Something that's on my mind for heart-wrenching personal reasons:
Having a trans-identified person in your life is meant to bind you to a certain perspective on trans issues.
That's the expectation: if you have a friend or family member who identifies as transgender, then of course you must agree that sterilizing gender-confused kids is great and men competing in women's sports is great and Dylan Mulvaney has been a woman for 365 days and counting, and anything else—no matter your reasons—is a heinous betrayal.
When a loved one converts, everyone in that person’s life is supposed to convert. Suddenly, whatever I once believed, whatever I once said, should not only go unsaid but unbelieved.
And the failure or refusal to convert causes real and terrible pain. It is terrible to deal in such pain. It's impossible to explain why you didn't convert and be understood. You're not allowed to have your own reasons, your own analysis, your own conscience. You were supposed to give all that away.
I tried to treat a loved one's embrace of what I think of as a pernicious belief system about gender the way I would treat a loved one joining a(ny other) cult. That is, I did not join myself. I stayed outside. I tried to keep a life outside the cult alive and to keep the person I knew and loved alive, espscially those parts she was most determined to extinguish. I pushed back, gently. I didn't push back too hard. I know how brittle these beliefs are. I know what people will do to defend what can't survive scrutiny. I have done those things.
When I think about the sense of constriction that wrapped itself around my life over the last seven years, it started with one person I loved and the fragile falsities they desperately needed to be true.
At first, it seemed like any other delicate situation among friends: the bad boyfriend she just can't let go of, the drinking problem he can't admit. When a subject hasn’t ripened, you avoid it, politely, diplomatically. Attempts to force such a conversation will fail. So you wait.
But what I experienced with one person who tied my tongue, thousands of people experienced and found their tongues tied, too. That includes—as Helen Joyce has pointed out—people at media outlets and publishing houses and NGOs and government agencies and universities: bound by loved ones’ transitions, binding entire organizations in turn.
These strange silences spread fast. Like those fairytale kingdoms sunk in an enchanted sleep. You wander and wonder how to break it. You worry that one wrong move will leave that sleep unbroken forever.
How could I continue to care about someone and yet refuse to play along? Under this belief system, such a stance makes no sense. Now everything I said and did all these years will be recast in brutal terms. Relationships across difference cannot survive if one person interprets disagreement as hatred or rejection. But it's human to want to stay close to someone you love, whether you believe what they believe or not.
I've lost other friends—fewer than I expected, more than I wanted—to this belief system. But no matter how much those people tried to make my unbelief personal, it wasn't. But if someone identifies as trans, it feels personal. It feels like betrayal.
So many people are bound by a loved one who identifies as trans. They are bound because the pain unbelief causes is real. So they keep their doubts to themselves. They don't follow certain lines of thought. They can't afford to. Whatever causes so much pain must be bad. Who wants to inflict pain on someone they love?
But I wasn't willing to suspend my curiosity. I thought that if I only understood, I could be a better friend. But then I understood too well and drew all the wrong conclusions.