Tag Archives: transition

My wasted life?

There are times where I seriously question whether it’s all been worth it. The years of self-torture, the decision to transition, the rejection from family that followed, the alienation, ultimate rebirth, the surgeries, hormone injections, therapy sessions and hate.

Unlike some trans children I did not announce to my parents when I was four that I was a boy. I knew better than that. I knew that whatever I thought didn’t matter; what mattered was what the world around me thought, what my family thought. And the world around me was telling me that I was a little girl. My family reinforced this notion. It wasn’t a comfortable label to carry, the one of girl, but what alternative was there, really? In my eyes I had only two choices, learn to live with being a girl or die. For a while there, I seriously considered dying. Sometimes I still do. Old habits die hard.

When I finally came out, my mother accused me of having nothing better to do with my time than to come up with this ridiculous idea that I was a man. She guilted me by telling me how, when she grew up, she didn’t have time to contemplate such absurdities as being uncomfortable in her body, because she had REAL problems to worry about, like my father’s sickness, like raising three children, like being a good wife. Those are grownup problems. She made it seem like my struggles with gender were somehow an indulgence that I engaged in because I was lazy or had too much time to be idle.

Maybe it is a first-world problem. Had I been born into a third world reality, maybe I would have spent my time consumed with thinking about where to get my next meal, or where to scrounge a few coins together to buy the basics of living. I would not have been able to afford hormone treatments or surgeries. But the fact that third genders exist in developing countries counters this theory. In India, hijras form a recognized third class. Neither man nor woman, they nevertheless are recognized in the law as a distinct category. They do not come from rich middle-class families. I’d wager, in fact, that most of them do not.

But that feeling, that my transition was an indulgence, persists. Never mind that the time I spent coming to terms with my gender, robbed me of what should have been the best years of my life: my childhood, my teenage years, my early adulthood. I sank into an early, deep depression. I self-harmed. I tried to kill myself. And when I really could not see any other option, and when it occurred to me that it didn’t really matter what happened next once I transitioned, because living the way I was living was already a kind of death, I made the decision to see a specialist. I was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder and in quick succession was approved for hormone therapy.

All of that time and energy spent wasted on something that, to some, seems so inconsequential. Who cares if you are a man or a woman? Why spend so much time hung up about it? Why not just move on, live your life, with your god-given body? Make peace with yourself.

But there was no peace to be had, not for me. Not until the hormone treatments started. That, really, for me, was the turning point. More so even than the subsequent surgeries. Because that first injection was about more than just changing the chemical makeup of my body. It was the first time that I truly acknowledged to myself that all of this was not just in my head. That this was real and that I was really doing something about it. Hormone therapy changed my life.

But was it worth it? Ten years later, I have no real contact with my birth family. That in itself might seem like a tragedy if it were not for the fact that even before my transition we had our share of problems. I don’t miss them much. I miss having a family of my own, but I do not miss the family I had. There are too many painful memories there. I’m sure they would say the same. I was the black sheep that ruined their world. We are better without each other.

Ten years later, I am also without a partner of my own. I was engaged, once. Until fairly recently actually. It’s still too raw for me to write about. Considering I’ve not had great role models in what loving relationships look like, I suppose it’s not surprising that I’ve failed in this domain so far. Especially considering how few trans people I know who have succeeded in finding loving partners in it for the long run. I’ve not entirely given up yet. But I’m wise enough now to know not to rush into anything. There are worse things than being alone. An unhappy marriage is one of them.

Ten years later, I have no real career. This one hurts the most, I think. If one does not have family, one should at least have a career. But to fail here, well, that truly is to be a failure. My career failings have largely been a result of my inability to hold down a job for more than a few years at a time. Hurdles include crippling social anxiety, and recurring clinical depression. Add to that my need to pay for surgery. I pursued a job that had benefits, and that allowed me to go through six surgeries in 3 years to finalize my gender confirmation process. Had I not had these practical needs, I am sure I would have chosen a different career path entirely — as I most recently have.

