The “Covert Transition” Edition

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S1: Slate Plus members, I’m here to remind you to take the Slate survey. It’ll be open through April 1st. This is your chance to tell us what you think about Slate Plus and Slate. It’ll only take a few minutes and you can find it at Slate.com slash survey.

S2: Dear prudence, dear prudence, prudence, dear, dear prudence here game that I should contact him again. Oh, hello. Thank you.

S3: Hello and welcome to another mini episode of Dear Prudence. I’m your host, Danny and Larry. And this show is for you are pless subscribers. Our guest this week is Calvin Kazuki, a writer, podcast producer and transexual living in Brooklyn. His work has been featured in outlets including Mail Magazine, vice., Electric Literature and BuzzFeed. And now here’s our first letter. All right.

S4: So this next one is, you know, I’m feeling kind of a combination of like, bless you, you sweetheart. And a little like I’m worried about who you’re close with. Yeah. So I’d be interested in hearing kind of where you think this is coming from. The subject is, is it a boundary or control? Which is of course, that is the great question. That’s like why we go to therapy. That’s why we have advice columns. It is a good question is a worthwhile question. Yeah. Dear Prudence, as a longtime reader, I have a question. You often talk about setting boundaries. Can setting boundaries also have unintended consequences? For instance, setting a boundary on time you will spend with another person can look very similar to icing that person out as an emotionally abusive tactic. Conversely, if a person objects to being iced out, the other person can say it is a boundary, not abuse. I am of course asking this because I see myself in this scenario often as the one setting a boundary too. I’m sorry, often as the one setting a boundary, or to my great worry, icing another person out. Different people have different expectations of time and care, and we are all free to leave an untenable situation. But where do you think the line might lie in relationships that have not yet reached that untenable point? I think that being afraid of being abusive is not the same as not being abusive. What is a balance of least possible hurt for all involved? Look like? I worry. Yeah, I worry here and I don’t miss. I don’t worry. Letter writer because I think you’re asking a wrong question, but I’m.

S5: It reads to me like you have had multiple people in your life. Say something along the lines of if you do not spend as much time with me as I want, you are abusing me, right? Which is fucking nuts. I hope I apologize. I don’t normally like I don’t want to use flippant language around like sanity or reasonableness. But like, it is fucking objectionable. It is outrageous. It is not reasonable. It is not okay. If you have multiple people in your life saying things like if you don’t spend as much time with me as I want, you’re abusing me. That is not what abuses. No.

S6: Yeah. I had the same reaction as you when I was first reading it. I was like, oh, this is this like an interesting question. This is like a big metal thing that’s to be interesting to unpack. And then I got into the specifics of this readers question and became increasingly horrified at the specifics.

S7: I mean, we can go back to the metal part if you want, but the specifics.

S6: Yeah, I’m assuming all parties here are consenting adults, right? Cause I don’t want to get into the details of if they would have mentioned if they were okay. Right. If there was any kind of dependence or anything, obviously the power dynamics shift in that way.

S7: But if we’re just talking about people who are in relationship with each other as friends or family, all adults with relative amounts of autonomy, it’s always a boundary. It’s always a boundary. It’s never you get to decide how much time you spend with a person. That’s that’s just a part of being a human person in the world. It is not abused to say, hey, I want to hang out with you as much as you want to hang out with me. That’s just time management, right?

S8: And so the whole thing about like, what do you do when things haven’t yet reached an untenable point? I’m a little worried that you think I’m only really entitled to draw that boundary when I know I’m about to lose it. And my fear here is that this is like a family dynamic where everyone in your family has always said, like, we’re entitled to whatever we want from you. And you sometimes say things like, I only want to hang out for three hours this Saturday. And they’re like, that’s abusive, right?

S7: Or in any way turning down the volume on how much time you might spend with someone. It is ridiculous to accuse someone of modulating the time they spend with somebody else as as Usenet, as a tactic of abuse. Yeah, it’s really concerning that this is sort of the framework that you seem to be looking at. This from my part of me wants to just be very flippant and say things like, well, words mean things, and this is not what abuse means, which is in one part true. But yeah, people don’t need to appropriate abuse language to register their displeasure with you choosing to spend not as much time with them as they would wish.

