I suppose I was real when I was born. I assume so, though I can’t remember that far back, since I doubt that I had the capability to understand that being real is something that society does its best to stamp out.
Soon after birth however began the seemingly never-ending subtle, and too many times very unsubtle, messages from those around me about how I should behave, how I should act, how I should be, and who I should be. There were so many “shoulds.” And I learned that in order to get along with the world, being real, being who I truly was, was not the order of business. Being who and what other people wanted me to be was what must be done in order to survive.
As time passed these messages became more and more vehement, sometimes to the point of violence, more often via a caustic remark, a devastating rumor, or the isolation of ostracism. Perhaps just the threat of these was sufficient to make me bow to the pressure and conform. And submit to the pressure was what I did, allowing the world around me to build my identity. But I knew that identity was not really me, but rather a shell that I had allowed to be built around myself for protection. I so desperately wanted to be part of the world around me that I walled myself off from it, hidden within that “acceptable” shell.
I found that life behind that shell was very painful. The failures of my life were my failures but the successes were denied to me, for it was not me who was succeeding. Worse was the knowledge that I was not being real, not being true to my essence, that my whole life was a lie.
That I managed to live that way for so many years is, I suppose, a triumph of my stubbornness, but it felt more like it was submission to my fears. Oh, I expressed the true me whenever I had reason to hope that there would be some chance I would not be rejected, but more often than not I would end up in retreat, throwing a patch on the shell while inside I would have a new seeping wound to tend.
As the years floated by a layer of scar tissue grew between me and my shell, cutting me off from even the vicarious experience of the world that up until that time had been my perception of what life was like. My shell became a stranger to me. My reality became very small. It was easier to let myself dwindle away than to face the possibility of becoming real.
What happens to one’s shell when one’s true being dies, never having really lived? Can the shell go on living? I guess it is possible, but for me life without my essence was no life at all. The shell had to go.
The crumbling of my shell exposed my scars and my fears. I was still not free, not real. To become real I needed to face those fears and heal those scars. I knew it was something only I could do, but I had no idea how to do it. So I had to make it up as I went along, hoping that something good would result, all the time knowing that the scar tissue that was my jail was also my only protection.
In order to become real I would have several tasks. First and foremost I would have to learn how to face my fears, to function in spite of them, if I were to survive. I would also have to learn how to contend with the anger and the pain that would surely be felt as I excised the scars, which I would have to do in order for my wounds to heal properly. Removing the scar tissue would leave me vulnerable and I would have to discover how to deflect new sources of pain, new kinds of wounds, without just building a new shell, and when it was not possible to prevent the wound, needed to know how to accept the wound without letting it scar me again.
I cannot talk about my life without first talking about fear. Most of my life has been consumed by fear. I was afraid of everything.
I’m not talking about the little fears of my life, though those are a good starting point.
I was afraid of being physically hurt.
I was too afraid of crashing to learn to ride a bicycle. Later I was too afraid to drive a car for the same reason.
Even though I was good at baseball when I was a young, I was afraid of being hit by the ball.
I was even afraid that people would find out how afraid I was as a child.
I was afraid of handling money.
I was so afraid of failing that often I wouldn’t even try.
I was afraid of making mistakes.
I was afraid about what people would think or say about me.
I was afraid of being rejected.
I was afraid of being alone.
Most importantly, I was afraid that people would find out who and what I was.
And this last fear was paralyzing…not just something that made me uneasy or embarrassed or whatever it is that other people may feel when they think they are afraid. It was total . . . abject . . . blinding . . . brain numbing . . . feel like you need to vomit . . . rip your heart out . . . capital . . . F . . . E . . . A . . . R . . . fear.
What other force can so dominate a person as to make them pretend to be someone they are not just to survive? What else can make a person wait until she is 44 years old before she can step out into the light of day and actually begin to enjoy life?
Fear is the hardest foe. It can make us constantly reexamine every possible ramification of every possible event until we make no decisions whatsoever, caught in it’s awful grip, carried on by a river of a circumstances over which we exert no control, turning the paths of our lives into quagmires from which there seem to be no escape, into mazes that we wander aimlessly, endlessly.
Then one day there comes a point when in order to survive, we have to face the fear, stand up to it and spit in its eye and say, “I want to live.” And do it . . . slowly and tentatively at first, to be sure, but soon we can learn to embrace life, to clutch it strongly to our souls, to learn to shout at the top of our minds, if not our lungs,
I AM NOT AFRAID! THIS IS MY LIFE AND IT IS WORTH AS MUCH AS ANYONE ELSE’S AND WORTH MORE THAN MOST! AND I AM GOING TO LIVE IT AS I DAMN WELL PLEASE!
And that is a start. That is the moment of Courage . . . the time when we start to live by our own rules rather than for other people’s convenience. And that point is when we become true homo sapiens . . . thinking people . . . real people . . . people with a contribution to make in weaving the fabric of the world.
I don’t think a person can exist without knowing inner pain, the hurts of the mind, not of the body. At least I hope such a person has never been born. Perhaps it’s what makes us human, (though pet owners quite rightly will aver that their pets perceive such injury). How is one supposed to handle it?
