The decision to transition rather than staying in the closet carries both joy and pain. While relieving burdens, and bringing joy and lightness into our lives, we are also faced with the loss of relationships, discrimination in the workplace, businesses, and other areas of our lives, and microaggressions from those who don’t understand, and perhaps may not want to.
Yesterday was my nephew’s 8th birthday. He was born 2 days after my high school graduation, and he was the first of my nieces and nephews. He made me an uncle. And ever since he was born, I have felt the need to protect and care for him. He brought so much joy and love into my life. But his father and I had a tumultuous relationship. My brother is a fundamentalist in his approach to religion and Catholicism, and uses his faith as a bludgeon to condemn others. When my nephew was born, I knew I was queer, but did not know I was trans. I also knew that disclosing my queerness and living openly would mean losing contact with him and any other nieces and nephews I might have in the future.
So my journey to coming into myself was delayed. I wanted to be there for my nieces and nephews, and so I pushed who I was deep down, until I no longer could. The first time I came out to my brother, as a lesbian when I thought that was the accurate term, he cut me out of his life. He let me back in on the condition that I remain in the closet around his children, and because of my love for them, I chose to put my own happiness and health on the back burner to be there for them, and to protect and care for them as best I could.
I spent a couple years dating women as a cisgender woman, all the while having questions about my gender but ignoring them, until I went on a date with a trans woman, and the pieces started coming together for me. All this time, something had felt wrong. I thought dating women would make my life feel like mine. I thought that I’d somehow feel less like I was performing my life rather than living it. The reality was that nothing had changed. And the reason was that I wasn’t a queer woman, I was a queer man.
The decision to socially, legally, and medically transition, did not come easily for me. I knew what risks I was taking. And I struggled with what it would mean in terms of my relationships, especially those with my nieces and nephews who had already been born and who I’d already developed relationships with, as well as my ability to meet and be a part of the lives of those who had yet to come. I waited until I no longer could for my brother to find out, and then, I had to radically accept that as long as they were children, I would never get to see them again, or be a part of their lives.
My nephew’s birthday continues to be a challenge for me. Every year on that day, I tend to find myself struggling emotionally, mourning the loss of the relationship I had with him. Of all my nieces and nephews, he and I were the closest, because I was able to bond with him before my brother began to become more and more radicalized and homophobic/transphobic, before I was permanently cut out of their lives.
I also know that despite the costs that have come with transition, I never would have survived a life living as a woman. Transition was a medical necessity. It was something I needed to be able to survive. The person I was before I came out as trans, before I started going by Zach, before I transitioned in any way, was a facade. She was a performance, perhaps the most convincing one I’ve ever given, but a performance nonetheless. She doesn’t exist. And much like an unexpected oasis in the desert, she was a mirage.
I love my nieces and nephews. I miss them. I wish I could be a part of their lives. But my health, my happiness, my well-being, matter far too much for me to put myself at risk in order to maintain those relationships.
Ultimately, I chose me. I chose my happiness. I chose my sanity. I chose my well-being. I chose my health and my safety. Because what other choice do we have? Transition is about living as our authentic selves. And I would rather live as my authentic self than spend one more moment living a life that was a lie or a convincing performance.
Transition for me, has been absolutely essential to my recovery. And though May 31st may continue to be a difficult day for me, I can’t blame myself. The only choice we ever have is whether we want to live our truths, or live a lie for the benefit of others. I choose the former.
Moving forward in recovery and wellness together,
If you’d like to help support this project and the author in this journey to become a clinician and provide mental health services to underrepresented and marginalized groups, check out this page.
It must be noted that Zachary Reinstatler is not a clinician or mental health professional and cannot provide any kind of clinical or therapeutic services. Please seek professional help if you are in need. And check out our resources page for more information.