In this latest post in my series on "Being Trans and the People Who Love Them," I interviewed Anna Baxter M.A., a Relationship and Gender Counselor practicing in Roswell, Georgia. Anna is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor and is the founder of Love Positive Counseling, where she works with men, women, transgender people, both adult and adolescents, and all forms of LGBTQ partners and singles, to help them transition and work within the confines of a society that is only now opening up a conversation around trans identity and its meaning.
Anna is also in a partnered relationship with a transgender person, although they don't live together, they are in a romantic partnership with all of the challenges that loving a trans man can bring.
Just this week, Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, came out with her new docudrama, I Am Cait. It follows her journey through her transition as male to female, and as the public watches her emotionally fueled family dynamics with the Kardashian clan, we get to see some of the very real issues that come up for many people who struggle with these problems.
Caitlyn seems lucky to have a supportive family. In the show, Caitlyn has her mother as a guest, and she is supportive, but says she has to remember to call her son, who is now her daughter, Caitlyn, instead of Bruce. Her stepdaughter Kylie and stepson Rob were also on board and told Caitlyn she looked attractive. Her son in law, Kanye West, also appeared supportive on the show and told Caitlyn he thought it was great that she was being her true self, even under all the media pressure, and especially under the harsh glow of the media spotlight. I Am Cait premiered on July 26 on E! and can be seen here.
Caitlyn Jenner is trying to give a voice to the role of transgender women in America, where there has been a lack of role modeling and a real void of information for the general public on what it is, what it looks like and the prejudice that trans people face in their every day lives. Yet with Caitlyn's fame and her fortune, as well as her supportive family, she may be the exception to the rule. Caitlyn has been able to afford surgery, hormone treatment and an expensive wardrobe -- something many people cannot do as they transition from one gender to another.
I asked Anna what her greatest challenge is being an important person in a transgender person's life. Anna says:
"He struggles to pay his bills and pay for necessary medical care because he can't find a job paying a living wage because his name doesn't match his gender on his driver's license. He can't pay for the 'elective' surgeries that would bring his physical body into congruence with his gender expression, so he has to face the fear of inappropriate stares and questions everywhere he goes. He struggles with anxiety almost every time he leaves the house because he doesn't know who or what he's about to face. Watching my partner try to remain strong in the face of such insurmountable opposition breaks my heart."
And having a supportive family isn't a reality for Anna's partner either. "Even his own home isn't a safe space because his own father refuses to accept his identity, his name, his gender. He's been open about his identity as transgender since high school, over eight years ago, and medically transitioning for over three years, but his father obstinately continues to use the incorrect name and pronouns at every exchange."
Anna said that living in the South, especially, it is difficult to find open-minded professionals who are open-minded and competent. She said the most difficult part is watching her partner go through the "...the intrinsic bias of a medical field, government, and social climate that doesn't understand or accept transgenderism."
"As a counselor, I've seen clients who have lost everything -- job, home, parents, spouse, children, friends -- who had seemingly successful lives and lost it all in hopes of being able to one day live their truth, to be accepted by society for who they are mentally, emotionally, spiritually."
Finally, Anna had this to say when I asked her what she wanted people to know about being a partner to a transgender person.
"I want people to know that being transgender is absolutely never a choice. The pain someone must feel trying to wear a persona that isn't authentic to their soul is more painful than all the hate, discrimination and rejection in the world because they face losing everything and everyone in order to live their truth. The suicide rate among transgender people is at least 40 percent. One in 12 transgender people will be murdered. One in 8 transgender women of color will be murdered. 80 percent of trans students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression." (source:www.transstudent.org/transvisibility)
Anna and others who are partnered with trans people say that living in a world where hatred and prejudice can truly be the difference between life or death means it takes true courage to come out of the closet. But hiding in the closet can be worse; it can be soul-killing to remain in the dark.
For anyone struggling with these issues, this advice is for people who may be going through what Cait or Anna or her partner are facing every day. If you know or love someone who is trans, please pass this on.
Find a community of other transgender and gender non-conforming people who can share the burden and provide a safe, understanding space to express the anguish, anger, despair. Hold those who accept you fully and unconditionally in your true identity close as you break ties with those who refuse to love you as the person you truly are.
Communicate openly and have patience for those who truly wish to support and honor you in your journey. For partners of transgender people beginning or continuing transition, keep your mind open and your heart filled with love. Physical compatibilities are pretty easy to contend with as long as love and respect continues.
If you are depressed or suicidal, please go to your nearest emergency room or call 911. For more information or to contact Anna Baxter, go to www.lovepositivecounseling.com.
For further resources or relationship help, go to www.drtammynelson.com.