My personal approach was to learn to own the pain. However it got there, I earned it. It is my pain, not someone else’s. The pain doesn’t belong to the person who inflicted it but to me, the person who received it. The person who inflicted it cannot do anything with it. Only I can do that. If I were to allow my pain to belong to the perpetrator, I would be giving that person power over my life that extends much to far beyond the event which resulted in the damage.
Perhaps what I have said has already given too much power to someone else. I own all my emotions. To say that someone else “inflicted” pain on me really means that someone performed an action and that I chose to feel hurt by it, whatever the intent of that other person. Perhaps it was not a choice I made consciously but it was one I made. And I can consciously choose to know the pain is my own and to do something for myself to soothe it.
The first three or four months of my reality transition had me very angry. I don’t like being angry . . . but when people step on my toes, I tell them it hurts . . . and I tend to tell everyone else about it, too.
Anger is something I have always tried to avoid in my life, to the extent that I would keep quiet about my anger. That’s not a healthy situation . . . you have to let the anger out somewhere.
People still call me “he” or “sir” from time to time. I smile and correct them. If it is repeated, I ask them to reexamine their words. If they still do it, with no sign of regret for the “slip,” then I take it as intentional. People who do such things will hear about it . . . but perhaps not in the way they want . . . instead of me yelling or screaming, I ask to talk to their supervisor. If I get no apology, I ask for that person’s supervisor. I’m prepared to go as high as it takes to get that apology, but I do require it. And I am very patient. Supervisors don’t like to handle this type of stuff, and it is not me they get angry at, but the people who gave me the crap in the first place. That is my intention.
Getting angry with people just reinforces their feelings about me. That’s what I learned. And showing anger leads to more situations in which I will get angry, because there are a lot of people who will use my anger against me.
People often work from a lack of knowledge. Instead of getting angry with someone that exhibits their ignorance about me, even to the point of being offensive, sharing some knowledge that I possess seems a more useful tack. If all I ever do is get angry at that person, his or her opinion of me will not change . . . perhaps it could deepen into worse feelings.
I was not “successful” in my transition until I learned to let go of the anger . . . to feel the pain that causes it and to learn to own that pain. It made me a better person, I think.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t speak out about injustices done to me or anyone else anymore. I just try to do so in a more reasoned tone . . . to choose my words better and use them, not volume, to express my anger.
One always has to keep in mind who one’s friends are. Getting angry at them isn’t a good idea. If I was continually angry, my transition would not be successful. Sure, I might get people to stay out of my way . . . to leave me alone . . . but angry people don’t make friends easily. Friends are important to me now, in a way they never were before. For some reason people like me now that I have mellowed. That anger from before is in control, to be used sparingly, like garlic. Too much of it is not a good thing.
I survived transition by showing everyone what a better person I became.
When I was hurt in the past, I developed (for better or worse) coping strategies to deal with the pain. First on the list of these strategies was building a shell that cut me off from the outside world. But I also found that I changed my behavior. In certain circumstances this was to avoid repetition of the injury, which on the face of it is a wise thing to do (“Doctor, Doctor, it hurts when I do X!” Solution: Don’t do X). But if the change in behavior is not in synch with one’s real self, this can be a problem. And it’s definitely a problem if the behavior exists long past the time when the pain that caused the behavior change has been dealt with. I refer to these lingering behaviors as scars.
In order to cope with my life, I have gone through long periods of obsessive/compulsive behavior, low self-esteem, severe codependency, escapism into the fantasy worlds of the books I would read, depression, drug use to numb pain of my unreality, and a general withdrawal from all but the most basic forms of human interaction (bordering on agoraphobia). These are my scars.
My OCD led me to do things like read a large dictionary from cover to cover. Hey, it made me great at crossword puzzles, Scrabble and Boggle and gave me a lot of useless information which I still have stored away in somewhere. I did other things . . . like invent “games” that had no point other than to take up a certain portion of my time. I had some rituals that had to be performed or disaster would befall me (like stripping the opening strip on a pack of cigarettes down to its component pieces).
This is the nature of OCD. You do things because you *have* to do them or go insane . . . and the compulsion to do them is its own kind of insanity.
I never talked with my therapist about my OCD. I was afraid that he would say I had to cure it before I could tackle my transsexualism. I was pleasantly surprised when the simple cure was found for the OCD . . . transitioning. I didn’t expect it to go away, and I still get irrational urges to do things sometimes, but now I recognize them for what they are and don’t let them rule my life.
Just exactly what I can do or have done to excise my scars depends on the particular injury. Sometimes I have chosen to put myself in the same situation that resulted in the prior injury and *this* time chosen another emotion or behavior. This can be risky and certainly raises the anxiety level before the planned event.
The method of healing my scars that I have found works best for me is to speak the truth of my life. I suppose that oral communication of this truth would work as well for some people, but I discovered that the written medium worked best for me since the writing of my life requires that I examine it carefully. The writing doesn’t have to be for any purpose other than to help me better understand myself so that I can own my pain and tend to my scars, but several years ago I chose to reveal it to friends online. The feedback I have gotten has been enormously helpful in letting me know that I have been on the right track.
That what I have to say has been helpful to others on occasion is a reward whose value I cannot calculate. It has given me a mission, a vision of what my life can be.
Feelings Laid Bare