Monthly Archives: May 2014

Asking my father for forgiveness

Forgiveness Challenge

Forgiveness Challenge

I am currently taking part in the Forgiveness Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to achieve personal freedom through letting go of the anger and resentment that goes with being hurt. Created by Desmond and Mpho Tutu, the challenge is a journey into leaving behind victimhood and embracing the freedom that awaits each of us once we reconcile with those who have hurt us or who we have hurt in the past. Once we have forgiven, we can choose to either renew our relationship with the other, or we can release the hold that relationship still has on us. One of the assignments of the challenge is to admit a wrong we have committed against another. Here is my response to that assignment.

The truth is I still carry a lot of anger and disappointment towards my father. For the hostility he showed me when I acknowledged that I was transgender, for example. And for his poor handling of my struggles with clinical depression as a young person. But if I peel away these feelings, what lies beneath is anger and disappointment towards myself. And shame. Because when it comes right down to it, I let my father down too. And badly.

When I was a teenager, I often looked at my father with resentment and disgust. What I saw was a broken man who had no backbone when his wife threw a barrage of insults his way. I saw a man who wasn’t strong like other men, or aggressive or sporty. He lived a simple life, with few luxuries and only a handful of close friends. He avoided the limelight and was – in my child’s eyes – just an ordinary, flawed man, nothing special. His physical disabilities only augmented the impression I had of him as weak, physically, socially, emotionally. His skin, covered in warts and thin so that his veins crisscrossed his cheeks, repulsed me, as did his gnarly, arthritic hands, and the stench of his sweat when he neglected to shower for a day or two.

I am not proud of how I felt, nor of how I treated him. Sometimes I spoke angrily at him, belittled him for being more mouse than man. I emulated the insults my mother threw his way and felt only resentment that he did not defend himself. He was no hero, not in my eyes. When he showed me his diaries from the days when he was in boarding school I ridiculed the child he once was. The child, whose voice on the page was filled with longing for a mother who showed him little affection, and a father who barely acknowledged his existence. I was terrified by his vulnerability and in terror I derided him.

My father is no longer alive to ask for forgiveness. And even if he was, I don’t know if he would hear what I had to say or understand the shame I feel. But I know that if I am to honour him moving forward I must reach a point where I am able to forgive myself. For his sake, I must forgive myself.

I now realize what a brave man my father was. How much courage it took to share his vulnerabilities with me and with the world. How despite the enormous physical pain he experienced, he accomplished so much with his life. He built a respectable private practice as a psychiatrist and supported a wife and three children. He travelled to Canada with a young family and started a new life far away from the country he was born to. And later he packed up his things and moved us back to the country of his origins, South Africa. That took guts and grit. He even managed to pay off his mortgage before he died. I remember how proud he was when he told me that.

When my father died, almost ten years ago now, I went a little crazy. For a year I grieved deeply, left my job, had nightmares where I was in his hospital room, the ocean beating against the building, the full moon shining down on the inky black waves and through the window of his room. My father lay in his hospital bed, oblivious, tubes emerging from every orifice. Then one night I dreamed my father returned home, with gifts for each of us in the family. He handed me a chocolate bar – something he sometimes did in real life – and then he wrapped his arms around me. I woke up, my body still tingling from his loving hug; I felt deeply comforted. After that the nightmares stopped. But the grieving continued on.

What I remember of him now is his gentle sense of humour, his childlike obsession with Afrikaner folk music, his deep humility. The purity that emanated from his brown eyes. He was by no means perfect. I cannot condone his support of the Apartheid regime, nor his suspicion (sparked by the fact that they wiped out many an Afrikaner family during the Anglo-Boer War) of all things British. And I don’t think I will ever accept his view of homosexuality and his belief that AIDS was God’s way of punishing an unnatural sex act (anal sex). Not to mention his antiquated views on transsexualism.

But despite our philosophical differences, I recognize that my father was deeply human. I recognize myself in him. And I love him now more than I ever was able to when I was younger. I will do my best to honour the kind, gentle man I know my father was. Because that man lives on in me.

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How to start over and create the future you want

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image by Tiago Gerken (unsplash.com)

In January of this year I did something drastic. I gave notice and left my job. This was a result of a long process of thinking about my life and where I’m headed. The job I was working at paid well, was well-respected and could guarantee me a financially comfortable existence. There was just one problem: I was deeply unhappy. There was no one thing that made it a bad fit. My co-workers were nice enough, though I resisted getting too close to anyone. I felt like I had little in common with them. They inhabited a privileged world that I had left behind when my struggles with mental illness and my battle with coming to terms with my transgender identity set in. In short, they did not feel like my tribe.

