I wasn’t prepared for it to say the least.  Sitting over lunch with a therapist colleague, he asked me for my advice on getting his own therapist who was a “specialist.”  Typically I poo poo the idea that one needs a specialist; however, I do see where this may be helpful.

“It depends on what the specialist is for” I said.

He looked uncomfortable with my statement.

“I wasn’t trying to imply that I need that information” I said.

He smiled, which put us both at ease for the moment.  I could tell he was contemplating whether or not to share more specific information.  His look of concern made my heart race.  It must be something important, and he looked almost pained, as if concerned I would have a negative reaction.

He reached out his hand to shake mine, as if for the first time and said, “Hi. I’m John, and I’m transgender.”

I think my mouth may have dropped at that moment.  I knew he was serious.  Perhaps he’d seen a reaction like mine before.  I then became silent, not knowing what to say, in a state of shock.  How could I have missed this?  This is a person that I had known and worked with professionally for years.  Was I the only person who knew? What does it mean that I had been believing this person to be born male all of this time?  What does it mean to me that this colleague of mine was actually born female?  Does it change anything? If so how? When did this occur?

“I know you probably have a lot of questions.” He looked nervous.  Still eyeing my reaction and continued to explain how he feels that it sets him a part in a way that he has come to appreciate, like having an additional ability to understand those around him in ways that not everyone can.

I wanted to set him at ease.  That I wasn’t freaked out or afraid, just in shock and working through mixtures of feelings of confusion, fear, excitement, compassion, and appreciation.  Confusion about what my own views/predispositions are or were, fear of what it would mean for potential changes to our working relationship, excitement to find out about something new and interesting in someone I admire and work well with, compassion for his struggle and appreciation that he would choose me to hear his truth.

“I very much appreciate that you shared that with me.  I feel very honored.”

He didn’t reassure me of anything other than how he felt about himself.  Why is it that this would affect me? Is it natural? Time to do my own work here…

Of course it is natural to have an emotional reaction to hearing about someone’s story.  If someone in my workplace opened up about a history of addiction (which has happened several times) I would have a reaction, both emotional and cognitive.  So why would this be any different?

I had questions, but felt I needed a minute to put my thoughts together.  I agreed with him that a specialist may be helpful, as a specialist could understand him in ways that general therapists may not.  We transitioned into talking about work and moved forward.  I do plan to ask more questions, as I have some and think its worth a dialogue and not something we should pretend “didn’t happen.”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this blog with him and get his feedback, as I think it further opens up a path toward understanding and a great working relationship in the future.  I am both hopeful in this moment for him, for me, and for you reading about my feelings.  Thank you for reading.

Dr. Ingram