Life Update: New Home and My Transition

Note: there is some discussion of my anxieties and pain regarding genitalia stemming from gender/body dysphoria. I am also taking a less formal approach and will continue to do so in future posts when I feel it is appropriate. 

A lot has happened since my last post. I was starting to feel bad about not having written anything–especially after announcing my own personal project (which I still plan on finishing). It will take me a while to get back on track, but in the meantime I want to keep writing about whatever is (or has been) going on as a means of getting back into the swing of things.

So where do I begin? I quit my job and moved to southern Florida. The move was done in about four weeks–and yes, it was quite stressful, thank you–ending with an interesting four-day, 2,000-mile drive (with two cats, mind you). Let’s just say it was quite the experience.

I am loving Florida so far. The weather is so much nicer than it is in Phoenix so don’t believe a word people say when they assert that 80-90 degrees plus humidity is worse than 100+ degrees of dry heat. “Well, at least it’s a dry heat!” Nonsense.

I am currently in the process of interviewing for two different jobs. My first interview was done on my second day here and I just had my second one with another company today. This makes me feel a lot better about the decision to move without a job already lined up and this leads me to addressing the question that is likely on your mind: why did she move?

There are several rationalizations that I have for the move. I felt I needed to do something new. I was getting tired of everyone around me knowing that I’m trans. I wanted to be in a safer place. Any one of those, or any combination of those, would work. They are all valid reasons. But the primary motivator for leaving was the Orlando massacre perpetrated by Omar Mateen on June 12, 2016. I will always remember what I was doing when I heard about what had happened. It had that profound of an impact on me.

At first I didn’t really react. I was just shocked. The shock eventually turned into a terrible sense of grief and despair within the next twenty four hours and lasted for several days. I was just destroyed inside. I thought about making a special blog post about it with my thoughts and feelings on the matter but then decided I just didn’t have the emotional energy for it, and I don’t plan on doing as much here beyond explaining how it factored into why I left Arizona.

During the peak of my grief, I spoke to a very close friend of mine and they (I think jokingly) offered a place for me and my wife to come and live with them. I decided to take them up on the offer. I had decided that it was finally time to move on to something different. I had several opportunities to do so before, but I was too scared to take advantage of them. I learned that I shouldn’t allow fear to dictate major life decisions as much as I had in the past. Life is full of risks and I can’t really reap the rewards if I’m not willing to take the plunge first.

In other news, I have been doing a lot of work on myself. I recently became aware that as much progress as I have been making with my mental health as a result of transitioning, I still have some emotional/psychological baggage that I need to take care of. Anxiety still affects me, though to a much smaller degree than before, and I still have bouts of dysphoria every now and then.

My face is getting softer and prettier. My breasts and butt have been growing in significantly, and I am starting to get a curvier waste. I am extremely excited and happy with these changes. I am now ‘passing’ as cisgender on a regular basis–so much so that I was even able to travel through the South without anyone giving me even a second look (besides checking me out, maybe?). I have never been more confident with myself and my appearance.

Despite all of these positive changes, I have still been feeling trapped in my body. With each positive change comes another problem about my body that my dysphoria won’t allow me to ignore, and this time the primary focus is on my genitals. (If that’s too much information for you then oh well, I warned you #SorryNotSorry.) I have never, ever, ever, ever been able to really accept them. Not ever. But now it’s killing me inside to know that they are still there and I’m terrified that I will be stuck with them forever. They are currently the source of intense emotional pain. This is why I want to get gender affirming surgery so badly. This is the only way I can be fully whole and content with my body and gender presentation. If you disagree, you are wrong. Period. The only people who can evaluate my needs are my healthcare providers and I.

In closing, I am getting more and more emotional as I write this, but I have decided that I need to be more real and honest with how I am feeling and I think it’s important for people to get a sense of that both on this medium and in general, so you may see more less-than-formal blog posts from me in the future. But don’t worry. I will still be writing plenty of fact-based and queer/gender theory-based posts.

 

My Trans Journey: My Legal Transition

A transgender person can transition in any number of ways. There are three primary modes of transition that I like to refer to: social transition, medical transition, and legal transition. A trans person may undergo all of these modes of transition, none of them at all, or any combination in between. A social transition involves changing the way one presents themselves and expresses their gender (or lack of gender) in addition to the way they relate to others and how others relate to them. They may change the way they dress, their pronouns, and the name(s) they go by. A medical transition involves certain medical interventions that treat dysphoria. They can include HRT, facial reconstruction, gender confirming surgeries,  breast augmentations, reductions, or removals, etc. A legal transition includes changing one’s legal name or legally recognized gender (or both).

