The Ethics of Transitioning Genders in Mid-Life

decision_ahead_sign_0This is not an advice or even personal blog, but when the New York Times starts advising mid-life people on whether they should transition genders, it seems time for an exception.

The question was posed to “The Ethicist,” who answered on February 1 at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/magazine/should-i-become-a-woman-and-risk-causing-pain-to-my-wife-and-children.html?ref=theethicist&_r=1  The questioner had been married to a woman for 20 years, had a successful career and 3 children, and was wondering if it was “ethically correct” to deal with his gender dysphoria by transitioning to female, even though that course “ends my otherwise happy marriage and damages the emotional stability of my three children?”

Unfortunately, The Ethicist buys the questioner’s belief that transitioning is an either-or proposition for people with families.  Although many marriages do not survive transition, it is my belief that many of these marriages could have been saved IF the couple views the issue as a common problem to be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.  Unfortunately, the NYT questioner suggests he’s already headed down the wrong path, noting that he “recently had my self-diagnosis [of gender dysphoria] confirmed, and I’m initiating a transition to living as the real me.”  Nowhere in that statement is evidence that these steps were taken with the knowledge and consent of his wife, which, if true, means the stage has already been set for this to be a “my needs against yours” conflict.  It shouldn’t be.  If I’ve learned anything in the 15 years since I founded ElderTG, a peer support listserv for trans people and SOFFAs (Significant Others, Friends, Family and Allies) age 50+, it is this: marriages and families are FAR more likely to survive intact if the transition is a joint project, negotiated and timed through loving, collaborative discussions that keep the needs of everyone in mind.  Such transition paths often take longer, but more often end up with the transitioner having it all: living life in their authentic gender, not only surrounded still by their loved ones, but with a stronger family who has learned how to solve issues together.

3 responses to “The Ethics of Transitioning Genders in Mid-Life

  1. After ten years since my bursting out of the closet,and doing much like the person mentioned in the article.And in the process,losing everything,and everyone,for my impatience,and stubborn,it’s all about me attitude had at the time…I am certain,that had I taken a much more subtle,and slow approach to where I wanted to be.My 23 year marriage would likely have survived transition.For after the breakup,and the ensuing rejection,anger,and denial…I still kept my family informed of every step of this long journey.Now,at 6 years in transition,and living successfully female,my family completely accepts the change.My ex and I even state how much we love one another still. I know now…Slow is the way to go. Angelique

  2. Cheryl Cristello

    I think that Loree is indeed correct……maybe. My 35 year relationship ended as a result of my transition. I took about two years. Would the relationship have survived if I had taken 4, 6, or ten years? We will never know. I did what I did because it was what I felt that I had to do to survive as things were getting pretty ugly in my mind. Cheryl

  3. Thanks for the feedback, Angie and Cheryl. Certainly not all marriages can be saved — sexual orientation for some of us is too fixed for that, to name just one variable — but slowing down and transitioning as a family certainly raises the odds of success.

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