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Being TS is Like Having a Terminal Disease

Being TS is Like Having a Terminal Disease

by Jennifer Ann Burnett , MD

Jan. 23, 2008


One counter to those who accuse us of being selfish if we "choose" to transition is to try to explain to them what having Gender Dysphoria (GD) is really like. It is certainly NOT a choice we make but rather is a congenital anomaly that you are born with (i.e. a “birth defect”). You can live for quite a long time with it and do fairly well coping with it for even decades (which makes it all the harder for them to understand why you can’t CONTINUE this way forever). But eventually, for almost all of us, it becomes like a terminal disease which will eventually kill us unless we undertake the only medically recommended and scientifically proven treatment to "cure" ourselves- that is, to change our “outside” to match what we know we are “inside”. 


We have no more control over having GD and ultimately undergoing the process of transitioning than any Christian who comes down with a terminal disease. If we pray to God and He doesn't take it away by some miraculous means, are we therefore constrained to do nothing and just accept our own death? Or are we free in Christ to prayerfully consider the only other option (even if it involves undertaking what many would call "radical" measures) to preserve our life? 

There are many things that you just cannot control in this life and fulfilling all of one’s marriage vows may become impossible for someone who has GD due to circumstances beyond their control. You may have promised at the time of your marriage to always love your spouse, to support her and never to leave- “until death do you part”. But if Alzheimer’s comes upon you, you may be ultimately unable to "perform" your husbandly duties in any way, shape or form as you deteriorate and become more like a child/baby than a husband/adult.

If a husband comes down with a terminal cancer and it looks like he will die at an early age, leaving a wife and minor children behind, there is really nothing much he can do except to follow the recommended therapy and hope and pray for a cure. If he dies, the wife may FEEL that he has abandoned her and their children, but it was not within his power to fulfill his commitments as he becomes physically/mentally incapacitated from his disease. Or imagine if a husband had some sort of genital cancer and had to have this part of him 'amputated' in order to survive. Should he be castigated by spouse, friends and/or his church for taking such a radical step to save his life because it severely impairs his ability to fulfill ALL of his functions of a husband?

 Reaching your "crisis point" as a TS is very much like being faced with terminal cancer. We certainly didn’t want it to happen to us and usually we have already prayed, pleaded, bargained with God and sought every time of healing and "cure" possible (other than transitioning). But ultimately, for the majority of us, there becomes only one insurmountable decision to make- to finally become who we were always meant to be and are no longer able to physically/mentally/emotionally suppress this any longer, or die. The big difference between a terminal cancer victim and a TS choosing to pursue the only option open to him/her (other than killing ourselves one way or the other) is that the former receive sympathy and help and the latter are despised and rejected, often cut off by EVERYONE that knew them.

Most of the TS people I have known have tried with all their hearts to continue in their marriage during/after transitioning but have been rejected by their spouses. This is often with the overwhelming support for the “offended” spouse and commonly at the direction of their pastor and/or Christian friends. For spouses/fellow Christians to insist that the TS "just do it" (i.e. remain in the gender they were born) is like telling the cancer victim that if they don't "choose" to get well then they deserve to be divorced and rejected by church, family and friends- because it is their fault for not having enough faith/not trying hard enough to “get better”.


When I came to my crisis point (i.e. "Transition or Die") and could no longer go on living in a gender role opposite who I really am, I told my spouse of the necessity to resume my transition (I had informed her while we were still dating [and well before any consideration of marriage] that I was TS, had already begun my transition back in 1984 and put it on hold, by the Lord's leading, until my children had grown up and we on their own). I thought, because of our discussion back while we were dating, that she would understand.


I told her then (4 ½ years ago now) that even if I could no longer fulfill all my functions (e.g. sexual relations [which had been practically non-existent for almost 2 years anyway])as her husband, I was still committed to fulfilling the rest of my vows, like continuing to love and support her and be there for her. I also told her that there were other Christian couples that had decided to remain together after one of them had transitioned.


It was HER decision to divorce me and she later undertook one of the most painful and vindictive courses for our divorce, trying to make my life as miserable as possible ever since (BTW, our divorce is STILL not settled in court, as she has been dragging this out for over three years now). Even though I had forewarned her well before we married of my GID and my eventual need to complete my long-delayed transition, I was branded the “evil one”, was abandoned by my church (who took her side), all but two of my friends and I even lost my job due to her destructive letter to my CEO.


So, in the most part, it is not we (the transgendered spouse) who decide to terminate the marriage but our 'other half'. They are the ones who are apparently incapable of seeing their own guilt in disobeying their marital pledge- to stay together with us “for better or worse, in [our GD] ‘sickness’ or in health”. They may have lost their “husband” and therefore are angered by the disruption of their lives, but they really have not lost us as a person. I was almost dead inside before I transitioned and my life was so miserable I contemplated suicide on a daily basis. I sought God’s direction and through my transition and by His grace I finally achieved wholeness and a peace in my life. 


I therefore believe that it is NOT a selfish act to take the only means available to preserve one’s life, even if it means that others may suffer somewhat because of it. If I hadn’t transitioned, I would have been dead anyway. My wife would have lost me regardless if I died (and she couldn’t collect alimony from me if I was dead!) But at least I am alive, even though in a somewhat different outward form. 


If others cannot rejoice with me that God has finally made me whole in mind, body and spirit; if they cannot see that I had no other choice left, then it is their shortsightedness that allows them to condemn me. Is it not their own selfishness that demands that we continue to conform to their image of us, even though we were thereby killing ourselves in the process? Jesus said, “What does it profit a man (or woman) to gain the whole world and yet lose his/her own soul?” (Mat 16:26). I lost practically everything by transitioning (though much has been restored since), but it was the best and only viable choice I could make.

I do not know if this analogy (i.e. “Being TS is like having a Terminal Disease”) will make sense to those who accuse you of being “selfish”. It is almost impossible for those who do not have GD to understand our plight upon reaching that "Transition or Die" stage in our lives. But at least we can try to reason with them and help them understand us a little better. Unfortunately, most of our former friends and our church will ultimately reject us, call us names or even tell us we are “demon possessed” (an accusation a couple of my former Christian friends actually made when I first started my transition) because what we have done goes beyond their ability to understand and have compassion for us. But we can at least take comfort that we have tried our best to be reconciled with our brethren in Christ, whether they accept us or not.



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