I have previously written about my social and medical transitions, but I have not said much of anything about a legal transition. That’s because I was waiting until I had gotten to certain point in that part of my transition where I felt I could say something useful or interesting about it. It’s also the reason why I haven’t written anything for a while–I have just been so damn busy! But now that I am in a place where I am satisfied with my legal transition, I am finally ready to describe the process I went through and my thoughts on it.

Of course, my experience is mine alone. It is not intended to be a prescriptive set of step-by-step points that apply universally to everyone. For example, I live in the state of Arizona, which has laws that differ from those of Idaho, which differ from those of California, and so on. Also, my goals are not every trans person’s goals. I specifically set out to change my legal name and the gender markers on my social security card and driver’s license. Also, I have to acknowledge my privilege. I am white, middle class, and reasonably connected to people who could help me at my request. Most trans folks don’t have that. There are all kinds of barriers that make it more difficult for most trans people than it was for me. This makes my experience even less generalizable.

I started simply by looking up the legal name change process for the state of Arizona on the internet. There, I found a link that took me to the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County’s website. I found out where to get a set of instructions and files I needed to begin the process. The first major step I took was applying for a name change and filing at the county clerk’s office. Once I did that and paid a $319 fee, I was given a phone number to call after about four business days. When I made the call, I got an appointment for a hearing. In the meantime, I was required to have my wife complete a notarized consent form and return to the county clerk’s office to hand in my ‘notice of hearing’.

On my court date, I dressed up in business casual attire–a black skirt, crimson red blouse, and black heels–and appeared before a judge who then made the order to change my name. After the hearing, I had to go to the county clerk and have the order be given its final seal of approval. Afterwards, I was able to take that order (in addition to a physician’s note) to the Social Security Administration office and the DMV to have them change my name and gender markers.

This is but a brief description of the whole process. It was relatively easy for me because I had the means and the time to do it. Not a lot of trans folks have the means, unfortunately. This should be right as should equal access to medically necessary transgender related healthcare.

My Trans Journey: Hormone Replacement Therapy (3 Months)

CW: mentions of sex.

I have been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for three months today. It has been one amazing ride so far, and I wanted to update all of you on the changes I have experienced so far. I also plan on periodically updating people as developments occur (perhaps every three months or so). Before I get started, I need to explain what HRT is and why I am on it.

HRT is a medical intervention that people (cis or trans) can be put on for a variety of medical purposes. In my case, I am on HRT to treat issues related to my gender dysphoria. My doctor has prescribed three kinds of medication as part of my HRT treatment: spironolactone, finasteride, and estradiol. The spiro and the finasteride are anti-androgens and estradiol is a kind of estrogen. The anti-androgens are used to prevent the cells of my body from responding to androgens like testosterone, while estradiol promotes the feminization of my body. There are several benefits to HRT.

Improved Mood

I was on HRT for a mere five days when I started noticing improvements in my mood. Before, I was incredibly anxious/depressed all the time. On the fifth day, I noticed how much calmer and more peaceful I had become. After about 6 weeks, I realized that I was not taking my estrogen correctly. I was swallowing the pills instead of taking them sublingually. After correcting for that, my mood drastically improved after a few days. Then, my doctor doubled my estradiol dose from 2 mg to 4 mg per day and my mood improved, yet again. It’s as if testosterone was toxic to my brain and what it really needed was estrogen. I haven’t felt this good in…I have no idea if I have ever felt this good in my life. HRT has been miraculous for my mood and overall mental health.

Smoother and Softer Skin

Since starting, I have noticed a significant improvement in the softness and smoothness of my skin. It’s the kind of skin quality I have wanted for myself ever since I was a little girl. In addition to the improved skin quality, my body hair has gotten thinner and lighter. I now rarely, if ever, have to shave certain areas on my body, and my leg hair grows back more slowly.

A shift in Fat Distribution

I have already noticed a difference in my fat distribution. More fat is starting to go to my hips and certain areas of my face, thus making my facial features somewhat softer (thank goodness!) and more ‘feminine’.

