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Transitioning and the Grief Process

‘There’s something I need to tell you…… I don’t feel like a boy, I think I’m a girl. At the age of 38, these are the words my sister chose to explain how she’d been feeling to us, her family.

At the age of 38, she was married and had 2 children, a sister, a mother, and a father. Coming from a family where our father was staunch in his views that transgender people were ‘freaks’, I cannot imagine the fear and turmoil she had been through all her life. As a result of her exploring and accepting herself, she lost many relationships, family & friends. I admire her strength in the pursuit of her happiness.

What about the signs?

But this blog is about my experience as the sister of someone transitioning. For me, the loss and bereavement was surreal. How can I be bereft when she hadn’t died? But at the time it felt like I had lost my sibling and that relationship. I felt the memories I had as we were growing up were tarnished, as they didn’t seem real anymore. Many questions entered my head; how did I not know? Why weren’t there any signs? Does this change things? How should I react? What’s expected of me? I felt confused and lost. I went through a time of disbelief.

I didn’t prioritise myself, as at the time I was more concerned with the impact upon my other family members. I was the support net. I was the person who everyone turned to, and at the time I was ok with it. I worried about telling my child, my sister’s nephew, and how this would impact them – something I didn’t actually need to worry about as they were just accepting.

Being in this supporting role started to become overwhelming. I was taking on everyone else’s thoughts, feelings and emotions, but keeping all of my own hidden, or at least that’s what I thought. They started to seep out in unhealthy ways, and I was becoming someone I did not recognise, nor even 100% like. I decided to seek help.

It’s crucial to process your own emotions

I eventually realised I did not give myself a chance to process this change and what it meant for me. However, after the shock had ebbed and through processing my own feelings & emotions, it didn’t take me long to realise, that nothing had actually changed, she was and still is the same person she has always been. She just looks different.

Soon I started to recognise my happy, smiling, confident sister. She was joking and laughing again. We were pranking each other again. This version of her has been missing for years and I hadn’t even realised. Where had she been? In a way, I still feel the years we shared growing up are tarnished, but because she felt she had to hide who she was.

There are still lots of questions, lots of unknowns, and lots of challenges in society, and in our family I see her having to face day to day. Things I feel are unjust and feel powerless to change. This makes me feel frustrated and angry, but speaking helps me. Simple things I take for granted but mean so much to her, make me realise society is not as accepting as I believed it to be.

Is it so difficult to be accepted?

She doesn’t ask for people to understand, or agree, just accept. Accept her for who she is, accept the way she chooses to be. Is that such a difficult thing? For me no! For others, yes, but that is ok too.

This is one of the many reasons I have chosen to train to become a therapist. I want to add value to people’s lives and try to make a difference to those who are struggling like I was. I want to give people a safe space to express themselves and explore themselves. If I can do this by helping just one person I know I made the right decision.

This blog was written by Sally Edmondson, a trainee Therapist and a valued team member of the UKCN family.

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