Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Emotional Selves

I've had several friends who have recently started on hormones. I've also had several who have gone off hormones, who have closed down their online presence to one degree or another, and who have had to second guess some of the big decisions in their lives.

The bottom line for much of this can be traced to a simple word with complex and far-reaching implications. Emotion.

In my own experience, starting on hormones was one of those paradoxes we face from time to time where I was incredibly excited but at the same time I was utterly terrified. I knew that, no matter what else happened from that point on, whether I decided to move forward or not at some point in the future, that I was opening a Pandora's Box from which there would be no return. Allowing that needle with that hormone into this butt was to introduce something into my world that would change it forever. It was that simple.

I think that despite the fact that more than a dozen years has passed between my first estrogen shot and today many of us are still completely blind-sided as to the impact of these potent chemicals. They are life transforming. They are amazing. And, they are scary. Even to me. Even all these years later.

One of the reasons for this, I think, is that people over-emphasize or are overly focused on the physical changes that they're expecting. MTF's think more about breast development (how big am I going to be?) or fat re-distribution or softening of the body hair than they do about anything else. So, when the physical changes (a) take a while and (b) aren't as significant as they expected (and, as a result, sometimes increase their dosages in order to "hurry things up") they're sucker-punched by all these rushes of new emotions and sensations that they either don't know how or just can't handle. Even under the best of circumstances a gender transition is a stressful thing. Add a bucket-full of emotion to it and it can easily become overwhelming. Oh - if I'd only known that at the time.....

Here's a little story..... When I first moved to Phoenix I made my first efforts to meet other people "like" me by contacting the local Tri-Ess group. I was told that I needed to meet a couple of people for dinner so that they could "screen" me so we met at a restaurant near my house. They sent a husband/wife team to check me out. And, it only took a few minutes for them to make up their minds.

I'll never forget it. The wife asked me if I had started on hormones and I had, so of course I said so. Well - her response was to roll her eyes and to inform me that my mind was forever poisoned so that we really had nothing more to discuss. I was flabbergasted. Poisoned? Forever? From estrogen? Are you kidding?

But it wasn't long before I was asking myself that same question. My life under the influence of testosterone included kinda happy, kinda sad, and any number of levels of angry. It was actually a pretty simple range of emotions to manage. Once I started on hormones it was like going on overload and was far more than I could handle. After just a few months I stopped - as my friends are - to reassess. I needed to cleanse my system to be sure I was making the right decisions for the right reasons. I just couldn't handle it all.

I think each of us experiences this in our own way and my heart goes out to my friends who are struggling with these decisions at the moment. I've been there so I understand how complicated it is. But it's unfortunate that we need to try to turn this into a rational discussion because when it comes to hormones, and specifically to emotion, there is nothing rational about it.

There was a time when I was worried that I couldn't feel at all, when my ability to cry was all but gone, when the walls I had built had become so thick that very little penetrated it. It was a safe little world but one that was just an effective mask.

Today - a dozen years later - emotions rule my life. I don't say that in a negative way other than to express how important a component that single factor has become in what I think, what I do, how I act, or what I say. I had one person write to me recently to tell me that I'm "mentally ill" and if that's the clinical name you give to someone who acts on their emotions then I'm certainly guilty as charged, your honor.

For example, yesterday I had to "come out" to someone who felt betrayed that I hadn't done it sooner - all due to a big misunderstanding - and I just started crying. I've got a lot of emotion swirling in me at the moment and it all just kind of built up and, well, out it came. He didn't know what to do but he sensed how difficult all this was for me and it helped us to have a better discussion (after I composed myself).

Being emotional is a double edged sword. In fact, I'd go so far that it's one of those "Be careful what you ask for because you might get more than you bargained for" things. At least, that's how I've found it to be. And no matter what I say here it's not something that you can really effectively explain because I doubt any of us experience it exactly the same. It's one of those things you have to figure out for yourself which is what makes it so complicated. And, so emotional.

I can think of a number of synonyms for emotion. One is Passion. In my world, passion is emotion squared or emotion cubed. It is the overwhelming rush of emotion that many of us feel and can come in many flavors - love, hate, happiness, sadness, fear, desire. Passion is to emotion as the sky is to the ground. Where does one end and the other begin? That's hard to say. But once tapped the ends are boundless.

I've mentioned the movie "Serendipity" in my writing before and there are a number of lines from the movie that stand out for me. One is: You know the Greeks didn't write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: "Did he have passion?" I like that. For without passion - without the drive of emotion - what's the point?

Sometimes people ask me to explain things in my life. Well - sometimes I can and sometimes I can't. To explain implies that there's a logical "reason" or "cause" but to indicate that something happened because of emotion - however accurate that might be - feels like a cop out sometimes. I can go down a whole list of things that are, on the surface, irrational, unwise, stupid, misguided, or otherwise just bad ideas but the fact of the matter is that what I (or any of us) do can be complicated and there are no easy answers.

As for me - my emotions continue to be as real a component of myself as my arms or my legs. To remove them would be impossible, and just as my need for seemingly obvious answers obtained thru pure logic can be a friend or an enemy at any point in time so too can my emotions. I sometimes wonder if we're made up of a number of different (and often disconnected) selves: our physical self, our spiritual self, our emotional self, our ideal self - the list could be endless. Actions of one can have significant on the actions of all. That's just the way it is.

