Proper Transition

Proper Transition

Being transgender is hard. Not to start a pity party for myself, but I do have to impress this statement upon you, my reader. No aspect of it is easy. From the dysphoria arising from the incongruence of how you are versus how you wish you could be, to the confusion over why people hate you for it, to the internal struggle to accept yourself, every aspect of transition challenges you. For me, I felt I had no choice but to transition. My life was on the line. But it was never easy.

I’ll answer all the obvious questions in brief. I knew there was something wrong in my youth. I would mimic women I saw, dabbing at my mouth like I thought ladies were supposed to, or keeping my voice high to match their pitch. I discovered the label at thirteen, identified with what I read, and knew the truth about my gender from then on. I have not had the surgery yet, and likely never will. I changed my name through the courts, and yes, I did come up with my name on my own. I grew my hair out and shaved. My old name is private.

Transition is so much more than the myopic questions asked by many who misunderstand us. There is a deep, soul defining journey to be chased when one decides they must transition. What are oftentimes ignored in the transgender discussions, or when people ask transgender people like myself questions, are the defining moments for the transgender person. It isn’t just about when you knew, or what is in your pants. Transition is about who you are at your core. 

The year is 2016, and I am about to go into my therapist’s office. I am in the military, and have taken time off to see this man about my depression and gender dysphoria. I’ve gone through all the hoops, answered all the questions, and now it is just a waiting game before I get hormones. I cry before I go in, staring up at the tall hospital tower, wondering if things would ever change for me.

As I sit in his office and listen to him, however, I realize that they just might.

“It seems pretty clear to me,” I remember him saying, “that if ever I’ve met a transgender person, you’re one of them.”

He stood, disappeared, and returned fifteen minutes later with a prescription for estrogen. Now keep in mind that at this point, this is all I’ve ever truly wanted. This box of estrogen patches that I picked up from the pharmacy constituted a life goal of mine, achieved. I had climbed the mountain and shot over the moon.

So it may be a shock to learn that I tried to kill myself a month later.

To understand why, I want to back up to when I learned the term ‘transgender’ for the first time. Even though I knew that I wanted transition, I never could have imagined what it felt like to achieve it. When I was thirteen, I surfed the web unsupervised for the first time on my brand new laptop, a Christmas gift from my parents. I found a forum for transgender women who didn’t pass. I read about their experiences with gender dysphoria, the pain from the dissonance they felt in their gender and sex, the ways they coped, the way they spoke to each other and it all spoke to me. 

I too had been in pain over not being a girl. I too had crossdressed with clothes I’d bought in secret and stashed away in my drawers. I too was afraid of growing old as a man, and so I too would do anything to make it not be so. That’s when I learned the word. 

‘Transgender’ came to define me in my teens. I realized it for what it was: a core piece of my identity as a human being. I couldn’t separate who I was from the pain of my dysphoria. A fundamental building block of my psyche ached. Now, though, I finally had a label for it, and this made it more bearable. I could at least know what was wrong, even if I didn’t know how to fix it.

Transition seemed out of reach. I told my parents that I crossdressed, and got a clumsily handled reaction to it. My mother found it gross at first, and told me she didn’t want that in her house. This shut me down for about a year and a half. When I tried coming out of the closet a second time, just before I joined the military, they told me this: society is a bell curve, and if you transition, you’ll fall on the edges and be outcast. They would not support it.

Coming out hurts. It’s hard, and scary, and oftentimes disastrous. The wound of dysphoria persists, however, and just like a continually shaken bottle of champagne, the cork eventually pops. The egg cracks, to put it in the lingo of the online transgender community. I wouldn’t be able to hide a gash on my chest for long before bleeding out; hiding my dysphoria felt much the same though. It drained me. Hurt me. It was killing me. I felt I had no choice but to let that cork fly.

To be shoved back into the bottle is almost unbearable.

I don’t think one can truly know themselves if they have to hide core pieces of themselves from others. When I sunk back into the closet, I realized that, deep down, I had no idea who I truly was. My whole identity formation had suffered because of my dysphoria and inability to explore it. I had so little to mentally grab onto because most of who I was at my core was stuffed into this corked bottle.

