There was a time when I wrote a lot. I mean, a LOT. So much was happening in my life and I felt a need to express it in writing...every day.
The value of my writing to anyone but me can be debated, but I'm comfortable that, as a collection, it still stands on its merit given the time it was written and my overall maturity. That element - maturity - is a function of time and experience and I've see my fair share of both. If nothing else, my writing is a valuable time capsule to myself.
I figure that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while so the more I wrote the more likely I was to express something that others were feeling, too. That's not to say I'm right and anyone else is wrong. It's actually the opposite. It's recognition that our individual narratives do not necessarily align into some greater, universal, or even "common" story. Each needs to be told and processed because if life has taught us anything it's that none of us truly is "the only one".
It is indeed unfortunate that we sometimes create what I call a pack mentality. That is, when anyone dares to speak out and says something that someone else disagrees with they become a target for attack. Lord knows, I've been there. But back to that maturity thing...I've long since passed a point of caring if anyone else agrees or not. It doesn't invalidate what I think or what I write.
All that is a long Introduction to the fact that I'm writing again. I see things happening and feel things, and I feel compelled to write. I'm closer to the end of my life's journey than the beginning and I feel that, alone, provides a unique perspective worthwhile of being added to the greater collective of our life experiences. That faint candle has survived all these years and finally has something to share. Again. Or Still.
I read something last month and wanted to comment. The following essay is the result:
I Didn’t Transition to Simply Survive, I Did It to Be Happy
Jan 13, 2018
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the broad spectrum of communities that comprise what many commonly refer to as the “Transgender Community” is a general acknowledgement that our varied narratives are as broad as our realities. Those differences don’t invalidate them. If anything, they serve as testament to those who follow that there are innumerable paths to the same destination…to becoming.
I recently read an article titled “I Didn’t Transition to Be Happy, I Did It to Survive”. I transitioned from male to female nearly 20 years ago and as I read the article I found that the author and I share many of the unique elements that are often common to this journey. There was much there that resonated. However the core concept – that transition was about survival rather than happiness – did not, and it never did. In fact, my own narrative is exactly the opposite. I truly, truly transitioned to find two things – happiness, and peace. Today, two decades later, I’m happy to say that I’ve had them both for a long time.
The specter of suicide across the Trans community is beyond alarming. A 2015 study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute reported that 41% of the almost 28,000 self-identified Trans respondents had attempted suicide at some point in their lives (compared with 4.6% of the general population). Think about that….that’s not the percent who considered it; it’s the percent that actually attempted it. Those numbers are terrifying.
I am not part of that 41%. I feel no shame acknowledging that this journey was never one of life or death for me, at least not in the traditional sense. I've never had my own gun in my mouth, or been in a car filling with its own exhaust and made a last minute desperate decision to live. My heart truly hurts for those who have been there. But one thing I know about myself is that once I allow myself to get there I've given myself permission to consider that as a reasonable option in other contexts. That's a whole other conversation, but it's simply the long way of saying I've never been there.
When I found myself struggling I found focus by putting things in perspective. I’ve seen people with far bigger problems than mine – people dealing with unimaginable physical and situational issues in their lives. When compared to their challenges, mine seemed trivial to me to the point where I almost felt embarrassed. If they could find ways to deal with their challenges then I could find ways to deal with mine, at least for one more day. That concept - One More Day - made all the difference. So, although there was lots of complex “stuff” going on in my head at the time, this was really simple for me.
The thing that provided the driving force during the difficult times was my pillar belief that Maslow’s concept of self-actualization requires inner peace. Each of us has only one life to live and we don’t have to spend it being scared and miserable. Peace, though, doesn’t always come easily. It has a price, and I was about to pay it.
I’m what some commonly refer to as a “mid-life transitioner”. At almost 40 years old I was approaching the 20th year of happy marriage to a woman I very much loved. I was the father of our teenage son. I had a successful career and we had many of the trappings that pass for success in our culture – homes, cars, money, and “stuff”. I easily lived the charade of being male and could probably have lived the rest of my life that way – unfulfilled – just as generations before me had done.