S8: Yeah. And I also again, I don’t want to say like here’s exactly what abuse is and isn’t at all times. But generally speaking, even icing someone out like, you know, if you were in like a long term marriage and you gave someone the silent treatment for weeks because they had like made the bed improperly. Absolutely. I think that could be assigned a category of at least like great emotional harm. Right. But simply telling someone, I’m not going to give you what you want or I don’t want to see you as often as you want to see me, that might hurt their feelings. It might be incompatible with what they want. But as long as you’re saying it respectfully and communicating your needs, clearly icing somebody out is not abuse. Like no Norah’s goes, you know, like, you know, the whole like is coasting abuse like sensation that was happening on Twitter last weeks. Like, again, not to be all like quote unquote.

S5: The words mean things, guys, but like if somebody hurts your feelings, maybe they’re being mean. Maybe they’re being cruel. That doesn’t always rise to the level of abuse. We don’t always need to go to that well.

S6: Right. And it can be a very one sided decision. I mean, I and I think you this person says they are a longtime reader. They will have heard you say this like everybody doesn’t have to agree that your boundaries are good. Another person can dislike your boundaries and they can still be boundaries. If there’s not, raise them to the level of abusive behavior. Yeah. Just because somebody else objects to them, the fact that you have put these boundaries in place probably implies that people are going to object to them on some level. That’s why you put them there.

S8: Yeah. Yeah. And like, you know, like with you, Calvin, we have a good friendship such that like if I’m tired, I’ll just let you know. Like I’m tired. I’m done hanging out for the day. Yeah. I’ll see you later. Yeah. And because we are both eager to meet one another’s boundaries, we have not yet had in our friendship a moment or one of us had to say like I’m drawing a line. Right. I think hopefully ideally in most of your relationships, most of the time that’s how things work. If you find yourself having to constantly say with the same person of the same groups of people, you know, I have to draw this boundary. This is now a formal limit. And they are constantly bumping up against that and saying, you’re I.C. me out, you’re abusing me. Something else is going on there. And without knowing more detailed information, I couldn’t say what it was. But my read here is that, you know or have known a number of very unreasonable people who treat your not giving them what they want as potentially abusive.

S6: Right. And this letter writer says different people have different expectations of time and care. And we are all free to leave an untenable situation. You’re free to leave any situation. It doesn’t have to be it doesn’t have to be untenable. You can decide. I want to hang out with this person anymore. You are free to do that. And again, it might seem capricious and unpleasant to the other party, but you are. You do not necessarily owe this person a perfect, you know, detente or denouement to your relationship with them. That is that is not that might be uncool, but it is not abuse. So you seem to know this like academically and it does seem like in your lived experience, you are coming up against this time and again. So I truly hope that you can set and maintain those boundaries and understand that they are fine and good.

S8: Yeah. There’s so much that I like worry might be the case. I keep wanting to go into. But absent those details, I don’t want to speculate too much. I would just say if you are experiencing this a lot, that is itself perhaps a sign that somebody else is looking to erode your boundaries. Maybe we’re talking to a therapist about. Again, not all therapists are like perfect geniuses, but they will often be able to help you get a sense of are these expectations reasonable and healthy? And that last second to last line of being afraid of being abusive is not the same as not being abusive, which I took to mean, I know that just because I worry a lot about not being abusive doesn’t mean it’s definitive proof that I’m not abusive. And I would just say, like, if you were in that mental cycle absence of I have I know I engage in the following behaviors that harm other people. And there it look like raising my voice, throwing things, trying to deprive them of the ability to leave a room. What have you. I think the problem is not you.

S9: Yeah, it certainly doesn’t seem so. As for the final question, what does the balance of Leigh’s possible hurt for all involved look like? If you find out that answer and it’s like a couple of lines, please write back and let us know.

S8: It really depends on the situation. My guess is that in your situation, you are not shunning people. Right. You’re not casting them out of society. You’re not arbitrarily and capriciously in the middle of a nice dinner announcing I’m done and walking away. Right. And which again, would be weird and eccentric and rude, but not abusive.

S6: Right. And also, you cannot own another person’s her. You cannot own the volume of another person’s hurt depending on on on your actions. You know, obviously, you can modulate what you do in a way that you believe it will not be hurtful.

S7: But again, setting a boundary necessitates that somebody else was coming up against that and was causing you some measure of discomfort or harm. So you cannot own that. You can only set, you know, do what you believe to be right for yourself and and not, you know, you’re going to be massively harmful to everybody else in your life. But you cannot own the depth and breadth of somebody else’s feelings around around your own actions.

