Matt Kailey is a transman living in Denver, Colorado, and an author, public speaker, and trainer on transgender issues. He blogs at Tranifesto. In his ideal world, no one would be equal to anyone else – everyone would just be equal.
In some places, including the United States, the end of the year is often seen as a time of reflection – mostly about the things that you screwed up over the past twelve months – and New Year’s Day brings yet another chance to start fresh and head down a new path.
New Year’s resolutions are a big part of that ritual. But resolutions are often made to be broken, because many of us are so set in our ways and in our life circumstances that real personal change is often difficult – and scary.
However, it can be done, and done successfully, as trans people know. Transition from female to male or male to female is a huge and life-changing step, but it is life affirming as well. And non-trans people can take some tips from trans experience for making changes of their own.
1. Make a list of who and what you are prepared to give up, if necessary, in order to make the changes that are essential for you to live an authentic life, follow your dream, or do what your mind or heart compels you to do. Trans people are frequently prepared to lose everything in order to live as their true, authentic self – in this situation, we often have no choice.
You, on the other hand, may have a choice – or you may not. Deciding who and what you are willing to lose in order to make a major change in your life will help you determine how important or necessary that change is to you and how you will deal with those around you who are affected by that change.
2. Start by confiding your dream or your plan to a few people who are close to you – they may or may not be the most important people in your life. As you plan for your disclosure, remember that people will generally take their cues from you.
If you believe that what you’re doing is crazy, bad, shameful, or irresponsible, that’s what you’ll project, and that is likely what you will get back. If you believe that what you’re doing is important, exciting, wonderful, or life affirming, and that’s how you approach others with your idea, they are more likely to respond with excitement and support for you – but not always.
3. First responses are not necessarily true responses. While your spouse or partner may say “No problem” when you first present your idea, after he or she has had 24 hours to think about it, it could turn into a very big problem. And while your best friend may react with disgust or skepticism, he or she could later become your biggest supporter.
The important thing is to give the significant people in your life time to digest and deal with the news of any major change that you are making. Don’t feel as if you have to hash everything out at that moment – step away from it and come back to it when the person has had time the think about it and is ready to talk. And always invite – and be prepared to answer – questions. If there are certain questions that you won’t answer, set those parameters – “I’ll talk about anything but ____ (fill in the blank).”
4. It is important not to discount others’ emotions and responses. They are just as entitled to their feelings as you are to yours. “I understand that this is a shock” is better than “Why are you so upset?” “It’s probably going to take some getting used to for both of us” is better than “I thought you’d be happy for me!” “I’ll give you some time to think about this” is better than “So will you go along with this or not?”
5. Once you have embarked on your project for change, it is very easy to become so self-absorbed that you forget those friends and loved ones who have stood by you. They are going through a transition as well – the person they first befriended or fell in love with is, in a way, becoming someone else.
Take time to reassure them. Take an interest in what they are doing. And recognize that your project for change is not an endless source of entertainment and amusement for them. There are other things to talk about and other things to do. Find them, talk about them, and do them.
You might not be prepared to lose everything, and you probably won’t have to. But if your dream or goal is strong enough and necessary enough, you will probably eventually take the risk.
Major change is not easy. But few things that are truly valuable and meaningful in life are easy. You already know that.
So what are you prepared to lose – and what wonderful things will you gain – by taking those first steps in your own life’s journey, whatever it may be?
Welcome to 2011 and your authentic life.