I left a fairly lucrative career last year, a career that offered me little enjoyment except for a comfortable pay-cheque. Instead, I pursued work that was more in line with my values, working with others who deal with mental health and social challenges. The work is rewarding, the pay not. But at least I wake up and feel like what I do has value, unlike before.

But to be 35 and just starting out is a challenge. I am ashamed of how little I have truly accomplished. I am embarrassed that I let so many years slip by without tackling the issues that were holding me back. I grieve for the child I once was, the child who had hopes of great achievements, and ambition to match. The child who, to my parents, could have been a diplomat, scientist or great artist. Instead, in their eyes, I threw it all away. All because I simply couldn’t come to terms with my gender. How silly is that?

And yes, sometimes I wonder if it has been worth it.

*Photo by Todd Quackenbush (unsplash.com)

 

On Coming Out As Trans: The Early Days

On the few occasions that I have spoken openly about being trans, the rewards have been well worth it.

I don’t tell everyone I meet that I am trans. Why should I? For all intents and purposes I’m just another guy, slightly awkward, somewhat shy. Attention-grabbing isn’t my thing; I’d much rather work away in the background and let someone else claim the glory. But I also know that part of my healing process involves sharing who I am with the people who matter to me. And I’m learning, slowly, to be comfortable with who I am even if other people aren’t.

My First Post-Transition Employer

When I first transitioned I also happened to be unemployed. Having just finished a semester of university, and still in the early stages of hormone treatments, I hit the pavement in search of a job. Through a friend I landed an interview with a self-publishing company who was seeking the services of a prepress technician. That is, someone to receive manuscripts from would-be authors, lay out their book and design or assemble a cover. I had limited InDesign skills and even less graphic design skills (I had briefly volunteered at the university newspaper) but these were all things I could learn – and I did.

It so happened that I had interviewed with this particular employer 3 times before – as a woman. The fourth time was my lucky break – and it happened to coincide with my transition to manhood. I mentioned this in my interview – that if they called any of my references, they would refer to me by my female name and female pronouns. My interviewers seemed unphased by this piece of information. It helped that they had previously hired a trans person; they were not completely oblivious to the particular challenges I faced.

I worked there for a year and a half before I decided to move on. My father had died, my family had rejected me, and I was still wrestling with guilt over a close friend’s suicide. The work was no longer satisfying, the company was struggling financially, and I couldn’t function anymore. So I decided to go on EI. I asked my employer to lay me off and they obliged. I remain grateful for that.

The Government Funded Self-Employment Program

The thing about EI is that it doesn’t last forever. I was assigned a employment counsellor through one of the many government-sponsored employment agencies. My case worker was an eccentric man with a baritone voice who liked to cradle his junk with one hand as he explained to me the next steps of my process. I told him everything: about the years I’d struggled with depression, my mother’s reaction when I came out to her (she’d said it would’ve been better if I’d just died), my father’s passing and my feelings of unemployability.

He suggested that I might be eligible for government-funded re-training and we started the paperwork. Interestingly, he thought my trans status would cause less problems than my diagnosis of clinical depression. We would have to prove that I was too sick to work in a regular employment environment but healthy enough to attend school and work for myself. Not so easy.

All I’d ever wanted to be was a writer, but I had no faith in my abilities and didn’t see how I could make it work financially. I figured, if I was going to study something, I wanted to study something I’d actually enjoy. So I settled on attending the Vancouver Film School. They had a 12-month screenwriting program that also included learning how to write journalism, TV specs, children’s shows, documentaries and other types of creative writing.

As part of my application process I needed to speak with people in the industry and get them to say that they would hire me on their projects once I graduated. I looked up everyone and anyone I could find. I volunteered with an organization that screened documentaries in a restaurant setting. I befriended two documentary filmmakers who’d been in the filmmaking biz for more than 30 years. They said that if I got everything together for a project they’d consider coming on as a producer. I was elated. The way I saw it, even if I didn’t learn a thing from film school, I’d get a chance to network. And everybody knows that networking makes the world go round.