I believe that satisfaction in life comes from taking the experiences we have been through and making them part of our life story, having them inform our decisions moving forward, such as what we want to do with our life. My life has been shaped by my experiences as a transman, as a survivor of mental illness, and as a South African-born Canadian. For too long I think I have tried to pretend that I can ignore what has happened to me along the way to who I am. The truth is, I cannot. I feel it’s time that I live my life in accordance with the path I’ve walked.

I’m not sure what the future looks like exactly. I’m playing with a few ideas, one of which is to work with at-risk youth. I certainly have enough life experience to feel like I have something to offer. So I’m currently volunteering to gain experience in this domain. I am also working on starting my own writing business. My goal: to help non-profits and small businesses successfully promote their services.

It’s both scary and exhilarating to strike out on my own. But I’m excited to see what the future holds.

To the motherless on Mother’s Day

To some of us, Mother’s Day is a reminder of a painful past, of broken relationships and broken dreams. The following piece is my tribute to the woman who gave birth to me. Mom, I’m sorry I let you down…

ImageThe last time I spoke to my birth mother was in 2006. She flew to Canada from her homeland of South Africa to spread the remainder of my father’s ashes in the city we’d spent 10 years as a family: Prince George. My mother emailed me from my sister’s, where she was staying, and asked if I wanted to meet. It was nice – and surprising – to get an invitation, especially as the previous year we had had our share of conflicts around my decision to transition from my assigned female identity to a male one. At the time, my mother had disowned me and accused me of bringing shame over the family. After my father passed away from cancer, she told me she wished I’d died instead of him.

Given the acrimony that my transition had caused, I stayed away from my father’s funeral and accepted that I would perhaps not ever see my mother again. The thought was not so horrible. If love had once existed between us, I could not remember the last time my mother had admitted to feeling anything resembling it. Long before my transition we had locked horns over everything from my lack of motivation to my intentionally bad behaviour, as she saw it. In truth, my sin was that I had dared to become clinically depressed at the tender age of 12. Mental illness reflected badly on her skills as a mother. And if I had to guess, the guilt of her failure rendered her incapable of showing me affection.

Some children bring out the worst in their parents, and I certainly brought out the worst in my mother. Between my severe depressive episodes and my father’s physical disabilities, I imagine my mother felt her family was more of a burden than she’d signed up for. At least where I and my father were concerned. She convinced my father, a psychiatrist, to prescribe me antidepressants. But neither of them thought it necessary for me to speak with anyone outside the family. And so, when the medications made my suicidal thoughts grow worse, I withdrew even further, scared that I was going crazy, scared that if they found out, they would have me committed.

The yelling started gradually, and became more severe once my two elder sisters left the house. My mother would get upset at anything and everything it seemed. Like when my father dropped his fork at the dinner table, his fingers like twisted twigs, the result of severe rheumatoid arthritis. She would scream at him when he clumsily knocked his knee into the corner of the coffee table and blood poured onto the living room carpet. Because of the medications he was on, my father bled easily and long, his blood refusing to clot. My father rarely defended himself against my mother’s cruel jabs. As he later told me: try to think of it from your mother’s perspective, being with a man who is dependent on her to get around, to live. I couldn’t understand his logic. If she loved him, surely yelling was no way to show it?

But there was a viciousness in my mother’s attacks that made me want to leap up and defend my father with all my might. I loved him and wanted to look up to him. And yet, there he was, vulnerable, in many ways a broken man — and not even his wife treated him with respect. It made my blood boil. I tried to defend him but for my pains I unleashed not only my mother’s rage but my father’s too. In his eyes, my mother could do no wrong. And given the choice of defending the woman he depended on or the child who wanted to look up to him, he inevitably chose my mother’s side, condemning my angry outbursts and ordering me to apologize to my mother for challenging her authority.

I learned two lessons: sometimes doing what you think is right, hurts. And, never trust your parents.

As my father’s physical health declined, my mental health plummeted as well. My mother, too, sunk into a kind of sullen, angry depression, though this was never acknowledged. I remember her spending her afternoons stretched out on the leather couch in the TV room watching soap operas with the sound turned off. Some nights I would hear her screams from the bedroom, waking as she sometimes did from vivid nightmares.

It carried on like this until I finished high school and, at the tender age of 18, fled to Canada to stay with my sister and attend university. By then, my depression had become so entrenched that a mere change in environment wasn’t enough to shake it. But I finally reached out for professional help and started my long road towards recovery.