Just as my physical self, through my arms or my legs, can move or cause things to happen in the world so too can my emotional self. They have a real presence in the world simply by being a driving force, a motivator, or a trap. William James, a philosopher from the late 1800's who is perhaps best known as a leader in the philosophical movement of Pragmatism, once said "The emotions aren't always subject to reason but they are always immediately subject to action". Amen to that.

Fear is an emotion. Sadness is an emotion. Vulnerability is an emotion. Love is an emotion. And so is need. All of them are powerful motivators that can have profound impacts on actions, and words. Not being able to feel these things would be a curse. But then again, so too is feeling them too deeply.

If there were a roomful of people listening to this I expect that there would be lots of heads nodding in recognition of what I'm saying. There's nothing here that most of us don't already know. But sometimes it's nice to be reminded of things we know or that we think we know. And, it's nice to realize that what we're feeling isn't unique to just us. That we're not alone.

I recently re-read something my sister wrote about me way back in 2003. It's about when she first learned of my true self. Here's part of it:
I was utterly astonished. “David???” I thought, totally stunned with the sensation of abject, absolute incredulity. “No. ..… WAY!!! It CAN’T be!!!!!!” Disbelief warred with my profound amazement. My brother, David, in my experience was just about the most masculine, rugged, athletic, aggressive, virile kind of a guy you could ever find! He was a hunk. He was a jock. He was sooooooo……. bloody MALE. Like I said, testosterone poisoning. I had a long moment where I was sure David was setting me up for a nasty practical joke (he always said I was gullible, in a sneering tone of voice, usually right after I had just embarrassed myself by falling for one of his nasty practical jokes…). But this was not a joke, not at all. And as I began to realize what it meant and what life had done to him, I just wanted to put my arms around him. Or rather, HER. My sister, Donna. Compared to the agonizing double tragedies of the loss of my Dad and my newborn daughter’s very rough beginning in life, the news about David was not even in the same league. In fact, I didn’t regard it as a tragedy at all, except for Donna, being stuck in that situation all alone for so very long. And for David’s wife and son, who were about to go through some very rough times of their own. But, as a sister, my first concern was my own family—my sibling. My sibling who had been facing this all along, hiding it, trying to overcome it, feeling that constant pain. And doing it alone. Well, I thought, not anymore. I told her she could count on me, and I meant it. I wanted to make up for all those years when I was so angry at Dave, and Donna was right behind those beautiful blue eyes, hurting. It still makes my throat ache, thinking about that.

Donna is amazing. All the sensitivity that David lacked is right there in her. David was her armor; it’s a tough world out there… especially to people who don’t “fit” society’s expectations of them. I read everything I could get my hands on about transgendered or transsexual syndromes. The more I read, the more empathy I felt for my poor sister who had been trapped for forty years in the prison of the wrong gendered body. I was delighted to realize that my brother Dave wasn’t the aggressive, unfeeling brute I had feared. So much talking was done over the months after this information came out… endless hours on the phone, on the computer, and during visits. I built a strong, multidimensional friendship with my new sister that means a great deal to me and it has healed many of the old wounds that were left over from David’s attitude towards me while we were growing up. Suddenly, I understood. It made sense. Wow. I can only hope that I’ve helped heal some of the similar scars that she was carrying, as well.

For those struggling with decisions about transition and hormones - I'm confident that you'll figure out what's right for you. I'm a big believer in "How do you know what's right until you've tried what's wrong?". Lord knows, I've played that game before. And, one of the things I've learned is that the key to this as to so many things isn't desire or courage or need so much as it is about patience. Letting time do its work can be a hard lesson to learn sometimes.

For friends who are dealing with my own emotional frailties all I can say is thank you for your patience and understanding. For better or for worse - I'm a passionate person.

For myself - or should I say - for my various selves, we try to live and work in harmony the best we can. That's not mental illness. That's just being human.


Halle said...

Thank you Donna. A wonderful post, with so much to say about the needs we feel. The information about the ancient Greeks was amazing to hear.
Personally, I am so emotional already, it is hard to imagine what life might be like if I choose to go this route and heighten was is here already!
A good friend has recently pointed out to me, after taking hormones for some months, 'don't start unless you are sure this is what you have to do. You can't go back.'

From what you have written here, it is obvious you don't see a down side to that sis.
Thanks again.


Anonymous said...

That blog is so apropriate for me right now. Thanks for sharing it.

Kelly said...

I've been on the hormones for almost 6 years ago and the only thing I know for sure is that I've tried really hard to work with my doctor to find the lowest possible dose. It's taken awhile but I think we've finally found the sweet spot.

These are very dangerous drugs and need to be monitored very closely by your a doctor who has experience with this. I found that no matter the dose, the physical changes were very few. The emotional changes however, well, I'm just glad I'm on a pretty low dose right now.

My advice to those considering hormone therapy and transition is to always make sure that it is a very last resort. Everything else should always be tried before going down this road. Everything.

I have to be honest, there are still some moments where I regret what has happened. Life is better now but it isn't always easier.