From my Series on Transgender Men and Women; And the People that Love them, Work with them and Fight for their Rights
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman and a leader in the transgender community who transitioned at the age of 64. She is a father of three and a grandparent of two. She is an advocate and the author of No! Maybe! Yes! Living My Truth, a memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman.
Grace is an athlete and has a degree in engineering. She was married for 25 years to a woman. When her marriage ended she earned a graduate a degree in counseling and today works with those struggling with issues around gender. Her mission revolves around the idea that we all need to be defined as so much more than our gender, and that we need each to be suported to live our authentic lives.
Grace's children accept her transgender journey. In her personal world she has been working, living and acting as an advocate for other transgendered people, making media appearances and writing her blog. Grace Steven's blogs appear weekly under the brand, "My Transgender Life."
In my interview with Grace she said recently,
"The judicial events of the past few days have stirred a feeling deep inside of me that had been missing for a long, long time.
Bringing people together to be free, in the pursuit of happiness, is the ideal of our country. At least for today it appears we are living in the ideal. We will still have battles....
But, I for one today, have more hope."
Given the huge political shift this week, the Supreme court's decision supports LGBTQ partners who want to live authentically and marry legally. Yet for Grace and others, those with gender variance still face prejudice in our society, and are looking at this victory with hesitant enthusiasm, or perhaps hopeful glee.
In Caitlyn Jenner's recent coming out in Vanity Fair magazine this month, the photos of her new self are stunning and exquisite. I asked Grace Stevens what she thought the SCOTUS decision and things like the very public appearance of Caitlyn would mean to transgendered people and their journey in our society now, at this unique moment in time.
"Every person's journey is unique. [Caitlyn] seems to want to use her journey as a teaching moment, but there is so much she will be learning during her transition, which will be in the public eye, so her teaching is by letting the world put her under the microscope. Very few of us would be willing to do this. As we know, expertise comes from hours spent - as Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers. We will be watching a work in progress."
As we watch the effect of the SCOTUS outcome, and gay couples around the country file to the courthouse to marry legally, there are still challenges to face from the religious conservatives, as well as the families and the communities of transgendered folks.
Transitioning male-to-females and female-to-males may, at times, face greater challenges than non transitioning gay individuals and couples. I asked Grace, what has been your greatest challenge as a transgender or transitioning person?
She differentiated between living as 'Grace' all the time, and only letting her out in parts of her life. Choosing which parts to expose and deciding what parts are truthful, and who to be her true self with, is a challenge in her personal and professional life. Although this may be similar to the "coming out" process for most gay people, there is something more poignant and painful for trans people, trapped in the wrong body, a compartmentalization that may feel schizophrenic, challenging and hopeless at times, a double lifestyle that can take its toll.
"There is a big difference in living part time versus full time. I have been on a path to discover who Grace really is, when she is "running the show" in the world. Being public, I hope that Caitlyn can find the space to really find Caitlyn's true voice, and her feelings, as she gets to experience the world each and every moment."
I asked Grace whether she had any thoughts she wanted to share with readers, and what she felt it was important for non-binary people or non-trans people to know. She said,
"All I am doing is being me, expressing me, and not trying to be what or who someone else thinks I should be. Each day I need to learn how to be and interact in my true gender, as I never grew up with it to practice like most people. I will make some mistakes, I know this, so please understand and accept me for just living my truth."
For those of us who don't know, using the correct pronouns when referring to ourselves or our loveds ones or even strangers may feel like an inalienable right. And yet, when referring to a transitioning person or a transgender person, it can be confusing, or just plain unclear. We talked about what the correct pronouns might be to use with people who are transitioning and what is polite, what is kind, what is insulting?
Grace's answer was simple. "Generally, use the pronouns for the gender they present as or ask them what they prefer if you are not sure."
If you want to help anyone going through the struggles that transgender and transitioning folks go through, Grace says, just ask what you can do to help. Ask them, "How can I best support you? We are all different and may [each] have a different way to answer that question."
If a friend answers that question with a request you cannot fulfill, be prepared to say I don't know if I can do that, or I don't know how. There are resources that can help. PFLAG is an online website that can answer many of your and their questions.
With the SCOTUS decision and the very public appearance of Caitlyn Jenner, Grace hopes it will be safer for more people to come out, even younger people. She posits, "The discussion of being transgender is now wide open and not hidden..."
Perhaps this will lead to a reduction of bullying and less harassment for transgendered people, particularly for young people online. For anyone going through these issues, or any tough relationship problems, she recommended,
"David Richo in his book, How to be an Adult in Relationship helped me, it teaches us the 5 A's... All relationships need the 5 As; Attention, acceptance, allowance, appreciation and affection. If we all practice this, it will help get through these sensitive and often confusing issues."
Also, for more information about Grace's journey, be sure to check out , No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, Maybe.
For more info on Grace Stevens, go to her website, www.graceannestevens.com
Dr. Tammy Nelsonhttp://www.drtammynelson.com/ is a sex and relationship therapist and the author of The New Monogamy. She can be found at www.drtammynelson.com.