My options at that stage of my life were gradually become clear to me. I could begin taking baby steps to live fully, authentically, without regret. Or not. It was the choice to knowingly live a lie, or to shed the suffocating burden of that dishonesty. It was the choice to accept things as they were, or to take action to affirm that there’s more to life than simply existing. In all those contexts – the choice was clear. The next biggest question was “How?”
As time passed I gradually built the inner courage it took to confront myself rather than run from myself. I chose to acknowledge that I had the power to change my fate. That change necessarily started with one monumental thing: Coming out….first to myself, then to others. For many of us, THAT’S the choice, because once you do that other things will happen….things you can’t even envision or guess.
The year was 1997 – a long time ago. At that time there were two therapists specializing in transgender clientele in the Phoenix area and I started to see one of them. I went every two weeks for almost two years, during my lunch hour at work, without any outward expression of who I am or who I knew myself to be. Our sessions consisted of me talking for almost the entire time – I had a whole lifetime pent up inside me that needed to come out. That seemingly simple act of articulating my fears, hopes, confusions, frustrations, needs, and dreams helped me get to know myself better. They were a Godsend.
At that point I couldn’t even imagine transition or living as me, much less begin to plan for it. Nothing could prepare me for what was to come. It was joyous, terrifying, exciting, confusing and awkward – all at the same time. I found comfort knowing that it was like a car alarm had been going off in my head for my entire life and I was finally making a conscious effort to silence it. The farther I progressed, the more I realized that I was on the right track, that I could actually silence it.
By the time I was ready to share my hidden self with others my need for authenticity was greater than my sense of terror. So I did it. I came out. To my wife, my son, my family, my work, my friends; it was harder than I ever imagined. I was acutely aware that once I came out I couldn’t un-come out, so regardless of what happened next my life from that point on was profoundly changed. I had absolute faith that life after could be better than life before.
Reactions were immediate and intense. My marriage collapsed. My son didn’t want to see me. I was rejected at work to the point I moved away to start a new life as generations before me attempted to do. I was truly, truly alone for the first time in my life, a story that many of us know all too well. But after the initial shock started to wear off things began to even out. A new normal settled into my life. A new, better me emerged from the debris of my old life and started to move on. That car alarm in my head had faded to silence, and has been silent ever since.
That was almost 20 years ago. Life since then has never been all Rainbows and Unicorns but I never expected it would be. It has settled into a comfortable groove that’s far more satisfying and comfortable than my old life ever was. I have a career I enjoy. Relationships with my family, my son, and my dearest friends are deeper and more fulfilling than I could have imagined. My comfort moving through the world as the real me is unconstrained and natural. In short - my faith and patience have been rewarded to a level I could never have imagined when facing those early decisions. I am keenly aware of my many blessings, and that it all started with Faith.
The concept that “I have always been a woman” has never resonated with me either. I’ve certainly always been aware of the prominent female presence in my psyche. My earliest coping mechanisms involved envisioning that there were two distinct people inhabiting this body, fighting for it. One was unquestionably male and the other was unquestionably female. The only question was whether or not I could give the female part of me permission to exist outside the deep, dark dungeons of my mind. Over time, the harder I tried to prevent it the harder she pushed back. Eventually I became dark and angry over the gradual realization that it would never go away. The pathway to peace for me wasn’t to consider killing myself – it was to find a way to come to peace within myself, which I’ve done. Over time I have come to embrace the unique opportunity to incorporate both my selves into a harmonious whole.
So am I happy? Yes, I am. I am truly, deeply, profoundly, authentically happy being this unique, generally well-balanced, sometimes self-actualized person I have come to be. Perhaps recognition of that happiness has become keener over the years as the difficulties from those tumultuous times have faded in the rear view mirror of my life. Regardless – the goal has been clear to me all along. Happiness was the goal, and goal acieved.
The goal for me has never been merely to survive. And, by that measure, I’m finally truly living..... One day at a time.