When I left my parents’ house and joined the military, I had a hole in my soul and a dysphoria bottle ready to blow. Every time I looked at myself in the mirror I saw a man, and that just wasn’t me, not in my brain at least. Every boxy feature, every masculine edge sliced me like a sharpening knife. I eventually stopped looking at myself in the mirror, as the weight I had packed on at basic military training had enhanced my masculine features.

So, I started running. I ran to get slim, to be feminine, but I also ran from my problems. It alleviated the suffering, just a little, to be thin and petite. It softened the blow every time I looked in the mirror, thinking I was cute. I could catch angles of myself that I thought were quite womanly, and for the first time, I felt some sense of acceptance toward my body. 

I ran three miles every other day and eventually hit 128 lbs. I could see my ribs and hips sometimes. I felt proud of my achievement, not because I ran so much, but because I had lifted some of the pain from my gendered mind. I would hesitate to call it an obsession, but it is in a way, insomuch as one can be obsessed with a core wound in their heart.

This, of course, acted as a band-aid. When I turned 21, I started drinking in earnest, finding it easier to just drown the thoughts than to face or run from them. I could chug through bottles of liquor in a single night, and do it again the next day. This ended with me in the hospital, in a black out state that I can’t even remember to this day.

The concern shown by my leadership in my unit touched me. They mandated therapy for me, after a brief inpatient stay in the military hospital’s psych-ward. At this point, then-president Obama, I had seen on Fox as I worked away one day, had made it possible for transgender servicemembers to come out and get treatment without being evicted from the military unceremoniously. Knowing this, in that psych-ward, sitting on an old red chair and talking in the dim light, I finally told someone the truth. I told my psychiatrist that I am transgender.

Her eyes grew wide and I swear I could see the lightbulb flicker on in her eyes. Three months later, I escaped inpatient and slid into therapy, when my therapist got me my hormones, and I slapped the patch on for the first time.

And thus we return to my suicide attempt.

As I said, I hardly knew myself. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or where my life was even heading. I didn’t know what I liked, what I would tolerate, nor did I know what I would accept. All I knew was that I still saw a man in the mirror. That’s when it dawned on me.

I might never see a woman in the mirror. I might always see a man. 

I might never pass as a cisgender woman in my life. All the effort and pain may be wasted for nothing.

This broke me.

I reached out to a friend, but they were busy for the weekend. I pleaded with them to not leave me alone, but, alone, I sunk into a spiral of alcohol and avoidance. When I thought about going back to work, and how much of a freak I felt like, something in me collapsed. I opened a bottle of Benadryl and downed them. 

To put this in perspective, I believe that if you don’t know who you are, you can’t love yourself. In fact, you’ll probably hate yourself. I didn’t know I had the strength to carry on, the strength to face the future. I hated myself for that. When the pills were in my gut, finally, after years of thinking about suicide, I felt a sense of peace. Everything, all the pain and angst, would end.

I’ll spare you the details, and pardon me for doing so. I think the biggest lesson here is that corking core pieces of your identity for years will fracture your psyche and lead to self hate, fear, and regret. It hurts to hide yourself from yourself. It is impossible to grow if you can’t look at yourself and your graces, let alone your flaws. This stagnation kills. Luckily, I learned my lesson.

After another stint in a psych-ward, I let myself wear feminine clothing, buy a wig, and get my ears pierced. I could hide no longer and had to be brave in the face of a whole new life path. I even got a tattoo emphasizing the courage I needed to show now. If I could be brave, I could be free.

In doing so, I discovered what I liked. I found what I hated. I let myself get therapy and help, finally, because I accepted that I needed it. I began to elucidate who I was and who I am. It wasn’t just about makeup, or dresses. It was about fundamentally educating myself on my tastes, preferences, needs, wants, and hopes. I had finally allowed myself to explore some of the shadowed parts of me.

