Partnering through transition: Listen More Than You Talk
The passage below is excerpted from The Bottom Line section of Reaching for Hope: Strategies and support for the partners of transgender people.
Listen More Than You Talk
Imagine finding out your beloved suffered a physical or emotional injury, and you never knew about it. Let’s say they’d been assaulted or were the victim of a hit and run years ago, and finally decided to talk about it. How would you handle discussions about their experience?
Chances are you’d do a lot of listening. You’d ask questions and encourage them to explore the trauma in order to reach freedom and healing. You might share some of your own experiences of things that left lingering traumatic effects, but mostly you’d probably let them talk it out.
This is exactly what transitioning people need in the early days of coming out. They need to process the various kinds of trauma that come with being expected to live gender inauthentically. They’ll have experienced pain from family and friends, church communities, and the media. They’ll need to grapple with the things they themselves did in order to simply keep on existing.
As the initial deluge of emotion and processing pours out, try to keep in mind the analogy of a long-standing injury, because that’s really what’s happened to them. Try to listen more than you talk. This can be hard because you’ll go through your own phases of processing, which we’ll address as you move through this book. Using a journal can be helpful as an outlet for your confusion and fear.
There will be time for you to talk, and it’s important that you do. But listen first. That’s your primary job initially, and it’s a really, really important one.
When you debate a person about something that affects them more than it affects you, remember that it will take a much greater emotional toll on them than on you. For you it may feel like an academic exercise. For them, it feels like revealing their pain only to have you dismiss their experience and sometimes their humanity.