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The Power of Language

In 2011, my spouse came to the realization that “he” was actually a “she”. That realization led to a great deal of personal development for her and for me. We were married in 1988 after knowing each other for around 4 ½ years. For that whole time, I referred to her as “Stan”, “him”, “dad”, all powerful terms that defined our relationships. From her gender realization in June 2011, to her full transition in June 2019, she was trying to define herself. It was a long process of coming out to family, friends and work. She started with me, then the kids, family, friends and finally, after undergoing facial feminization surgery, she came out to the world. She changed her documents – birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license, etc. She changed her name on bills and accounts. She now lives life as a woman.

Throughout this process, I was a bystander. I watched as she went through this transition. I took care of her after her surgery when her face was the size of a bowling ball. I listened to her complaints dealing with the bureaucracy of changing her name and gender on government documents. I updated my own accounts to add “Brittany” and remove “Stan”. I supported and encouraged her as she went through the process of becoming her true self.

It’s been an interesting process as she comes to see how society sees women. She went from being a white cis male to a transgender female. She found herself on the receiving end of “mansplaining” and having ideas dismissed in favor of male coworkers, as well as being treated more courteously and friendly when passing people in the halls. I heard about these things she was experiencing but this was not my personal experience.

What I did experience first-hand was the use of language. I was fortunate. Being the first one to know, I had years to learn new names and pronouns. It’s been harder for others. The kids adapted fairly quickly, but family that had known her for decades as “Stan” struggled to call her “Brittany” and use pronouns like “she” and “her”. The kids changed from “dad” to “Adori”. Adori was her gaming name so my son switched easily after playing computer games with her for years. Even my daughter adapted quickly to the new moniker.

Our immediate family struggled a bit more. Brittany was in her 50’s when they found out. Changing names and pronouns after years of habit didn’t come naturally. Extended family managed better. There was less time spent on developing old habits. While it was challenging for our family to change the way they spoke, everyone tries. There’s still quite a bit of correcting but we know they’re slips of the tongue not defiance.

The hardest part for me has been saying, “my wife”. I had a transition period of my own. Even before she completed transitioning, I had stopped saying, “my husband” and instead said, “my spouse”. During that time, it was easy to use that term but after the transition, it felt like a cop-out. To me, the transition restored her to the state she was meant to be in. She is a woman. If she had been born a woman, and we’d met and married, she would have been “my wife” from the beginning. Restoring her gender identity brings things into the order they should have been from the beginning.

Not everyone understands my struggle. From my point of view, the day before the surgery, I went to bed a heterosexual married to a male. The next day I became a homosexual married to a female. While I can define myself as bisexual, I still feel the struggle to make some sense of this changing relationship. I work as a Volunteer Ombuds in Long Term Care Facilities. Most residents are in their 70’s and 80’s. They ask me questions: Am I married? Do I have children? I find myself just ignoring my current reality. I tell them I’m married but I don’t tell them my spouse is a woman. I know it’s a cop-out but I don’t want to be the poster child for the LGBTQ community with people I have such a superficial relationship with.

We have been so lucky. We’ve had minimal negative reactions. I can’t complain. What matters is she still glows when she smiles. She is her true self now. Dealing with language makes us think about how the world sees us and how we see the world. But ultimately, all these labels only have the power we give them. We use the words to make sense and help us realize our own true selves. Ideally, our names reflect that.

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