The moment my ex told me he was transgender was one of the most painful moments of my life.
As soon as he uttered the words, I looked into his eyes and knew he was about to embark on the most difficult journey of his life. He had come to acknowledge a truth that would force him onto a path most of us will never truly understand.
While I knew little about the process, I knew it would be fraught with ridicule, judgment, self-discovery and intense pain.
In that moment, he was saying, “I know my truth now; either I face it or I choose to never truly live.”
I could see the fear in his eyes and feel the pain in his heart.
He had established himself as one of the best in his field: a lifesaver, an inventor, a mind to be heralded, yet, he was willing to risk it all for the one chance he had been given to be authentic.
At his admission, I felt his pain as my own.
As a lesbian, I had known a version of that pain. I had come out some 17 years prior and experienced the discrimination and ignorance of many well-meaning heterosexual friends and family members.
Now, I found myself on the other side. While I wanted to understand his struggle, I could not personally relate. I was forced to accept that my understanding was not necessary to validate his reality.
I responded by saying, “Then, let’s do this. We will figure it out.”
And we did.
My ex husband is the bravest, most beautiful man I have ever met. He acknowledged his story and chose to face the unknown with only one assurance: It was his only chance to live, come what may. He had our three sons to consider.
How do you teach your children to follow their own truth if you are not willing to follow your own?
While I had a front row seat, I do not pretend to know what it is like to be transgender. I will never experience the fear of that moment of self-realization, but I was fortunate enough to be his partner during the most challenging phase of his life.
Here is what I can tell you about transgender people as a result:
All transgender people who make the incredible decision to come out, choose to confront the most ingrained beliefs of our society.
From the moment of our births, we are placed into centuries old gender boxes.
Our sex determines the adjectives used to describe us within our first hours of birth: strong, beautiful, handsome, fragile, tough, soft,…
Over the next six weeks, he used his practical engineer brain to construct a plan of action. He set up a meeting with his HR department at work, wrote bullet point notes to use when telling family and close friends, and we began choosing his new name.
While watching him come to that realization was painful, as someone who was in love with him, the hardest was yet to come.
Over the next 18 months, I would watch him grow into his real being.
As I celebrated every milestone with him: the slow, yet obvious change in his voice, the joy that began to creep into his smile, the overwhelming acceptance at work, and ultimately his top surgery, I was also watching the love of my life fade away.
I watched the love of my life both fade away and grow into his his actualized self.
Honestly, it was nothing short of heart wrenching to watch.
Selfishly, I questioned our past together.
But, eventually I have found my way to a higher state of understanding: Transgender people are the most real among us. While most of us attempt to appease others, they are the renegades, hell-bent on living authentic lives the rest of us can only dream of.
Tonight I received pictures of my three boys’ Halloween costumes from him. One was dressed in a muscular Black Panther costume, another was decked out as Spider-Man and the third was draped in ornate Link garb from Zelda.
However, what all three of them will learn is that the real superhero is their Dad.
As I write this, our President is attempting to force all of us and those we love into manufactured gender classifications that serve to only invalidate and disconnect us from our authentic selves.
As he tries to disregard and eliminate yet another colorful square in our American tapestry, we have a responsibility to reach out to our transgender and nonbinary brothers and sisters and say: Thank you to all who have and will brave the systematic oppression working to silence you.
You Are Who Make America Great!