Monday, January 28, 2008

my friend mike

I got a disturbing e-mail from my friend Mike late last night.

To the point: Mike is a transgendered man who, about nine months ago, reached the point that he realized he was either going to kill himself if he remained in the situation he was in, or he was going to start taking steps to resolve his gender dysphoria. Since he was not going to kill himself, he began taking small steps toward transitioning, under the guidance of a therapist.

I should mention at this point that Mike is married to a fairly conservative and traditional woman named Lynn. Lynn has known of Mike's gender dysphoria for about seventeen years, and was aware of it when they married fifteen years ago. I think, from what I know of Lynn, that she either shuttled the GID thing to one side and tried not to think about it, or regarded it as a sin that God would cure him of if they had enough faith.

His decision to start taking those steps toward transitioning met with Lynn's cautious ... well, I don't want to say support, so perhaps I should say "tolerance." She had seen that the limits she had placed on him were killing him inside, and decided she needed to back off and let God sort the situation out.

Lynn reached the end of her tolerance about three days ago, it appears. That's when Mike started taking anti-androgens -- not even estrogen, just something to suppress the male hormones -- and something broke that had survived 15 years of a sometimes tumultuous marriage. They've been taking turns sleeping on the couch, and she's told him that she expects him to begin making plans to move out. As he put it in his e-mail, even if he were to stop taking the anti-androgens at this post, it seems unlikely the marriage will survive.

They have three children, the oldest of whom turns 13 this year.

To be honest, I understand where Lynn is coming from.* I've known Mike for 19 years, more than half my life, and he's been one of those quiet but steady rocks that have helped me get through some of the roughest times in my life, but this is outside my comfort zone as well. (I do appreciate the irony that fundamentalist Iran offers tremendous material support for people in his shoes -- the government actually pays for the surgery and everything over there, because "It's no one's fault, it's just how Allah made them.")

I wrote him back, expressed my sympathy for what he and his family are going through, told him how I'm feeling about the whole thing myself -- he knows me well enough to know that anyway -- and said the same thing I've said before: "I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. We're going to get through this together."

Prayers appreciated for everyone for what is going to be a very difficult time, one that is only going to get worse. Their kids already know what is going on, and are doing their best to cope with it. One is in therapy but not talking about it, the second has asked to start going to therapy, and the third one seems to be avoiding the subject when it comes up. Mike's parents, to my knowledge, have no idea of any of this. His mom was devastated when he told her he wasn't going to church anymore, and I can only imagine how she'll react to this.

* I know this sounds outrageous to people who identify solely with the wrong they perceive being visited upon Mike in this situation, but I stand by it.

Understand that Mike is my best friend. I met him my first week away at college, and the two of us have been close ever since. We were in each other's wedding parties, we continue to exchange Christmas and birthday presents long after I stopped doing it with my own brothers, and we think closely enough alike that we've been known to drive each other into a murderous rage just for fun. If Aristotle was right about the nature of friendship, then I don't hesitate to say that part of my soul inhabits his body.

But Mike is preparing to change the sex he lives as, an act that is going to redefine every relationship he has, including the one he has with me. I have no frame of reference for that to understand it, and it makes me uncomfortable. This whole experience is going to test me sorely on my commitment to love as unconditionally as Christ does, and I don't have nearly as much at stake in my relationship with Mike as Lynn does -- no 15 years of marriage, and no kids whose male role model is going to become a female.

You're right that Lynn knew what she was getting into -- as much as anyone who is 21 years old can possibly understand what she's getting into when she intertwines her life and her identity with another person and all their issues. I was 28 and Niki was 23 when we got married, and I don't think we really knew either what we were doing. I doubt anyone you know who is married had a clue what it really meant, though I'm sure we all thought so at the time.

What was she thinking? Probably that it was something he would grow out of as they grew together, or that it was an indication of his spiritual immaturity and that as he grew older and more mature, God would straighten it out. From what Mike tells me, she still sees it much that way -- that he's giving up, instead of letting God take care of this and heal him. It's naive, it shows a lack of understanding of how deeply rooted gender dysphoria and other issues pertaining to sexual identity, really are, but it's where she was, and despite some really remarkable growth on her own part, it's where she still is. It's her personality.

Yeah, I can understand where she's coming from. She's concerned for her kids and the health and integrity of the home they'll have growing up, and she's probably also concerned that Mike has left the fold completely, that he prefers becoming a woman over following God. Wrong-headed? I think so. But I can hardly take the dust out of her own eye when I've also assumed on one time or another that God feels the same way that I do about things and that he'll make sure everything works out the way that I feel they should.

I can't muster any rage at Lynn, or Mike, or anyone else who is caught in this situation, with all that they have at stake in it.

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