It’s funny how saying something out loud makes your mind draw connections it didn’t know existed. The way it did today, when I was telling a friend about how my love for M, my partner and now my fiancée, is complicated.
I love M but at the same time I struggle to accept that she may not work for the next ten years – as she tries to make peace with her PTSD and regain control of a life that was stolen from her when she was a child. In this context, what role do I play? Do I act the doting lover, put aside my own dreams and support her as she tries to finish high school and make her way into academia? Or do I pursue my own passions? I have a strong desire to return to school, to study sustainable community development either at the undergraduate or postgraduate level (I already have a degree so both options are available to me).
But surely we can’t both go to school? That would be irresponsible, wouldn’t it?
As I was recounting this tale of woe to my friend earlier, I had a flashback to my early twenties; my father was sick and I had just started to think about transitioning from female to male. It felt impossible to think that I could do this to my parents; destroy the daughter they thought they had for a son they would never truly accept. And what about that in-between stage? It would just be too painful for them to watch. My parents were conservative in their upbringing, culture and disposition and my transition would just be a big slap in the face. I really, really didn’t want to hurt them.
More specifically, I really didn’t want to upset my father. While my relationship with my mother had been complicated for as long as I could remember, I loved my father deeply and hungered for his approval. I happened to know what he thought of transsexuals: in his view they were delusional and mentally ill. I hoped that one day he might learn to accept me but I knew that it probably wouldn’t happen any time soon. I needed to be OK with that.
I debated whether to wait until after his death. But I couldn’t wait forever. For all I knew he would live another twenty years. I just wasn’t sure that I could hold out that long. Besides, I was really struggling to fit into the socially proscribed role of woman. My depression was deepening and it felt like my life was on hold. I needed to move forward or else I, well, didn’t see the point in living at all.
So I transitioned. And my father was deeply distraught about it. But I did it anyway. And then, a year after my first shot of testosterone, he died of non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. He never truly accepted me as the man I was, but he did say he loved me no matter what. At least I have that memory.
The fear I felt, the internal struggle I went through in deciding whether to sacrifice myself to protect my father, it’s not so different from the internal struggle I face with Max. I don’t want to resent her for not pursuing my own dreams. I don’t want to wait for some nebulous moment in time when it will be OK for me to go to school; that time might never come. She will likely be studying for another ten years, if she decides that she really does want to get a post-graduate degree.
I want us both to flourish, to build lives for ourselves that provides sustenance for the raging hunger within us. So if that means that we both go to school, and live on less money, in a smaller apartment, then that’s the commitment I’m ready to make.
I’ve already committed my love to M. We are engaged. But love doesn’t have to mean martyring the self for the other; that only breeds resentment. Love means committing to your partner’s achievements as well as your own. I am committed.