So, in 2006, when my mother invited me to meet with her, I thought: maybe we can finally have an honest conversation. We got together in front of the Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC. As I approached her I asked if it was OK for me to hug her. Stony-faced, she told me to do whatever I wanted. She stood as still as a tree-trunk as I tried to wrap my arms around her. We settled onto a park bench and I told her of the hurt she caused me, of the anger I still felt. When I questioned her outbursts, she seemed surprised. “Why did you bother listening to me?” she asked. As if it was my fault for caring what she thought of me.

I told her I needed her to apologize for the way she belittled my father and me. She refused. She said that I was to blame, that I had made her life a living hell. That’s when I realized that my mother would never change. And I needed to be OK with that. That day when we parted, I realized I could not continue the relationship with my mother and keep my sanity. I needed to let go of needing her acceptance. I needed to move on with my life.

I haven’t seen her since that day, and though it hurts, I know it was the right decision for my own healing.

Check me out on OP

I posted a personal piece at the Original Plumbing magazine blog. This one was tough to write, I’ll admit, as it deals with a hard topic that a lot of transsexual people struggle with at one time or another. Which is why I felt it was important to write.

Trigger warning: this piece deals with the aftermath of suicide.

Let me know what you think…

http://www.originalplumbing.com/index.php/society-culture/surviving/item/803-suicide-s-butterfly-effect

 

The transsexual “delusion” that isn’t

image from pixabay.com

image from pixabay.com

How is imagining that you are the opposite (sic) gender any different from a schizophrenic imagining that she is the Mother Mary or that he is Jesus Christ? This is a question that often gets thrown about as proof that the transsexual experience isn’t valid. “My friend thinks he’s a lizard,” sarcastic comments claim, “should I start feeding him insects”? Well, insects are high in protein, so your friend might benefit from this type of diet. But no, comparing transsexuals to schizophrenics is not helpful or accurate. Gender, researchers have found, is not an either/or proposition. And how we feel inside in terms of gender is pretty much set at the age of 3 years old. No amount of aversion therapy or tough love can change it.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that has seriously debilitating symptoms that can prevent a sufferer from living a fulfilling life unless they receive treatment. Medications such as risperidol or newer ones like olanzapine help alleviate the loss of touch with reality, the voices and hallucinations that those with schizophrenia contend with. Once the medications kick in, sufferers recognize their own delusions and are able to distinguish between the real and the imagined just like anyone else.

Feeding these types of medications to a transgender person has no such effect, signifying that we are dealing with a different beast entirely.

Despite many attempts to come up with treatments for curing transsexuals of their so-called gender “delusions”, scientific data show that these have proven to be largely ineffectual. On the flip side, supporting the transsexual in transitioning from his or her assigned gender to the gender that he/she/they identifies with, has shown overwhelmingly positive results. Of course hormones and surgery are not a cure-all. People who have other conditions, such as ADHD or OCD, will continue to have those conditions after transitioning. But aligning their outer appearance to their internal sense of who they are has proven to greatly improve people’s sense of well-being.

Trust me, most of us who are trans would gladly have taken medication to cure ourselves of our “delusions” if it worked. But it doesn’t. And so, we are left with this option: what if gender isn’t something that the outside world gets to impose on us but something we need to choose for ourselves?

And to those who claim that transsexualism is a medically created phenomenon, that simply isn’t true. Gender bending individuals have existed since time immemorial. In some indigenous cultures we have even been endowed with special powers and called shamans. What medical technology has allowed is for us to take ownership of our own bodies and to determine how we want our bodies to reflect our selves.

That is a right we all deserve. My body tells a story, and the author of that story is me. If you think you get to decide who I am, you’re the one who is delusional.

Further Reading:

On the difference between being transsexual and being psychotic
http://debunkingdenialism.com/2013/12/06/being-transgender-is-nothing-like-having-a-psychotic-napoleon-delusion/

On the harms of reparative (or conversion) therapy
http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/the-lies-and-dangers-of-reparative-therapy

Understanding gender (childhood development and terminology)
https://www.genderspectrum.org/understanding-gender

Trans expression in ancient times
http://www.bilerico.com/2008/02/transgender_history_trans_expression_in.php

Study of the effectiveness of hormones and surgery
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsm.12363/abstract;jsessionid=F9CD88A587AA18FD15F86DD8A4C47441.f01t04

Whose gender are you?

Who owns gender? Is it the doctors who, when they deliver a baby, determine based on the appearance of genitalia whether a baby is a boy or a girl? Is it the scientists who determine that your chromosomes are XY, XX, or some other, rarer configuration? Is it the parents who, as they raise their child, see their child gravitate towards traditionally boyish or girlish toys and interests? Is it the child him or herself as they enter into puberty and beyond?