S8: Yeah, I think the last thing that I’ll say about that is like when you’re at a stage with someone where you say, I need you to know my new boundary, it’s this. It’s usually because other things haven’t worked. Right. So usually when you set a boundary, someone else is going to, at the very least, mildly object. I mean, sometimes it’s a people didn’t realize they were bumping up against something and they’re happy to comply. That that does happen. But I think it should be expected, as a matter of course, that when you have to set a boundary with someone, there will at least be some initial resistance. So I wouldn’t take that as a sign that you’re doing the wrong thing. That’s kind of why you put the boundary in place in the first place, right. Good luck. Yeah, let it. I would love to hear back if you could give us any more information. I would really love to know, you know, if there’s someone in particular you’re thinking of. If there’s a group of people in particular you’re thinking of. If you add any more details that you care to provide, we’d love to hear. Yeah. So this next one. Very sweet. I think I can encourage the letter writer to do slightly less, which I always enjoy being able to do is very sweet. Yeah. Subject is I’m the only one who knows about stepkids transition. Dear Prudence, I have a funny, quirky step kid Berry who’s always been a bit odd. Alternating between being funny and sarcastic. One minute, then sullen and standoffish. The next several days ago, Barry revealed to me that he’s trans and will begin transitioning shortly. Although he’s not yet changing his name or pronouns, he’s also always been my husband’s only son. This explains so much of what I’ve observed over the last 20 years. Is in his 40s. He wants to tell his dad and the rest of the family with letters in the next few weeks. In the meantime, my husband wonders what Barry wanted to discuss with me. I’ve been sworn to secrecy. His father and I had discussed the fact that possibly Barry was gay, and his dad said he had no problem with it, that he just wanted his son to be happy and healthy. His dad and I have also discussed being trans in the past, and he says he just doesn’t think he could ever understand it. How do I help my husband understand that having a third happy, healthy daughter is much to be preferred over a clinically depressed, possibly suicidal son who can no longer live a lie?

S10: I.

S8: Love you, letter writer. I’m so glad, first of all, the berry has you. Yeah, like that. There was one person in the family that Berry knew, like, OK, I can talk to Dad’s wife and that’s a real in-person conversation we can have. I’m really glad that you were able to to do that.

S6: Yeah. And clearly, his trust is well-placed because you are obviously very concerned and want to be proactive in making sure that the the whole family, particularly your husband, reacts positively to this and is supportive of Berry. So obviously his trust was super well-placed. And you you seem great.

S8: So I would say in terms of letting Berry deliver this news, you’ve got to do that. So even if your husband is like asking around or like, I wish you would tell me. I think it’s really, really important that you let Berry come out to your husband. So just continue to hold that line and just say, like Berry will tell you when he’s ready. I love you so much. Everything’s fine. And, you know, don’t don’t let him wear you down on that front.

S11: I also just wanna acknowledge so he’s like important for me to, like, respect when somebody says, like, I’m not changing my name or pronouns yet because I’m just like clutching the table, like, I want to change it. I want to respect you. So I want to start respecting you faster. And it’s just like. That used to, you know, frustrate me when I would talk to people and say, look, I’m not ready to change this yet. And then be like, can I change it? No. I’ll tell you when I’m ready. Sipes won’t acknowledge it. Yeah, well, I feel a little bit of it right now. I feel a little like I want to say Barry. Yeah.

S6: No, I don’t either. We are all going to. Barry asked because Barry asked. Yeah. Yeah. And so there’s not a ton. Also you can do in terms of like you know the part of me wants to be like you gotta go do all these resources and prepare a stack of books and pamphlets and websites that minute, you know, Barry comes out to your husband, you know, and obviously you can’t be doing a ton of that beforehand without tipping, without inadvertently outing Barry, which is right now the main thing you should not be doing. Right. But, you know, you seem to know your husband. It also sounds like you don’t have a ton to be concerned about saying your husband doesn’t think he could ever understand. It does not sound like a massive fire and brimstone kind of response to to the idea of trans people as a whole.

S11: Right. And it’s not uncommon for people to be like, all right, I’ve finally come around to the idea of the gay thing, but like, don’t ask me to be okay with a trans thing. Right. And it’s like unfortunate and annoying. And yet, like, if he came around on the gay thing, like, I have faith he’ll come around again.

S6: And, you know, whether or not he understands it is immaterial because what he has to do is respect his kid and and support his kid. And that is, I think, perhaps the chief thing that you can prepare yourself to do after Barry comes out. I think that’s exactly it is a of all. Don’t lose, Barry, in this and your concern for your husband. I think even the best and smoothest transition in the world is a massive life event. It is not a cataclysm, but you should probably it’s a big thing. It’s a big thing. And you should clearly Barry loves and trust you. And I would encourage you to continue to check in on checking on him regularly, see how he’s doing, see if he needs anything. This isn’t like a like I made you a big ziti kind of make Barry a big. Yeah. You think Barry enjoys it? Yeah. And also check in on him to see how much he wants you to be doing in checking it anyway. Yeah.

