The Road to Now

So I said I wanted to write this blog, and I do. But it’s hard to separate out the strands and choose one thing at a time to write about. My process of self-realisation, my feelings about it, and the path that I’m on are so complicated. It’s difficult to know where to begin.

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I decided to start with where I am right now—finally out of the closet after years of questioning my gender and trying to ignore the insistent part of me that wouldn’t let it go. For those of you who saw my announcement on Facebook in October, that was the end of a long struggle to get to that point. So in this post I’m filling in a little of the background in more detail than I did in my Glass Walls poem.

My coming out process started a few years ago, but was incredibly tentative. After learning that FTM (female to male) transition was possible, the idea of it wouldn’t go away. I started saying vague things to people like: I’ve never really felt like a typical woman (what does a typical woman feel like anyway?) But deep down I knew it was more than just being gender nonconforming. I had enough dysphoria (more on that in another post) to realise that something was wrong, and I couldn’t ignore it.

Through my obsessive reading about gender I came across labels like nonbinary, genderfluid, genderqueer, agender. I tried them for size to see if they’d fit me. For a while, I thought non-binary or genderfluid might be right for me. I believe that gender is a spectrum. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that identifying as nonbinary wasn’t enough for me. I might not feel 100% male on the inside, but I’m definitely much closer to male than female. And in order to find some peace, I now know that I need to transition physically so that I look male on the outside.

The floodgates finally burst open in June 2016. I spent the weekend at a conference for LGBT writers and readers. Surrounded by people from that community I could no longer deny that I felt part of it, not as an ally, but as someone who needed to claim their space under that umbrella. On the Sunday morning while surrounded by LGBT people and their allies, we got the horrific news of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It was utterly devastating. Yet, something about that horrific tragedy pushed me into a place where I didn’t want to hide anymore. I was terrified about coming out, afraid of making myself vulnerable in a world that can be hostile to LGBT people. But I couldn’t pretend anymore.

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A few days after I got home from that conference, I came out on my author Facebook profile. I was still confused, so it wasn’t a definite announcement like the one I made a few months later on my personal profile. At that time I finally knew, and was admitting out loud that I was transgender. However, I still wasn’t sure whether I was transmasculine or genderfluid, and whether I wanted to make any physical changes or not.

At that time I told my husband, my sisters, and one of my oldest friends. But I wasn’t ready to tell anyone else because I still wasn’t sure what, if anything, was going to change. I made the decision that I was going to give myself some time to explore it, and I made an appointment to see a therapist who specialises in working with trans and gender questioning people.

At my first appointment I explained my history, the years of feeling wrong and unhappy but not knowing why, the realisation that I was transgender along with my fears about transition, and my doubts that maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was all some terrible mistake and I was just crazy.

She asked me. “In an ideal world, what do you want to happen?”

The only answer I could give was, “I want to be man. I want to take a pill, go to bed and wake up male. And not lose anything or anyone.”

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If only it was that easy.

Over the next three months I came to terms with my realisation, and gradually became sure that the only way forward for me was to transition. I knew it wasn’t going to go away. The genie was out of the bottle. I could never go back to faking it as female now I knew. Even when it was only something I knew at at a subconscious level it was hard being me. But the idea of carrying on being female to the world now I knew the reason for my unhappiness was intolerable.

The only things holding me back were fear and guilt. Fear about the future, fear about how people would respond, fear about what I would lose, fear that even after transitioning I would never be happy, never feel male enough, never feel right. And guilt about my family. I felt as though I had pulled the pin out of a grenade and was standing helplessly among my loved ones waiting for it to explode. There was no way that I could transition without hurting the people closest to me. No matter how supportive they are, there is always loss for the family and friends of a transgender person because they have to let go of the person they thought you were in order to embrace the person you’re becoming.

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By September it was clear to me that something had to change, because the limbo was unbearable. After coming out, my dysphoria was a million times worse than it had ever been. I was trapped and desperate, and found myself considering self harming for the first time in many years.