I completed the paperwork, put in the application to the school, including a writing sample about my life as a trans person. It worked; the school said yes. Now all I had to do was make sure that the government was on board. With my case worker’s support, I completed form after form, outlining my career plan and arguing that because of my challenging life experiences, I had plenty of material to draw on to succeed in the film business. I was approved; I was given a living allowance of $12,000 for the year and my tuition and text books were covered. A good thing, too, as the tuition wasn’t cheap: $20,000 for the entire program. There was no way I could’ve gone without the government support. I packed my bags and got ready to move to Vancouver.

I was eager for the next chapter of my life to begin.

Say what you mean

It’s like a mental stutter, the way my brain goes blank. It happens when I am asked a question that’s a bit too personal, or when I’m expected to hold an opinion, or when someone actually seems to care what I have to say. Suddenly the world around me goes dark and I feel myself shrinking into myself. I struggle to gather my thoughts together. And the harder I try to snap out of it, the deeper the blankness.

Writing doesn’t come easily to me – I care too much about words – but it’s a heck of a lot easier than speaking up. I can hide behind my keyboard, behind my computer screen. I can pretend that no one will read what I have to say. What I write is just something between me and a vague “public” out there far away. Here, in the safety of my home, they can’t touch me. Not really.

In person, though, it’s a different ball game. Eyes on you, where can you hide? And the vulnerability of it – no easy escape from awkwardness. I can feel their eyes burning judgements into my skin. Maybe it’s because deep down I still fear the things I was told were true when I was just a child in a foreign country – that everyone else is out to get you, don’t trust anyone, people want to hurt you, keep to yourself, be quiet, don’t rock the boat, behave, follow instructions. The lessons started young and became embedded in my psyche. I thought I could trust no one except my parents. I thought that if I tried to think for myself I would go astray. I actually believed that I was bad, evil in fact, and that I didn’t know what was best for me.

Talk about brainwashing.

It’s still hard for me to engage with others. I still struggle to believe that other people are not somehow looking for horrible ways to humiliate or hurt me. When I transitioned my sister burst out in tears. She worried that I would be ostracized by society, maybe become the victim of a violent hate crime. I suppose that’s still possible. But it wasn’t society that ostracized me. At least, not the big scary Society out there that I was taught to fear. No, it was my own flesh and blood; people who I believed were genetically programmed to love me, who turned out to be my harshest critics.

They are not bad people. They acted out of their own set of beliefs. It’s all any of us can do, really. I don’t hate them for not wanting to know me for the man that I am. It makes me sad, but I don’t feel angry anymore. I’m just glad that I am slowly getting to see that people who are not part of my flesh and blood family can have an important – and positive – role to play in my life. I never thought I would get a chance at building my own family. But that’s exactly what has happened for me. And it’s been such a valuable lesson in compassion.

Maybe one day I’ll trust people enough to believe that they actually want to hear what I have to say out loud. Maybe I’ll find my voice. And when I do, I want to sing. I want to sing so the universe can hear me. Because I belong.

Every one of us belongs.

The power of commitment

My father was committed. For over thirty years he stayed married to the same woman. He would probably say that it was easy; that he loved her. But thirty years is a long time to be with anyone. It takes perseverance.

My father was committed. He graduated from medical school in 1963 and became a psychiatrist. He practiced well into his 60s. He loved his work. I think he felt like he was contributing to society by helping his patients. He must have felt like he was making a difference in their lives. He must have believed in his work.

My father was committed. Even when I told him I was transitioning from woman to man, he continued to say that he loved me. He didn’t accept me, couldn’t accept me. But he loved me nonetheless. It wasn’t what I wanted but it was something. It showed his commitment to being a better father than the one he had grown up with. By all accounts my grandfather was a difficult, sometimes violent man. My father had a violent temper but he never hit my mother nor did anything more than spank me. Granted, he spanked me a lot. But I probably deserved some of it.