Or is gender a commonly recognized good; something that belongs to society at large? Is it something that those around us have a right to impose on us depending on the mores of the era?

When I was a child I did not think of myself in terms of boy or girl. I gravitated naturally towards activities that interested me, regardless of whether they were associated with masculinity or femininity. As it happened, I enjoyed being outdoors. I enjoyed playing soccer, floor hockey, hiking and exploring the city in the snow. I played with Hot Wheel cars, He-Man and Mr T. action figures, and GI Joe figurines. My friends were almost equally male and female and I had crushes on both sexes. This caused me no real conflict.

Feeling socially awkward when I entered into crowds of people, I preferred one on one interactions. They proved less complicated. I knew what the expectations of me were. I knew that the boys were becoming bigger and I wasn’t. And that, as I became older, did cause me growing discomfort. I knew that I was expected to sprout breasts not muscle. That I couldn’t run around shirtless forever. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

As for the traditionally feminine trajectory of dating, getting married and having children, it held absolutely no appeal for me. The possibility of pregnancy terrified me long before I fully understood how babies were formed.

I thought the conversations that women had were boring, based on what I witnessed among my mother’s friends. Discussing recipes, soap operas and hairstyles held no interest. When my parents had friends over, I found myself gravitating to my father’s friendship circle. I would sit on the floor and listen in on their conversations as they discussed the latest news, scientific discoveries, politics or history.

I had no words for what I was experiencing. I thought I was simply a tomboy. I thought maybe certain women felt this way and that I would grow out of it and feel more comfortable in my skin one day. But that never happened. I felt awkward at school in the PE class when we had to change. I didn’t want to strip down in front of the other girls so I would hide in a bathroom cubicle. I stopped eating in the hopes that would delay the sprouting of breasts and the onslaught of menstruation. It worked in terms of the latter. But it only delayed the inevitable.

I was at war with my body. I didn’t understand why. I felt shame and embarrassment and I didn’t trust that I had anyone to talk to about it. I was crazy, I thought. Or maybe even evil. I withdrew from the world around me, spending most of my time alone. I became depressed, even suicidal. Until I made the decision to live my life authentically, to take the taboo step of changing my gender. I have never regretted my decision, despite the high price I have paid (loss of family, friends and opportunity).

Who gets to define my gender? And why does it matter? There used to be a time when people believed that kings were gods and that slaves were meant to be slaves by birth. We used to believe women were inferior to men (some still do), that it was simply the way the world was ordered. Most of us don’t subscribe to those notions anymore – we’ve seen that the way things used to be doesn’t necessarily translate into the way things are. Is gender the next frontier, less a life sentence than a mutable fact, a choice we have to be our authentic selves? What difference does it make to anyone else whether I live my life as a man or a woman? And yet, to me, it makes all the difference in the world.

What right does anyone else have to deny me that? My gender is my own.

The Equifax chronicles – or how being trans is sometimes confused with fraud

dreamstimefree_21343Today I went to the bank to open an account for my freelance business. Easy peasy, right? You’d think so but you’d be wrong.

I thought it was just me, but when I met my financial advisor he seemed kind of short with me. He peppered me with pretty specific questions about the nature of my business and treated me like I was hiding something. WTF? I didn’t know why until he asked me if I’d ever had another name. I told him yes and he asked me what it was. Sigh.

Now, I’m not the kind of person that hides that I’m trans. But sometimes it gets tiresome to have to explain myself. So, I tried to steer the conversation away from talking about my past. It didn’t work. Turns out when the bank ran a credit check on me, I got flagged. My ID number, he explained, was not associated with my name. WTF!

We cleared up the confusion when I told him about my gender change. Somewhere someone had neglected to inform me that Equifax needs a copy of my name change paperwork. I hadn’t thought of that way back when and no one’s ever given me grief over it before. I am happy to report that my financial advisor’s demeanour finally relaxed and the snarkiness evaporated. He realized I wasn’t a fraudster, and I realized he thought being trans was no big deal. Yay.

He’d initially thought that maybe I wasn’t who I said I was — that’s what it usually means when the ID number and name don’t match. Fraud.

Glad we sorted THAT out.

It’s been years since I’ve had any problems with my paperwork being in the wrong name and it reminded me of the early days of my transition. Damn, those were not fun times.

Next step: fax my name change to Equifax. Clear up confusion. Get my credit score. Make sure everything is in order.

Breathe. Move on with my life.