Better Sex

Before HRT, I enjoyed sex, but not nearly to the same degree that I do now. The only part of my body that would get stimulated was my genitalia, but now my whole body comes alive, and I don’t have to have an orgasm in order to really be satisfied by the experience. A great deal of sex was a lot of work before with a short pay off at the end, but now the whole experience is a roller coaster of pleasure for my whole body.

A Richer Emotional Experience

I was emotionally numb when I wasn’t depressed, anxious, or angry before HRT. I didn’t really feel much outside of that range. But now my emotional experience is much richer and much more varied. Even though you could say I cry more and am quite a bit more emotional, it’s something that I have come to cherish after having experienced years of emotional deadness.

In summary, HRT has been an incredible experience for me so far. It has been so transformative, it’s like my mind has transcended the physical (I exaggerate of course, but it’s just so damn good). I look forward to the future changes that will come from it.

My Trans Journey: Letting Go

As part of my transition, I have been seeing a psychotherapist who is counseling me through issues related to my gender dysphoria and coming to terms with being a trans woman. One of the biggest things I have to work on is learning how to let go. What does letting go mean in this context? It means accepting that I feel how I feel and that’s okay. I don’t need to fight it, control it, or try to understand it. In fact, struggling to understand and control my feelings has been the source of a lot of my suffering.

This may seem counterintuitive at first, but it helps to think of it a certain way. The human brain doesn’t necessarily function as a single functional unit (though in some sense it does and in another sense it doesn’t; the brain is a very complicated thing). Instead, it functions as a bunch of separate, yet highly interconnected units that come together and give rise to our subjective experiences, our intellect, our emotions, our cognition, etc. (of course, this is a bit simplistic, and I am about to make some distinctions that aren’t 100% accurate, but nevertheless serve a purpose for understanding a little bit about how the brain and mind work). There is a cognitive, intellectual part of the brain, an emotional part, and a primal, or animalistic, part (also known as the “reptilian brain”). The primal part is behind some of our most basic survival functions and instincts; the emotional part is behind our emotional processing and experiences; and the intellectual part is behind our ability to plan, control impulses by observing social conventions, and think rationally.

Psychologists have come up with various theories of emotion over the years, but the one I will focus on for this blog post is the one that seems truest to my experiences and is most consistent with the best available evidence: the Schachter-Singer cognitive appraisal theory. According to this theory, when an event occurs, humans will have a moment to perceive it, in which a physiological response (for example, a ‘flight or fight’ response) occurs. In addition to the physiological response, humans then appraise the situation based on certain context clues, and this then leads to an emotion (fear, joy, disgust, etc.). The emotional experience can also be fed back into perception and magnify or diminish the emotional experience (this particular part is important to remember).

“So how does this work in the real world?”, you may be asking yourself. Let’s imagine you come across another person as you walk to the grocery store. At first glance, you might not recognize them because they are far away. They may be much bigger than you and appear threatening because they have a mean look on their face, or you can’t read their facial expressions at all. This may cause your heart rate to increase. You may also begin to sweat a little and become anxious. At the same time, you appraise the situation as potentially bad as you may be dealing with a threat to your safety. This causes you to feel afraid and start planning a plan of attack or escape, which causes you to appraise the situation as even worse leading to an even more intense experience of fear. But then a few seconds later, this person comes into clearer view, and it turns out that it is one of your good friends. You then realize that the situation isn’t threatening like you previously thought it was while your physiological response calms down and your fear turns into contentment as you are now happy to see your friend.

As someone who has struggled with generalized anxiety (at least partly related to gender dysphoria, and, for a while, PTSD), I struggle with the appraisal part. Once I appraise a situation and experience an emotion, especially if that emotion is fear/anxiety, I engage in a destructive thought process wherein I feed the fear I am experiencing. What I initially appraise as relatively minor quickly becomes catastrophic and I go from mildly anxious to extremely anxious, or sometimes even worse: I panic.

In thinking of this process, I am reminded of two Disney movies: Frozen and Inside Out. In Frozen, the main protagonist, Elsa, struggles to come to terms with her abilities and accept who she is after years of repressing them. It isn’t until she is able to do so that she is able to channel her powers into something productive rather than a destructive force that threatens her kingdom. I actually identify quite strongly with her struggle and it is best expressed in the song “Let It Go“.

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation,
And it looks like I’m the queen.

In this part of the song, Elsa is expressing her feelings of being different and isolated from everyone else. She feels truly alone. As a trans girl, I felt this a lot growing up. I was the queen of my own kingdom of isolation.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know!