My father was committed. Every day he drank pills that kept him alive. Pills that meant his body would not reject the kidney he received in transplant at age 25. Every day he had to choose to live. How easy it could have been to just stop. To let nature run its course. He once wrote me to say that he had contemplated suicide but that he had decided against it because of the people he would hurt by leaving. He meant our family and his friends. He lived for other people. He was a good person. Flawed, but good.

Around my neck I wear a necklace. A black cord with a silver pendant hanging from it. Imprinted on it is my father’s face. I wear it to remember the man he was and could have been. I wear it because it symbolizes the pain I still carry in me about the way he died, the troubles we ran into in trying to connect with one another. The necklace is a proclamation; it announces to the world that I am my father’s son, even if no one sees his faintly imprinted face at all. He is with me. He is inside me. He is part of me.

I am still learning how to be a man. Turns out it’s not that easy. It demands making decisions that are not clear-cut, like what to devote myself to career-wise, how to be a good partner to my girlfriend, and how to be a good friend to those around me.

My father had a side that was quiet, funny, gentle and under-nurtured. I wish I had gotten to know that side of him better. Because I want to be the man he never got to be. My vulnerabilities are not a weakness and nor was his. But he struggled to show his and suffered nobly the pain his ailing body wreaked on him. I embrace my vulnerability because it is where my strength lies. It’s who I am.

Unfinished business

It takes a move to find these things. Keepsakes you had no room for but that you weren’t quite prepared to chuck in the donation pile. In one of my cardboard boxes I came across a small plywood box containing a lock of hair from my former self, a bracelet, and a small ornamental pipe with a turtle on top.

Each of these items has its own story really. The pipe was from my days living in a house full of theatre students with a ready supply of weed. I was never much of a smoker and the pipe wasn’t terribly effective. But still. The memories, man. You don’t throw that sh*t away.

The lock of hair I don’t remember cutting, but it would have been when I was starting to transition, back in 2003/4. Wow, that’s coming on 10 years ago already. It contains within it the ghost of someone very unhappy, attempting to live as a woman when that simply didn’t feel true to who I was. It’s also a time capsule of my youth. The hair still looks a shiny brown, thick and healthy.

The bracelet is silver, a chain with a pendant attached and a short loose chain with a tiny heart hanging from its tip. The pendant is round like the moon and thin like a nickel, but smooth to the touch, with soft edges. Etched into it so you can only see it in a certain light is a picture of a man’s face. The man looks lean, almost skeletal. He is my father. I know the photo it’s taken from; he was already sick by that point, with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. His frame is slight, his smile honest, his eyes weary and wise and vulnerable.

I want to wear the pendant but not on a bracelet. It’s too feminine for my taste. So M brings me back a waxed cord necklace and we ply the pendant off the bracelet onto the cord necklace. I slide it over my head and peer at myself in the mirror. It looks good, masculine, tight around my neck. It feels meaningful, to wear my father’s image over my heart, to remind me. That I loved this broken, flawed man. That I caused him a lot of pain in his final days, as he figured out that I was becoming a man and that he would not see me again, ever.

My fingers linger over the surface of the pendant, as I stare at myself in the mirror. Who I am today my father deeply shaped – the good stuff as well as the bad. I think about my father pretty much every day. I wonder if he would be proud of the progress I’ve made and of the job I now have. I wonder if he knows how happy I am in my relationship with M – and that I am finally feeling some semblance of acceptance for my body, my self.

It’s been hard to let go of the self-hatred that accompanied my journey. To accept that even though my father could not really tolerate who I was becoming, that I am allowed to make my choices, and to keep on loving myself and him despite our disagreements.

The trouble with letting go of the past is that you have to choose somewhere else to direct your energy. When you no longer are trying to run away from your fears, how do you choose something to run towards? And what if I’m not strong enough?

Life is like most things worth having – it requires practice. Every day, every moment. I’m learning, slowly. And I am getting stronger. One step, one aching muscle at a time.