay in the closet as a transgender person. Admittedly, it just about kills me at times, as dysphoria can and does demand a lot of attention. I live with pain, both physically and mentally. But (and this is a big “but”), I will never regret for a minute staying married to my wife, because I love her and I am continuing to follow an overarching principle that is one of my life’s guiding lights. It may be that the stress of being in the closet will cause me to die prematurely (in fact, I would say that outcome is possible, as my doctors tell me that my current ailments are made more acute by stress). Yet, I will not stray from my determination to stick by the promise I made to myself.
In seeking some further understanding of authenticity, I recently read an essay by Christopher Collins entitled “The Five Qualities of an Authentic Person.” Collins writes about what it means to live authentically (note that the essay was not written specifically for a TG audience). His short essay defined authentic in multiple ways, but the author’s favorite was: “representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.” I like that definition because it emphasizes that a person can be authentic even if she is not representing her true nature as long as she is representing her true beliefs. I know I have been true to my beliefs even if those beliefs cause me to not be true to my nature.
I should add that Collins’ essay goes on to say that if you desire authenticity you should: (i) be true to yourself, (ii) think inward, look outward, (iii) treat others with kindness and respect, (iv) live in the moment and be a great listener, and (v) be open-minded and fair to opportunities and people. The great thing about that formulation is that we can do all those things whether we transition or not. I see Kandi living that way, and I think I do it as well. Fundamentally, that means we can choose to live authentically even when we present in male mode, don’t tell others about who we are as women or even live full-time as women.
We all know that our fundamental nature is immutable; being transgender is not our choice. As Ellie and Paula, Kandi and I would all say: “I am real.” Because I am real, I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect for who I am. Most importantly, I deserve to be treated as a human being, just like everyone else, and not as someone’s worst nightmare. I want that treatment for myself and for all of you who identify as transgender, regardless of how you present yourselves to the world.
My own truth is that how I live as a woman in this world is my choice. I absolutely respect, admire and applaud Ellie and Paula for living their own authenticity by transitioning. But, I couldn’t help but notice that to accomplish their goals, Ellie and Paula had to sacrifice their soul mates. They had to put their own future hopes and dreams ahead of the hopes and dreams of their soul mates. By doing that, I do think they made choices. I don’t know how their mental health would have been affected without those choices and therefore I refuse to judge either Ellie or Paula. Regardless of the reasons, for each of them, the right choice was made. Moreover, as Ellie relates, she knows that on her deathbed she will be able to say, “I did it – I lived authentically.” To further reflect her thinking, she will be able to confirm to herself that she was not a coward.
Admittedly, I will not be able to say on my deathbed that I lived completely authentically (at least not in the way Ellie defines the term). Yet, I can assure you that I will have no regrets. I know I will be able to say, “I did it – I honored the promise I made to myself and gave the love of my life, my life! Is living my true beliefs the act of a coward? I don’t think so. I may continue to lie about my true nature, but I feel incredibly powerful and even courageous for living my true beliefs, for “No greater love has a man than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends.” My wife is my best friend and I gladly give her my life.
In the end: – “Ya gots to work with what you gots to work with.” (Stevie Wonder)