Growing up, I was always afraid to let people in and know what I was feeling. I wasn’t ever really sure what I was feeling for the longest time either, and it was frightening. So I hid it. I tried to not feel. This is something I still struggle with, but I have been improving upon it since coming out.

The song continues on as she begins to embrace her power and the fact that she’s different, and I am in a similar part of my life as I come to terms with who I am and embrace my identity.

In Inside Out, the main protagonist is an eleven-year-old girl named Riley. When she moves to San Francisco, she goes through an emotional struggle as represented by various characters in her mind: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. Joy perceives threats to Riley’s happiness and she does everything she can to control the situation. She even tries to keep Sadness from having any role in Riley’s experiences, but this is a huge mistake. Joy doesn’t realize that Sadness is critical to Riley’s ability to be a happy, well adjusted person. Sadnesses’ suppression leads to the near destruction of Riley’s life, social relationships, and personality as she knows it as she spirals into an unhappy state. It isn’t until Joy realizes that Sadness is just as important as everyone else is and lets her take a primary role in Riley’s experiences that Riley is able to find happiness and social harmoney in her new life in San Francisco.

This is a parallel to my life’s narrative in the sense that I grew up trying to not feel sadness, but in doing so, I crushed my ability to feel joy. In my attempt to suppress my sadness, I created misery and emotional turmoil. Emotional experience is a package deal. You can’t isolate one emotion and repress it while leaving the others intact. It just doesn’t work that way.

Thankfully, through psychotherapy, hormone replacement therapy, and other interventions (e.g., mindfulness meditation), I am able to be much calmer in my immediate response to situations and I am getting better at avoiding the tendency of my intellect to engage in the process of feeding my negative emotions via catastrophizing and repression. However, there is one thing I still struggle with: letting go. I have been trying to fit my emotional experiences into a cognitive framework and that is proving to be a self-defeating frustration in my life. I have always felt the need to understand everything and control it if I can. If I can’t do that, I become very insecure. I anxiously struggle to solve puzzles, and when I can’t solve one, I experience negative emotions. I am engaging in that cycle I am trying to break. Hell, this post may be an example of me doing just that.

In my most recent session with my therapist, I explained to him that I am trying to understand my gender dysphoria while trying to see how it all fits into my life’s narrative. The struggle to do so has been a stressor and he urged me to just let it be. Like with my struggles with my feelings in general, I don’t have to do what I was doing. My experiences are a complicated thing that I will never fully understand. In that moment I realized that if I am to truly heal and move on, I have to learn to just let it go. My cognitive mind can’t ever fully comprehend or control my emotional experiences because it’s like they speak very different languages and that’s okay.

 

My Trans Journey: Expectations and Authenticity

CW: discussions of dysphoria.

I have been thinking a lot about authenticity recently. I am currently in the process of a transition in order to live more authentically. In my last blog post, I talked about gender dysphoria and the benefits of transitioning. In this blog post, I would like to articulate my own personal thoughts on why transitioning is so helpful for me. In order to do that, I intend to begin with analyzing the concept of authenticity.

What is authenticity and what does it mean to be authentic? Authenticity is the quality of being real or genuine. To be authentic is to be real or genuine. In other words, what it means for someone to be authentic is to be their true self. What does it mean to be one’s true self? Being one’s true self means living and behaving in a way that reflects how someone is on the inside. What we do and say is an expression of our individual identities, our true selves, if we are being authentic. Behaviors that are not consistent with one’s true self suggest a lack of authenticity. When someone does not act authentically, whatever their reasons might be, they risk creating dissonance and distress.

There are many different reasons why someone might not live or act authentically (and I am not here to judge which ones are right or wrong). Expectations, whether they come from ourselves or from others, are what I would like to focus on. Have you ever felt that you were unworthy because you didn’t live up to a set of standards? Have you ever felt like you would be perceived less favorably by others because you failed to live up to their expectations? I certainly have in many different ways. The fear of disapproval, reprimand, and ostracism were enough to make me spend most of my life without living authentically, and I paid the price for it.

When faced with the choice of how to respond to the realization that I am a transgender woman, I initially decided to keep it to myself. No one needed to know and that was that. I chose to not be authentic, and that seemed to work for a while. That choice eventually came back to bite me in the ass. Little did I realize at the time that most of my emotional pain from previous years was due to gender dysphoria. I was miserable precisely because I wasn’t living as my true self. I wasn’t being authentic.

