Why Do We Feel Gender Grief?
Gender Grief is confusing but completely understandable. Our distress does not indicate a lack of love.
One of the most confusing aspects of Gender Grief is the sense of loss we feel—the distress we experience even though the person we love is still alive, still very much present. To this day whenever I speak about my experience, I find that the tears well up. At the time I was constantly wiping my eyes and I'm not one who cries easily at all, not even in private and certainly not in public. So where does all this grief come from?
"The fact that we feel grief when someone we love changes their gender does not mean that we don't support the person through their identity shift. It does not mean that we don't love them.”
It comes from the fact that gender is so tightly woven into identity in our culture that when a person transitions away from the gender they were assigned at earth those who love them can experience that as a living death. They face the conundrum that the person they love is both present and absent at the same time. Take parents, for example. the sun that you've loved for years maybe standing right in front of you but insisting that you call them by a new name and refer to them with non-masculine pronouns. The daughter that was your little princess may be binding their breasts, choosing masculine clothes, and researching hormone treatments to suppress the development of their female attributes. Physically they're both still here but the children you thought you were raising are not here. And while our head may be able to make sense of that contradiction, our hearts are often left asking, tearfully: “where did my child go?”
To those who haven't loved a person through a change in identity it can be hard to understand the grief that can result. It can be equally confusing to those experiencing it. But when we understand grief as the reaction that we have when a life event changes our understanding of the world and requires us to reorient ourselves within our changed circumstances, the presence of grief in reaction to gender shifts makes more sense. Grief can occur when any change in perception makes it impossible to return to some aspect of our life as we knew it before. And that certainly describes what happens when someone we love changes their gender identity.
The fact that we feel grief does not mean that we don't support the person through their identity shift. It does not mean that we don't love them. It does not mean that we are judging their choices or decisions. It simply means that we are human. A factor which was key to how we understood a relationship has changed and grief is part of the process by which we come to terms with that change. As with any grief, the experience of Gender Grief is completely individual. There is no right or wrong way to feel and therefore no “normal” reaction that can be used as a template. But it is helpful to know that grief is a “normal” reaction to changes in gender identity.
Be gentle with yourself if you are experiencing it.