What is Gender Grief?
Gender Grief describes the whirlwind of emotions and experiences that follow when someone we love moves outside of our understanding of gender as binary (male/female).
We are accustomed to thinking of grief as something experienced when someone we love dies, but grief has many flavors. Among them is the grief resulting from non-death losses, the loss of a relationship, a home, a career. Some losses are termed ambiguous because what has been lost is more obscure. For example, the loved one suffering from advanced dementia is still here physically and yet the person that they once were is gone. Their illness has taken an aspect of their identity and we grieve for the part of them no longer here with us.
In our society identity is very much tied to gender. When expectant parents happily announce the sex of their unborn child at a gender reveal celebration they are doing more than announcing the child’s physical characteristics. They are embracing an entire vision of what that child’s life will look like based on their physical determination of sex—male or female. But the world is increasingly acknowledging that sex is not gender and gender is not binary. Being either male or female doesn’t work for everyone.
When someone we love chooses to take their life down a path that is not labeled “male” or “female” they are releasing one version of themselves to claim another, and we also must say our goodbyes to that former identity. That’s why we experience grief. Even though our loved one is still here. Even though we still love them. Even though we support them and want them to be happy, we must let go of the person that they were to move forward into loving the person that they are. In doing so we may experience many emotions: sadness, anger, confusion, guilt, joy, pride, excitement and everything in between. But most assuredly we will experience grief. In our own unique way—because every experience of grief is unique—we will take a journey of releasing one form of identity so that we may welcome another.
When it comes to identity, when it comes to gender, how it is expressed is a personal choice. If one of those we love chooses to change their gender identity, we can only choose how we respond, how we accompany them on the journey. If you find yourself facing that path, breathe in and know that you stand on holy ground.
May your journey be blessed.