The few months that I spent hiding from myself and from others began just fine. I was actually fairly content with the way things were going, but because of what was going on inside of me, my sense of self was incredibly vulnerable. All that needed to happen was failing to meet someone’s expectations in a significant way for me to start falling completely apart and that’s exactly what happened.

Failing in that way and seeing how it made others feel about what I did made me experience intense emotional and mental distress. It got so bad that I chose to get professional help for it. However, I was still in denial about what was really going on, so I didn’t disclose my issues regarding my gender to my therapist for several weeks. That also came back to bite me in the ass because I continued to get worse until I eventually admitted to myself that I couldn’t hide being trans any longer. I didn’t start improving until I started making significant steps toward living authentically.

This experience has made me realize how much of my life was inauthentic. A lot of the most important decisions I made didn’t come from a place that reflected my true self, but from a place of fear. I didn’t want to deal with the pain of non-acceptance and this pattern of decision making began from a very young age.

I kept quiet about my feelings regarding my dissatisfaction with my appearance because I was told I was a boy and boys weren’t supposed to feel that way. I believed that if I said anything, it would hurt me, so I stayed quiet. I had very nice handwriting when I was first learning how to write, but then I purposely adopted a sloppier writing style when I became aware of the general perception among others that girls tend to have better handwriting than boys. (My mother was very upset and confused when my handwriting got sloppier.) I naturally carried my books a certain way when I was in grade school until I was teased for it because boys aren’t supposed to carry their books that way. I quickly changed the way I carried my books. I was bullied, beaten, teased, and harassed (almost always by boys) for certain behaviors and mannerisms that didn’t meet others’ expectations.

When I was in the 9th grade, I was perhaps at my worst when it came to my cynicism and social isolation. I was completely miserable and sick of it. I decided to make some changes I thought would make me feel better–and they arguably did in some ways (at least temporarily). I decided to do what I had to in order to be more accepted by others. I stopped caring about my grades because I didn’t want people to think I was a ‘nerd’ or a ‘geek’. I joined the football team and started working out in order to be perceived as more masculine and desirable so that guys would have more respect for me, so that girls would be more interested in me, and so that my parents (my father in particular) would be proud of me. Those may not have been inherently bad decisions, and my reasons for them may not have all been ‘wrong’, but I did it more out of fear than out of the desire to express who I really was (but in my defense, I didn’t really have any sense of who I was at that age at all).

Living authentically requires the freedom to express one’s identity. Gender identity, sexual identity, religious identity, etc. are all important aspects of ourselves and our relationships with others that we express. Their suppression can cause a lot of suffering. This shouldn’t be that hard to understand, yet there are many folks who seem to think that though it may be okay to be gay or trans, it is not okay to ‘act on it’, i.e., express it. That’s suppression, folks. Pressuring people to not express their true selves, to not live authentically, isn’t merely an act of disapproval of the behavior or action, it’s an act of disapproval of the person. One’s identity and expression of said identity are not so easily separable.

If this is not clear to you, think of it this way. I am an atheist who has religious friends and family members. Suppose I told them that I believed that praying, reading their holy books, participating in sacred rituals and ordinances, etc. were evil and offensive to me. But don’t worry! It’s okay for them to be inclined to do those things as long as they don’t act on those inclinations. You would probably think I was being absurd and that my words directed at my religious friends and family were not okay, and you wold be right. Disapproving and actively speaking out against one’s peaceful religious practice is disapproving and actively speaking against an important part of who they are–their religious identity. The two are not so easily separable.

Therefore, when it comes to how people express themselves, it’s important to be supportive, or at least not actively discourage them, as long as what they are doing does not harm others. If a trans woman wants to wear a dress out in public, that’s fine. If a gay man wants to kiss his boyfriend, that’s fine, too. They are being true to themselves and are not hurting anyone. If they chose not to do those things, that would be fine, too. It is not for others to say otherwise.

Being authentic and transitioning has done so much good for me and has allowed me to experience so much more happiness and self-love than I could have ever experienced without it. It is important to me that my friends and family accept that and are supportive. Fortunately, a lot of them have been and I am very grateful to them for it. However, not all of us are as lucky. If you know someone who is in such a position, please consider extending a friendly hand. Doing so might help you be more true to who you really are.

