Ten years ago my family discovered that I was in the process of transitioning from female to male. No one in my family was happy about it. My father felt that he couldn’t accept it. My mother announced that unless I changed my mind, I was no longer her child. When my father eventually died from cancer, my mother wrote me to say that she wished it was me who had died, instead of my father.
My gender transition was a shock to my family and they responded accordingly. It may not have been such a shock to them had I felt safe to speak up earlier. But I remained silent about my gender dysphoria precisely because I feared the reaction I eventually got – one of rejection and condemnation.
Ironically, my inability to speak openly about what was going on for me inside partially contributed to my worst fears coming true.
The lesson I took from all this was that to reveal who I am, who I REALLY am, is dangerous and will cause only pain to me and those around me. But I could equally have taken a different lesson from the experience – that to conceal who I am, who I REALLY am, means alienating those who could possibly learn to accept (or even love) me for who I am.
My birth family and I have minimal contact today. I haven’t spoken to my birth mother in eight years. I occasionally communicate with my sisters via email maybe 1 or 2 times a year – to wish them happy birthday and happy holidays. The damage done to our relationship was severe, traumatic and, likely, irreparable. I don’t foresee our relationship improving in the foreseeable future. They have shown little indication of wanting to know me as I live my life today. No phone calls, no visits. No acknowledgement of the sacrifices I have made to live my life authentically.
I still carry with me the hurt, and yes, that anger that comes with feeling like I have been wronged. And with that hurt comes rage that my birth family turned their back on me, or at least did nothing to help me, despite my pain starting at a young age, when what I needed most was compassion and some place safe. I never felt safe with any of them.
But being a victim isn’t a place that leaves you feeling empowered. And when everyone involved in a conflict sees themselves as the victim, the conflict can’t resolve itself.
My family would probably claim that they were victims of my self-destructive behaviour and of my refusal to reach out to them for help. And I do feel responsible for the pain I caused them. Especially for the pain and stress I caused my father so short before his death.
For a long time, I have blamed myself for having let my family down. For having these cross-gender feelings in the first place, or for struggling with suicidal depression as early as age 12. The depression waylaid me for most of my childhood and rendered me incapable of functioning for most of my 20s. I exhausted my family’s goodwill in the process.
I blame myself because if I don’t, it doesn’t make sense why my life has gone so drastically awry. It has to be someone’s fault, because then at least there’s a narrative, a coherence to the chaos.
I blame my parents for their emotional neglect and their lack of empathy for when I struggled as a child with what was even then a serious case of clinical depression.
I blame my sisters for deserting me in that house, with parents who didn’t know how to love or care for me. And later, when I spoke my truth, for distancing themselves from me. Like I was some kind of pariah.
I blame God for making me a freak, for giving me feelings as a child that I couldn’t control or comprehend or safely share with anyone.
But blame has a funny way of killing you from the inside. It becomes an avoidance strategy that covers up another emotion – deep sadness and grief. A bottomless pit of it. And I’m afraid of letting myself feel that grief. Afraid that if I do, I will disintegrate and lose what little self-control I still have.
But there has to be an alternative to the rage or blame. There has to be a way to forgive myself for my perceived sins. After all, I was a child when this all began. How was I to know how to process these complex emotions? I had no one to show me how, and nowhere I felt safe to explore what was going on for me.
Oddly, when I let myself feel compassion for the child I once was, the anger towards my family lessens too. Because I realize that they, too, acted mainly out of fear, and out of not understanding. I can have compassion for that even if the consequences of their actions continue to hurt. I can’t say I forgive them fully, but maybe that’s because I don’t forgive myself fully either. Having your pain denied or invalidated leaves you feeling weak and unable to move on. And letting go of the need to have others validate your pain, well, that’s not easy.
I haven’t quite figured out how to hold them – and myself – accountable in a non-blaming, non-judgmental way. Maybe sharing these thoughts is my way of trying to start that process. I’m taking it one step, one day at a time.
*Photo by Ryan McGuire (http://www.gratisography.com/)