I went out dressed up for the first time with a friend, who took me to a sports bar for lunch. In my wig and tunic and jeans, I bravely took my first steps out of my door, and into the light of day. At the bar, the waitress called me ‘ma’am’, and we had a lovely time, if you were wondering. More important than that, I think, is the calling in my heart to do such a thing in the first place. I had found the strength I needed to go outside dressed as a woman, and this taught me I had the strength to face the world as a woman.

As time went on, and I got out of the military in the midst of a major mental decline I realized that even though I had that strength inside of me, the world would not care. The more ‘out’ I became, the more hate I got. People harassing me out of their car windows, their bedroom windows, shouting things down at me and mocking me, made accepting myself all the more difficult. Many, I found, hated me now for what I had become: a trans woman.

I had to adjust to this. It wasn’t enough that I struggled to like and accept myself; the whole world, it felt like, had to have it out for me too. I actually started going to a transgender support group and made some friends, who floated me through this discovery. It could’ve easily sunk me. And I was certainly sinking.

I got out of shape and started smoking more. I grew angry and lashed out. I hid away from people and drank my worries away. Through a series of unfortunate events – drugs, assaults, and loss – I wound up home again, having crashed and burned after getting out of the military. Upon arriving home, and telling my female family members and friends that I had been assaulted, I received another defining moment in my transition.

“Welcome to being a woman,” I was told.

The mere statement alone shocked me, let alone the implications. I was, at first, offended and hurt that I hadn’t been taken seriously or comforted. Later I would have a deep sense of empathy for that comment, coming to understand it as something I needed to understand if I were to connect more with cisgender women. I realized that the female experience wasn’t purely euphoric anymore. It has dark sides to it, and that now landed on my shoulders, which is something I was unprepared for.

Cigarettes and God became my friends for a time, before I connected with a true transgender community on Discord. Here I made several friends who understood me, and as I moved to Arizona on my own, in a little studio apartment that would become my cocoon for two years, I found solace in them. They may have been mostly online, but I needed them.

I guess nobody told me that, about being transgender. It’s very lonely. Isolation comes naturally to the socially strange, and we were no exception. Sometimes it feels like nobody will ever understand your conditions, much less accept them. I struggled with my friendships due to my self loathing, and eventually lost them too. Even as I began to truly discover myself in Arizona, I also began to destroy myself in my vulnerable solitude. Sure, I had a few friends, but mostly, I hid away in my apartment, smoked weed, and grappled with the severe psychological issues I had surrounding my perception of myself.

I still hated myself.

I realized that I still didn’t know myself, and that I had to continue my journey. I made a fearless inventory of myself, taking stock of my worst and best attributes. I knew I needed something to change, but didn’t know what. My psyche deteriorated in regards to my gender, until I started to see myself as a freak because I wasn’t ‘passing’ as well as I thought I would’ve been.

Several doors opened to me when I finally conquered my suicidal ideation in my closet. I accepted that I wasn’t perfect but that I had capabilities that could save me from myself. I put the gun down and stood, resolved to never be in that position again. I would learn more about myself, the world be damned. I would adventure and see and do things as myself. 

Which leads me to now, today. I don’t necessarily pass well. I get ‘sir’ as a pronoun a lot, and ‘ma’am’ at other times. I’ve come to see myself as who I truly am in the mirror, not as the facade of a man nor as the dress of a woman, but rather just as… myself. My gender has ceased to matter to me, because I’ve conquered it inside of myself. Years of pondering and anguish have led me to know it better than I know any other piece of myself. The journey always continues, but I know who I am now. I am a woman to myself, I have defined that for myself, and understand it as myself. 

Transition isn’t easy. So it should track that it is more than the easy questions. “Will you get the surgery,” is superficial at best. “Who are you,” is what we should be asking transgender people. “What did you find when you looked into that abyss and came back?” There is much more to transition than the outer change. To transition, one must inherently change, on a base level, their very core being. One must find acceptance, tolerance, clarity, and calm to truly uncork that bottle and love the mess that spills out of it.

I staked my life on my transition being a success. Turns out, that was only half the battle. The other half was accepting the person I would become during it, and that was honestly the hardest part. Being transgender is hard. 

Transition is worth it.


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