My Trans Journey: Understanding My Dysphoria

CW: descriptions of dysphoria, mentions of suicide.

Introduction

I have had a lot of time to reflect on my past experiences. In fact, it’s mostly what I do whenever I get a moment to think about something other than work or what’s happening in the present moment. I am taking the opportunity to write about it as a kind of self care that will help me gain greater insight into my past and my emotions. This will be a small view into my personal experience with dysphoria and hopefully it will help you get a better understanding of what it has been like for me.

Remember, not every trans person experiences dysphoria (and that does not make them any less trans), nor do those who experience it experience it the same way from person to person or from moment to moment. Thus, when I talk about my experiences, they are mine alone. How generalizable they are, I am not sure.

When I began to think about how to communicate my experiences to a cis (not trans) audience, I thought the best way would be through a short story. What follows will be a metaphor for my experiences.

A Tale of Two Identities 

I was born late into a July evening to two loving parents. I was a “male” and a “he” according to the doctor because I was born with a penis. Right away, I had an artificial identity imposed on me.

Deep within my brain were two identities. Charlotte was the original identity born with me, but nothing was wrong until the artificial identity Chet was created. The two originally tried to figure out how live with each other, but over time that proved to be impossible. Eventually shame made it so Chet became strong enough to overpower Charlotte. He tied her up and imprisoned her in a cage where she would remain for many years. She could make some noise every now and again when she had the strength, but the other parts of my mind could barely hear her, and they soon forgot all about her.

When I was old enough to recognize my name, Charlotte immediately was repelled and cried out, “Ugh! No! That’s not our name! What kind of name is ‘Chet’ anyway? We hate it!” Apparently Charlotte was loud enough for parts of me to hear her, because I felt some of her disgust at hearing my own name. It felt wrong.

When I was about five years old, Charlotte was able to access glances of my reflection. “No! We look so ugly! Why do we look like this?” I immediately became insecure with my appearance. Then Chet replied to Charlotte, “Shut up in there!”, but it was too late. The seed of insecurity was already planted and its growth was inevitable. At this point all Chet could do was tell me, “Look, I know you are unhappy with your appearance now, but you can’t tell anyone. Only girls care about their appearance, so people will think there is something wrong with you if you say anything about it. Got it?” And so I never spoke a word to anyone about it.

There were times when my dad took off his shirt and Charlotte would be horrified. “No! If Dad looks like that, then what are we going to look like? We do not want to have Dad’s body hair or physique, and buff guys are gross, too. What are we going to do? We are supposed to have soft, smooth skin and a hairless, slender body. This sucks!”

“Remember, we don’t want anyone to think anything is wrong with us, so you better stay quiet”, Chet whispered.

Every Christmas, I liked a lot of the toys I got, but I could also sense Charlotte’s envy at my  sister’s toys. Chet would immediately spring up “Those are girl toys! We’re not a girl!”

“Yes we are!”, replied Charlotte.

“Shut up!”, Chet commanded.

As I got older, I seemed to develop a sense of being out of place in the world. There was something about myself that didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. This became a much bigger problem when puberty began. Testosterone was a major game changer that upset the balance and created turmoil in my mind. It wasn’t built for this.

Anxiety and depression became the new normal for me and grew as I grew. Soon I became angry and cynical. I would rarely feel contentment and quickly forgot what happiness and self-love felt like. Whenever I wasn’t pained by depression, anxiety, or anger, I was numb. I could barely feel empathy, and rarely had strong positive feelings for anyone else. I was living in a personal hell that didn’t have any escape, and I didn’t understand why.

Little did I know at the time that puberty was wreaking havoc and that the only one who could do anything about it was bound up and imprisoned deep within my mind. My parents couldn’t figure out what was going on either. They recognized that I had become anti-social, would have occasional outbursts, and would often isolate myself from everyone else. When I was in the ninth grade, my mother approached me and told me about her concerns. I agreed to go see a school counselor.

After talking to my mother, I  worried about what was going on, too. I desperately wanted to feel better and to fit in with my peers. I realized something needed to change. “What should I do about this?”, I asked myself.

“That’s a great question!”, replied Chet. “You need to fit into the role that people want you to fit into. You need to be cooler and more manly. An easy way to do that would be to play sports again. What sport is the manliest and will impress girls the most? Football! You will get big and strong and you will fit right in! Oh! You should also quit being such a nerd, too. Stop worrying about your grades so much. You’ll be fine if you don’t get a 4.0. Just relax and live for once!”

