It is hard to believe that it is was a decade ago that I applied to go back to school to pursue an MA in Counseling at the tender age of 58. This was four years after the end of my 25-year marriage, when my inner battle with gender dysphoria was beginning to bubble over without any idea of how to deal with it.
I had some false starts with masters programs earlier in my life. I got halfway through programs in Electrical Engineering and an MBA, which were both aborted for various reasons. Even thinking about a counseling degree, I had no idea or even intent that I would complete it or even dare think that I, with my own issues to deal with, could ever be of use to another person with their own issues. Nonetheless, I decided to apply for a program to at the very least see if I could figure out more about myself.
As I worked my way through the application and requirements, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no requirement to take GREs or any other standardized test that might be measuring some specific knowledge. However, there was a requirement to take something called the Miller Analogies. I had mixed feelings about this, as I learned this was not really something one could prepare for, but more provides a "measure" of overall general knowledge and perhaps interconnection between things. The application stated that acceptance decisions were not based on the actual score, but the school has found that people who do well on analogies are often able to be helpful in both understanding and communicating with a variety of clients.
This was my first learning experience in the program. It was a major learning even before I was accepted, and continued to be important as four years later I completed the program, and then for the past six years working with a variety of people.
This brings me to now, and the title of this blog:
Chicken is to egg
Understanding is to acceptance.
I think of these as a response to the question of, what comes first? I am certain that everyone has at least wrestled for some amount of time trying to answer whether the chicken or egg came first. Debates from evolutionists and creationists can go on forever and can either be fun or tedious depending on your own viewpoint.
This brings me to the second part of the analogy. What comes first: Understanding or acceptance?
Even just a year ago, as I completed the manuscript of my book, No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, I truly believed that if I could bring the reader into my own experience and feel what I have felt all my life, they could and would gain a better understanding of what it has been like being gender variant. If I could succeed in getting them to understand, my hope was that it would then be easier to lead to acceptance. Even in my first blog here, back in February, it was a response to the voices on ESPN radio, yelling that they just do not understand anything about wanting to change gender, and I thought I was on the right track.
However, something in me changed over the last five-six months. The more I met and chatted with different people and had a chance to think about not only gender diversity, but diversity of all kinds -- and this may be an uncountable number -- I started to question whether I or anyone else really did need to understand everything before it could be accepted. I wondered if I could accept first and then work on the understanding part as best I could.
This was a challenge for me. In my over 40 years as an engineer and engineering manager, taking things apart, working breakdown structures and understanding every small detail in order to make sure things will work properly became my primary way of being in the world, both in and outside of my work environment. This was my go-to method and even when it did not seem to be effective, I could not move off of it. Even in counseling school and after it was still great deal of effort to not allow this to be my primary framework. At long last, I believe I have been able to put this framework into background mode. At long last, I began to believe the following:
People are not things to be taken apart and put back together. People need to be accepted for who they truly are, and allowed to be on their own unique journey.
Perhaps I will recognize their journey immediately and either agree with it or not, but my opinion, or judgment on it does not give it value as right or wrong or good or bad. It has taken me a long long time to get to this point of understanding. Perhaps it is my no longer hiding my truth, perhaps it my counseling experience, perhaps it my daily dose of estrogen, but it does not matter why, just that this feels so correct and so much better.
So, I will leave the question and analogy for you to work out for yourself. Which comes first? Acceptance or understanding?
For those of you who may have said, "I just do not understand all this transgender stuff," and ignore it or reject it as something strange, different or wrong, I suggest there may be another way to look at it. Understanding may not be the first step to take. Understanding may well come if you give it a chance. If you can choose the path of acceptance first, you may just allow that understanding to follow!
It took me a while, but I now know this is the better path.
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. Grace is available for speaking about authentic living with Living on-TRACK, and Gender Variance Education and Training. Visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .