Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mike becomes Shelley

So this is it. In about eight more hours, my friend Mike will be done with being Mike. He will be living as Shelly 24/7: going to work as Shelly, seeing her wife and kids as Shelly, attending church as Shelly, and self-identifying without exception as Shelly.

Much of that isn't new; she's been moving that way for most of the past year. What's new is that this is the crossover point. After breaking the news to her co-workers on Thursday and spending Friday in her male identity, she is returning to work on Monday in her female identity.

After moving out of the house and letting the kids work through this at their own pace, she is visiting them one last time, on Valentine's Day, as their father. The cat is out of the bag, and let the mice beware.

After today, I'm not really sure how to classify what her relationship to them will be, as their other mother, or as their female father, or as something else.

I've known this day was coming for a year, arguably for closer to a decade, and I'm having a hard time dealing with it. I can only imagine how they're feeling.

Aristotle once wrote, "What are friends but a single soul inhabiting two bodies?" That's pretty much how I've felt about Mike. After my wife, there is not a person alive who knows me better than, nor even as well as, Mike. There is not a single secret that I have from him at this point. Not one.

We have walked with one another through the darkest moments of our lives. When I lost my foster son, Mike listened without reproach as I raged against God. When our marriages have teetered on the brink, so near to ruin that we could taste the burnt gunpowder of divorce, we listened, we stood together, and we provided support without a word of judgment or reproach.

We've written together. Stories, the first draft and half the second draft of a fantasy novel, and reams of original humor, from faux news reports to mock histories, and our signature "Chicken Soup for the Soulless" that nearly got us sued by a publisher of inspirational material.

And now ... and now, I don't know what to say.

Mike has been my best friend for more than half my life at this point. This is without question the biggest change either of us has gone through so far: bigger than our respective marriages, bigger than having children, bigger than his decision to break with evangelicalism or mine, and to be honest, I'm more than a little uncomfortable with it.

I don't get it. Gender dysphoria is a mystery to me. I don't understand how someone can physically be one sex and yet self-identify as another. I don't understand how dressing and socializing as a woman will in any way make him feel that he has actualized this self-identity any more than wearing a costume can make someone feel that she is a police officer. I don't get it, I don't get it, I don't get it. I try, but I do not.

All I can say is that I know that Mike is a good person. I know that he has put himself through hell trying to make it work as a man, for the sake of his wife and his children. I know that he has taken every reasonable measure he can, and more, to avoid hurting the people around him. He has gone out of his way to consider the feelings of his parents, his wife and children, his sister, and his friends.

I'd be a liar to say that I'm completely at ease with the approach he has taken and the decision he has made -- I'm not. But it's not my decision, it's his, and for better or worse, he's made it.

God be gracious to us all.

Copyright © 2009 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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