And that’s exactly what I did. I struggled with it at first, but it got better. I got bigger and stronger, and started getting more respect from my peers, but it wasn’t everything I was hoping for. Something was still wrong. I started to feel a lot of pressure and became incredibly anxious about playing football. The anxiety became so intolerable, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I became so depressed, I experienced a strong desire to self-harm for the first time. “If I were injured, I wouldn’t have to worry about this anymore and my pain would go away”, I thought. I finally recognized that football wasn’t healthy for me and decided to quit my senior year. People told me that I would regret that decision, but no such regret has ever occurred.

I later went on to experience two other episodes of extreme anxiety and depression that almost ended in suicide. Something was clearly wrong, but what? I still couldn’t figure it out. At this point, I figured that I just inherited these anxious tendencies from my parents and that I would have to live with them for the rest of my life. My parents didn’t understand it either. They eventually concluded that I had Asperger’s and I came to believe that, too.

Things got better the next few years after I made a few changes. I moved out of my parents’ house, got married, had a decent stable job, and started developing my own identity independent of the influence of my parents and former friends. Things finally seemed to be better, or so I thought. I still didn’t really feel like I fit in well and felt as if something was still missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on what that was.

By this point, Charlotte was starting to get stronger and Chet was afraid he might lose control of her. The only way Charlotte could die was if the rest of the mind died with her, so the best thing Chet could do was imprison her. He was also aware that though the mind could not live without Charlotte, it could live without him. He could die, and the mind would be just fine without him.

One day, I just happened to see a video explaining the concept of gender and how trans people fit into that concept. “Is this what I have been missing?”, I wondered. “YES! Yes it is!”, Screamed Charlotte. “Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!” Charlotte began to struggle with a vigor that she never had before. She was able to eventually break out of her bonds, but she was still trapped in her cage. “Let me out!”, she screamed as she shook the bars of her cage.

“Shut up!” Chet answered. “You’ll never get out of there! You know why? Because we will never accept you. The world will never accept you. ‘He’ might already know about you, but you still won’t get out of there because there is no way in hell ‘he’ could ever be you!”

Chet was able to maintain control, but it was much more difficult for him now. Other parts of my mind started to remember Charlotte and were now starting to free her. Chet was able to fend them off, but he realized that he couldn’t fight them off forever. He was starting to become desperate. Then suddenly she was free.

I then started to spiral into another cycle of extreme anxiety and depression. It was happening again and this time I knew where it would end if I didn’t do something about it.

Charlotte had been let loose and she knew if she wanted to remain free and if I were to live, Chet had to die. She quickly found him and they fought. It was a long and grueling struggle that practically destroyed the both of them. Charlotte eventually killed Chet and I finally acknowledged that I was a she. I was Charlotte.

Final Thoughts

I hope that story was both entertaining and enlightening. Since coming to terms with being trans and embracing Charlotte, I have become much happier and at peace with myself. I now feel that I finally know and love myself for the first time.

Realizing and accepting my identity didn’t erase my dysphoria. It only changed how I experience it. I no longer have extreme experiences of anxiety and depression, but I do still suffer from occasional bouts of insecurity and low self-esteem about my appearance and other aspects of myself. Transitioning, especially starting hormone replacement therapy, has gone a very long way to help me cope with that and I look forward to the other wonderful benefits that transition will bring me.

Note: if you are interested in reading more about trans experiences of gender dysphoria, I relate a lot to this one, so I highly recommend it for greater insight into my experience and experiences like mine. 

My Trans Journey: Coming to Terms With My Gender

Content warning: discussions of dysphoria and mentions of self-harm.

When I was about five years old, I started to feel self-conscious about my appearance. I didn’t like my hair, I didn’t like my freckles, I didn’t like my teeth, my face, or my eyes. I thought I was ugly. This insecurity about my appearance persists to this day.

My name is Charlotte Anne and I am a transgender woman. Coming to terms with this was not easy and in some sense I still am. Most days, most of the time, I really love being feminine. Acknowledging it and expressing it have made me happier than I have ever been. But there are still moments when gender dysphoria gets the better of me. I still occasionally loathe what I see staring back at me in the mirror, and I still get the sense that I am from an alien planet, though to a much smaller degree thanks to transitioning.