S8: I think just as an addendum to that after he has come out to your husband to do those check ins in a way that’s totally disconnected from your husband, that’s not like how are you doing, by the way? I just want you to know my husband’s trying really, really hard. And I’m sure he’s gonna come around and maybe this next month he’ll, you know, like don’t make promises on your husband’s behalf. Don’t try to send messages. Just like if you do those separate check ins on your own, just as it like concerns step mom, do them on their own.

S9: Right. And in fact, I would even encourage you to do the opposite where if your husband does have some trouble adjusting to the news of this transition at all. If Barry does change the name and pronouns is Danny and I very clearly like white knuckle in wishing he would do actually the middle of this letter. Yep, you get the important, but not necessarily a glamorous job of absorbing that. For Barry and not and making sure that your husband is not delivering any of those, you know, possibly, you know, again, using words that are hateful but like problematic. But, you know, just sort of unpleasant and unglamorous working out of. Why is this happening? What it what do you mean? I don’t understand this. You know, any of this sort of processing of his kids transition that Barry should not be subjected to embarrass should I have to deal with with his dad directly, you know, as as much of that as you can sort of talk through with your husband and remind him like your kid is happier and healthier and better this way, you know, materially. You know, you get to do that and to as much as you can shield some of that shield, Barry, from some of that unpleasantness. So he doesn’t have to have those conversations, because I’m sure no matter what, he’s gonna be having a bunch of those in his life. Yes. Right now.

S8: And also for the rest of forever, although I do want to tag onto that. Don’t take that so far that you feel personally responsible for absorbing all of your husband’s transphobia. Like I think you can encourage good behavior. Discourage bad behavior. Right. I do want you to be as helpful to various possible in those moments, but I think sometimes, especially when it comes like this is not an unheard of dynamic where it’s like transphobic or homophobic husband, more accepting, like female partner whose job it is, is to soften him to the world. Right. And so I would just say, like, don’t take that so far that you feel like it’s my job to absorb all of this, like. Right. Right. Barry’s also in his 40s. Your husband is also grown like both of them are adults. And if your husband fucks up in his relationship with Barry and Barry distances himself as a result, you know, again, you can offer support, advice, encouragement. But I want you also to really like remind yourself, like, this is my husband’s relationship with his kid. And I don’t have to do more than be supportive right here. It’s not my job to make sure he does the right thing, right?

S6: Yeah. And and just to model good behavior, obviously. And again, to be. Primarily a support to Barry, and if you want to, you know, go to a P5 meeting together or something, right, or be like, hey, this book or this article might be helpful, you know, if that’s the kind of way that you’re that would be useful to your husband. Not everybody’s a joiner or a reader. That would be cool. But you don’t need to super overdo it. Yeah.

S8: Yeah. And I think to the you know, the best resource is the open mind. So before P flag, before a book, if your husband gets real stuck on. I don’t understand it. I don’t know how much I like. Would encourage like thought exercise, like, well, what if you woke up tomorrow and you were in such and such a situation, how would you feel? Because I think that can get. I don’t think you need to have weird thought experience experiments to offer people like sympathy and respect. But I think to just your answer to that, be like, well, you don’t have to understand it. You do have to respect it. But you could also like listen. And I bet if you listen to your kid’s experience, you’d start to understand it better. You weren’t capable of understanding it. If you want to. But sometimes you will say that because what they mean is I choose not to understand this. Right. I’m hostile to this idea. If someone tries to tell me more about it, I will push that away because I don’t like it.

S9: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I would just. But before understanding which which would be a longer term process quite possibly comes the actions of basic respect, which you can certainly model, and you can certainly encourage your husband to take part in, which is whatever bear his name pronouns are wind up being, you know, anything like that. That is your primary thing.

S12: And again, yeah, just making sure various good and offering your support to him totally independent of of your relationship with your husband and his relationship with your husband. That’s aremany episode of Dear Prudence for this week. Our producer is Phil Circus. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton. As always, if you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message at 4 0 1 3 7 1, dear. That’s 3 3 2 7. And you might hear your answer on that episode of the show. You don’t have to use your real name or location, and at your request we can even alter the sound of your voice. Keep it short. 30 seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening.

S13: Well.