Should and do I care about being accepted by other people?
Here's an excerpt from a reply I got in response to my 2018 holiday letter, in which I shared a fair amount of detail about that year:
Oh, thank you so much for your detailed holiday letter, reflecting on passages, transitions, growth and continuations held within 2018.
You provided details and insights into your new life which I wanted to ask but social boundaries would not permit. So, once again I renew my awareness of you, Danielle.
I hold to the view that we each are souls with previous lives and that this current physical manifestation is yet another playground to learn important spiritual lessons… though the pain of goodbyes and leg cramps of “becoming” lessen the playfulness.
Nonetheless, Danielle, I lived with you in my life long enough with you as the male gender that seeing you as a female, as a woman, is startling and a bit unsettling. Must be me. At my age 67 I find some habits and thought patterns difficult to let go. But let go I must, since you so clearly present yourself as a female and you so clearly enunciate in your letter.
Seeing you for dinner at the outset of Thanksgiving holiday was important in helping me see and accept you in your new identity. I’m moving in that direction.
I applaud you as embracing an identity which gives you such vitality and freshness.
Here's my response:
At the beginning of the letter, you discuss briefly how hard you find it to accept me as female. This is not that uncommon for me -- the people who have known me the longest, who I want to love the most, are the ones who struggle the hardest to accept me. This is the one thing that makes transition so incredibly difficult. It's not the stupid amount of pain I endure as I correct my body. It's not the time it takes to do all of this. It's not the money I'll never see again. It's that I want to be something -- nay, I am something that some people don't want to see me as, that some people actively keep me from.
My biggest fear is ostracization by my loved ones. In some way, I experienced that as my wife left. Though it was a mutual decision to divorce, and though we are now in a friendship I hope will span our lifetimes, she definitely rejected me, and that really hurt. And every time I talk to my family about next steps, try to bring them along in my journey, I wonder: Is this the thing that's too far? Is this the moment when they decide they can't accept me as Danielle, but require me instead to capitulate, to rescind, to fall in line with what they think I should be doing?
When you share how hard it is for you to accept me, even though you follow it with a statement applauding my identity, I rationally understand that that's you working on your acceptance. It's not about me. That statement is about you.
When you share how hard it is for you to accept me as Danielle, I emotionally balk. My raw visceral reaction is, why do you get to accept me or not? This is who I am. Fuck your acceptance, I don't need it. It's not that I present myself as Danielle. I am Danielle, I have always been Danielle, and I'm finally not hiding any more. There's nothing about me to accept.
You know what it's really about? Rejecting our transphobia. Finding that we are prejudiced, biased, or bigoted is hard. I have found that about myself, and struggle in my work on correcting it.
One thing I have to do, for my own mental health, is to walk away from those things that would keep me from my goals, unintentionally or deliberately. Abandon those things that stand for an outdated past, show a picture I never wanted taken.
Let it go. Your memory of former me is wrong. It was a lie I told so that I would still have a family, friends, and a job. A lie I told for 34 years, until my only two options were suicide or transition. I didn't make this decision for vitality or freshness. I'm transitioning to stay alive.
I'm telling you this not to berate you or chide you or get you down. Instead, I feel like I have to tell you about my reaction, because I deal with people and their acceptance every day. Every day, in every social interaction, I have to face that counterpart to acceptance -- rejection. And it's not that I don't appreciate you sharing your journey in coming to know me through my transition, but that I think you should know that it's not helpful to me.
Instead, it reminds me of my biggest fear: you could be violent with me when we meet for dinner, you could write me nasty notes, you could work to hurt me behind my back or to alienate me from my family. I don't need that reminder. I know it's just my irrational mind working against me, my own internalized transphobia making me doubt every step of this. And I am certain that your letter was written from a position of love.
By all means, you should keep working on purging your life of transphobia, as I should expunge phobias and prejudice from mine. I guess I'm not sure how helpful it is to share that journey with a person from the group we are phobic about, and now I know that it's quite possibly a trigger -- it was for me.
Maybe I'm just being an asshole here. Perhaps I should simply reply with: thanks for the note, I am glad you are working on letting it go. But that's not how I felt. I felt attacked, passively. Nonetheless, thanks for writing, and letting me know how you feel. It created an opportunity for us to continue to discuss this, as well as for me to work on this facet of transition.
With love, Danielle Amethyst