Gender dysphoria is different for everyone who experiences it, and not all transgender folks go through it. It can vary in how it’s experienced from moment to moment, or from day to day. From five years old to puberty, it took the form of low self-esteem about my appearance. In that time, I also started to develop depression and anxiety that worsened as I entered adolescence. Puberty made me a mess. I was anti-social, cynical, and angry as I spent most of my days isolated from most people. When I wasn’t anxious, depressed, or angry, I was numb. I didn’t feel much beyond those emotions. I never really knew the joy that others seemed to have. There were times when I doubted I really knew what love felt like. I suppose I was spared of some pain and heartache, but I can’t see how that suffering is anything compared to the misery of growing up the way I was and not knowing why.

Suicide and self-harm are frequent occurrences for transgender folks. Up to 41% of trans adults have reported attempting suicide. Compare that to 4.6% of the general population. I never attempted, but I did have serious and persistent thoughts of self-harm in high school and persistent suicidal ideation twice in adulthood. Let me make one thing perfectly clear. We do not self-harm because we are trans. We self-harm because society still does not accept our being trans.

Some transgender folks know their true gender fairly early (about the age of 3 to 5, if I recall correctly). I didn’t start realizing mine until I was 26. I had some experiences earlier in life that didn’t make sense to me when I tried to interpret them with the framework I had. For instance, I would dream of being a woman who was assigned female at birth, but I couldn’t make sense of why I enjoyed it so much. I tried to explain it away by the fact that I was sexually attracted to women. I used that explanation a lot actually. Why did I relate to women so much? Because of my sexual attraction to women. Why did I prefer the company of women and feel more comfortable in primarily female spaces? Because of my sexual attraction to women. Why did I love not just looking at pictures of attractive women and being aroused by them, but deeply admire and subtly envy them? Because of my sexual attraction to women. In hind-sight, it’s easy to see how mistaken I was, but that was all I had to go off of. There were other experiences I had that couldn’t be explained away by my sexuality at all. For example, when I became an adult, I felt really weird about being called a man and being referred to as “Mister”.

As many of those experiences as I had, they weren’t enough to make me aware of what was really going on until April 2015. By this point, I had been thinking somewhat more critically about gender. I was a feminist and an “ally”of the trans community. However, I still didn’t really understand what “transgender” really meant, and what it was like to be trans until I saw a video of a non-binary trans person explain it.

Fastforward to July 27th, 2015. I had just finished work and I was walking to my car when I read a Facebook post from a client bashing my performance on the job. Normally, I would be bothered by criticisms like that (I have been criticized several times before; it’s part of the job), but it wouldn’t be as earth shattering as that criticism was to me. I began experiencing two months of hell that resembled some of my past experiences with depression and anxiety. I had been doing really well the past several years up to that point. I thought I had conquered my mental illness, but it was apparent about two weeks in that we weren’t finished yet. After suffering a severe panic attack, I sought out a previous therapist whom I saw regarding my past issues and my PTSD. We never talked about my experiences with gender (mostly because I had no idea I was trans), and though I had finally realized who I really was, I made the conscious decision to not bring it up in therapy. I decided that it wasn’t relevant, I didn’t need to deal with it, transitioning was too risky, and I could live with this in silence for the rest of my life. That decision did not work out very well.

As it turns out, seeing that video caused me to become aware of who I really was deep down, and I chose to resist it. A core part of my identity was now fragile and that left another part of my identity, my occupational identity, vulnerable. That Facebook post was enough to bring my whole world crashing down.

During those few weeks of therapy and not dealing with the underlying issue, I thought I would be fine. I even started to make some progress and was becoming more optimistic. I didn’t have to admit to myself, or the world, that I was a woman…until I couldn’t do it any more. That progress was swiftly followed by me sinking even lower and experiencing a nasty streak of panic attacks. I was in the middle of one when I realized I couldn’t go on fighting it any more. I had to embrace it. And that is what I did.

I immediately started feeling better when I started coming out to people and I continued to improve as I progressed in my transition. My panic attacks and depression vanished. The most significant improvements started about five days into hormone replacement therapy (I am now about 5 weeks in and continue to improve). Before I thought I knew what calm and “normal” felt like (when I believed I wasn’t suffering from elevated anxiety/depression), but I was sorely mistaken. I started to feel a peace and calm that I hadn’t recognized before. I finally really knew what it felt like to be human.