I’m a logical person. I couldn’t go back; I couldn’t stay stuck; so the only way was forward. So I made an appointment to see my GP and asked for a referral to the gender identity clinic in Exeter. Once I’d taken that step, I needed to come out to everyone.

I told a few close friends who live locally to me, then I told my children (who were amazing), and then we told my husband’s family. Once those people knew, I wanted to rip off the band aid. Nervous but desperate to get it over with, I made my post on Facebook and was overwhelmed by the response. Thank you so much to those of you who liked, loved and replied to that post, or who reached out to me in the aftermath to offer your support. It means so much to me.

The day after that, I told my choir. I teach a community choir in my local town and I was terrified about coming out to them because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I decided to tell them at the end of a choir practice rather than by email, so I could gauge their reactions and wouldn’t be dreading having to face them. I was literally shaking when I read the speech I had prepared, but their response blew me away. They queued up to hug me (how delightfully British) and I felt such unconditional love and support, far beyond even my most optimistic hopes.

So… here I am. Out and proud, and it feels pretty amazing. I still have some anxiety about the future of course, I know the process of transition won’t be easy and it will be a long road. But I feel so much better than I did a month ago. Like a ship that’s come through a storm and survived, I feel a strange sense of peace—an unusual feeling for me. I’m so confident that I’m on the right path and that it will be worth it, however difficult it is to navigate. I’m finally able to feel excited about my future.

Glass Walls

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It seems like a good idea to kick off with my personal story. I wrote this a couple of months ago while I was processing things. I tried writing it as prose initially, but it was way too long and rambling, so I tried it in poetry form instead and it worked out better.

I’ve learned one thing in all my reading about everything transgender-related over the last few years, it’s that there isn’t one single trans narrative. Everyone’s experience of their gender is unique. Here’s my story.

Glass Walls

I don’t want to be a girl
“But you are a girl,” said kindly. “There’s nothing you can do about that.”
Transgender. FTM.
We didn’t have the words for what I was when I was growing up

I pushed hard against all things female
Demanded short hair, boys’ clothes, blue not pink
I ran, jumped, climbed, fought. Determined to be as good as a boy at everything — or better
Forced unwillingly into dresses, I sulked
Endured the hot shame of being seen like that when it felt so wrong
It wasn’t me
I wish I was a boy
“I know you do, darling. But it’s never going to happen.”
My mother died before I learned that it could

In my teens I had bigger worries than the betrayal of my body by puberty
Girls instinctively knew what I didn’t know myself
I was an outsider
Weird, unwelcome, wrong
Slowly, painfully, I learned to play the game
I crushed my unwilling spirit and crammed it into a box labelled Girl

I built walls around myself, mirrored walls that reflected back the expectations of others
Long hair, make up, the right clothes
I was admired, liked (at last), I fitted in
Inside I was dying and I didn’t even know it
I grew up a prisoner inside that glass castle

The cracks were already forming
My true self chipped away at my prison
While denial plugged the holes just as fast
It shored up the walls for another month, another year, another decade…
I still wished I was male
If only or in another life
I buried the impossible desire so deep I didn’t know how much I needed it
The older I got the higher the walls became
Daughter. Sister. Wife. Mother.
I tried so hard to be what the world expected while the cracks spread
Depression and anxiety bloomed like dark flowers on a vine
Winding around me and blocking the light

What’s wrong with me?

A story finally gave me my answer
A message in a bottle tossed into the ocean of the Internet and washed up on my screen
I read, devouring the words
Transgender. FTM.
The recognition was a punch to the gut
The words a map of my escape route

I tried to carry on, afraid of what transition would mean for me and my loved ones
I lied for a few more years
It’s too late for me
Maybe if I’d known twenty years ago…
I’m fine
Really

But knowledge has the power to break down walls
Even when someone inside is frantically shoring them up
The cracks spread and widened until the walls shattered and tumbled down around me

Here I am

Terrified, exhilarated, hopeful
Blinking in the light, surrounded by glass as bright as diamonds, and as sharp as blades
There is nowhere for me to hide anymore
Transgender. FTM
The only way is forward