Recently the largest survey of transgender adults to date reported that the prevalence of lifetime suicide attempts among respondents was 41 percent. The causes are complex, but some factors that increase the risk of suicide attempts among transgender people stand out. Those who experience discrimination, victimization, violence and, most importantly, family rejection are most likely to attempt to end their lives. Little effort or resources have been invested in developing intervention strategies and, to some, the usual resources may be of no help at all.
The support of family, friends and allies seems to be a tremendous aid in each individual journey. In Kansas City, there are resources full of love started and continued by those assisting in the process. SOFFA (Significant Others, Family, Friends and Allies), ran by Fiona Nowling, is one of those resources. SOFFA is a social group with a large online following that offers help for those who are supporting a loved one who is embarking on the adventure of their life.
Meet Una and Fiona Nowling:
Meeting and falling in love online in 2000, Fiona and Una’s love story is poetic. At that time, Fiona lived in England, Una here in the States. Fiona knew from the beginning that Una was transitioning, and supported and loved her from the very start. Speaking with Fiona, the theme was support, love and understanding.
“I’m in an unusual position, because I knew she was trans before I met her,” Fiona says. “Most people struggle with it for years and years and it comes as a great shock to their partner when they come out, I knew before we even physically met that she was trans, but she has always been my “Una”, always been my girl to me.”
When Fiona first came to visit Una here in the States around 15 years ago, the connection was undeniable and the story is history. The insecurities Una had needed to be settled and they were.
“She put on her only dress and shoes and a bit of makeup and came down dressed to test me,” Fiona remembers. “She said the moment I saw her dressed like that, my face took on the expression of joy, like I had seen the most beautiful thing in the world; she knew then it would work.”
The couple married, and soon the conflict of a safe home environment and the outside world took its toll. Una, struggling with where she was in life as a whole, sunk into a deep depression. Fiona dug in, finding her the resources and the help she needed. With Fiona’s support, Una set out to become who she truly was.
“We were together for a long time, and I would buy her gifts- jewelry or nice clothes. She was always so happy and excited, but then rarely wear them. She was feeling like she couldn’t just dress as a girl- that it would be like playing dress up. It was just fake, and would be harder to have to put the mask back on and go back to work again the next day. That got her more and more depressed over time.”
During Fiona’s research, she discovered a group that was established for those who loved a trans person. She began getting involved with the group, SOFFA, and eventually took it over to continue its mission. Today, Fiona continues to help others no matter what stage they are in with their loved ones transition to their new lives.
Today, Fiona and Una continue to educate and enlighten all who reach out. They are both fierce advocates for the cause.
Meet: Jennifer and Jessica
Due to safety issues, “Jennifer and Jessica” are pseudonyms. They have asked that we not reveal their identities.
In a small town outside of Kansas City, lives a couple who began their marriage as a heterosexual couple 21 years ago. They have two children. One year ago, Jessica confided in her partner, Jennifer that she was trans. Today, they are finding a new sense of bonding in life. Very new to the trans community, this couple takes the challenge to new heights together and strong as ever.
One can imagine it would come as a shock that, after 20 years of marriage, having this information being told to you.
“It didn’t shock me, really though,” Jennifer says. “I went back and forth with ‘really?’ and ‘of course! That makes perfect sense.’ After the fact, you know they say hindsight is 20/20, you start looking into it all. You put all the pieces together once you finally have the answer, and it’s like ‘Oh! Ok.’”
“I think it was very difficult for her to ‘come out’ to me,” Jennifer continues. “One of the big things with her and a lot of other transgender individuals is just the fear of loss of a relationship, whether it be your spouse, your children, your friends or your colleagues at work.”
The fear of losing the relationships around you is crippling, so the coming out phase is the hardest. Jennifer and Jessica certainly deal with that on a daily basis as they go down this journey together.
“I am absolutely supportive of her, because the fact is that I fell in the person for what was on the inside,” Jennifer explains. “And even with the changes, it doesn’t mean I love them any less, or think of her any less. She is still the person I fell in love with.
Jessica finally decided to tell their children, and there was a great amount of fear.
“With the children, because they are teenagers, she didn’t know how they would take it,” Jennifer says. “I personally was under the impression it wouldn’t be a big deal, so we sat down at the table and told them, and they reacted kind of how I thought. They are very supportive. It’s very new to them; they see that she is happier now than before with all of the secrets that held her down.”
“We’re still going through the transition, and I say we because it’s a transition for me as well,” Jennifer continues. “We get out as we can, we explore the feminine side of things, whereas before we didn’t do that. It’s a whole lot of fun to go clothes shopping now. It’s easier to buy presents now.”
“She will ask me these questions that I don’t always have an answer for, like ‘Do I have to curl my eyelashes?’” Jennifer says. “It’s interesting. I am watching her go through things I went through at 13 and 14: learning how to dress, learning how to put your makeup on, what works, what doesn’t work.”
Getting back to the transformation on their marriage, Jennifer explains of the grieving process that you go through.
“You are seeing the physical person that you have always had in front of you, change,” she says. “They go away, but it’s just the physical. It is a transition for both of us, not just her. A huge learning curve; a learning that everything is not black and white. You are not just gay or heterosexual; there are so many variances of gray in there. It’s been a huge eye opening experience for me, one that I really relish.”
“I’m very proud of her,” Jennifer says definitively. “It’s a very hard thing to go through. It’s emotionally painful, physically painful. I am proud that she lets me remain in her life and go through this with her.”
These two unique stories are just a glimpse into how important support and love in this ever-evolving community are. As of May 2015, 32 states still have no laws banning job discrimination against transgender individuals, and that is just one of the huge hurdles we still have to tackle. Fiona and Jennifer, as well as so many others, stand beside their loved ones and make the daily difference. V
Written by Karla Templeton
*SOFFA is a support group that offers information to help people handle their feelings, fears, hops, and learn to deal with the changes in their relationships, to help them adjust and to learn how to support their transgendered person. The group is private-message on facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to join.
For more information visit these local organizations for more information and outreach:
www.transacity.org (Una’s Website)