Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Today is one-year since I decided to transition

Author: if you're sensitive to certain subjects including suicide, transphobia, and overall queerphobia, I'd suggest reading this with an abundance of caution. A lot of what is written here may also be paraphrased either due to the fact that time has passed and I wouldn't able to be entirely accurate or it's not necessary to write everything in whole.

A year ago today, I was on holiday from work. I was stressed-out, miserable, hating every single aspect of myself, and just outright feeling dead inside. There was effectively no fuel left in the tank and I was just running on whatever fumes I had remaining.

I took a walk one day in the hopes of having a "good day" and found myself staring at a bridge.

My brain gave me three options as I looked.
  1. Continue with this charade where I pop anti-depressants to calm myself down and find myself becoming increasingly angrier, resembling someone I didn't want to become
  2. Take a walk to the middle of this bridge and 'resolve' the matter, leaving everyone questioning everything about why
  3. Go further down the street, not knowing what will happen but make a radical change in my life
How I got to this point in my life was a culmination of two decades of wondering about my gender and sexuality and eight years of me knowing but trying to not make it a big deal. It wasn't the first time I found myself with my brain suggesting a variation of option two but I was unable to push myself not to like the last time.

Back in July 2009, there was a trans woman who transitioned in front of me and her actions were what started my dealing with being transgender. I knew her from years prior helping run a local convention and then after not seeing her for most of the year leading up to then, she came out. She was beautiful and I was jealous. "I want to be like her" was the theme in my mind as I kept looking in her direction. It was the first time it clicked in my head that maybe I was like her but there were so many questions.

Why her? I worked with transgender persons, made friends with them, and had so many interactions. Why?

It's because I saw her before. She was beautiful before and she was even more beautiful now. I was jealous and it stuck with me harsh. 

When I was 12-years old, I was stealing clothes from the laundry room and in some cases kept them in a drawer next to my bed; I only stopped because my mother caught me. I was ashamed of my body and always found changing before P.E. class aggravating. I felt inferior to the boys I was forced to interact with and compared to my more athletic younger brother I felt like a bit of a runt.

At 18, I was dating my first girlfriend and my sexual experience was awkward, finding myself feeling uncomfortable after. When we broke up a few months later, she asked me if I was gay and my only response was, "I... am not sure". Going forward, I tried to put on this machismo image of myself but truthfully I found it to be absolute garbage; the problem was I didn't understand why.

I was always in fear of being queer to be honest. I remember when I was 16, I admitted to someone that I thought that I was bisexual but I couldn't really say why and only said it to one person. I had to deal with my father making limp-wristed gestures in regards to my cousin being gay and my mother and grandfather referring to a trans woman computer technician he had hired as "he-she" or variations of that. Classmates constantly taunted me frequently, referring to me using queer-specific derogatory terms and using "queer" offensively, replacing my last name with that word due to it rhyming--I now own and use that word now in describing a part of who I am.

Being placed in a Catholic school didn't help me process my queerness in a productive manner. Any thoughts of me being anything close to "queer" was shameful and I lay the blame on the indoctrination I had underwent as a kid. I don't lament my parents placing me in a Catholic school, as they felt like it was the "right thing to do", but honestly there is nothing good to be said about my experience the more and more I revisit this time in my life. The constant bullying I faced during this time was outright awful and never dealt with appropriately by my parents or school officials (blame was virtually pinned on me most of the time), thus making me want to never express my true self. There was no emotional support for me and I was made to believe that I was wrong and I needed to "smarten up".

As an aside to all this, I am not the lone trans person in my rather small class (we had around a hundred students at graduation) as someone we all assumed as a lesbian came out as a trans man many years post-graduation. There were others who came out as queer with one coming out midway through our last year of school.

I digress, but regrettably, this shame I developed early on didn't help me behave outside of grade school any better: I used to use these aforementioned derogatory terms on message boards and in chat. It was only until the mid-noughties did I realise that this behaviour of mine was abhorrent. Cleaning my language of certain words was a long-process and I made an effort to listen to others when called out on it.

During my 20s, I waffled in and out of depression. I came out as depressed to some friends in 2004 and I was reluctant to do anything about it due to a friend's recent passing. I just didn't want to have any attention centred on me and I suffered in silence. Come 2006, I decided to move away from Vancouver thinking that it would fix me. As a consequence, I ended up really isolated, resulting in moving back less than a year later. Some time after my return, I sought out a psychiatrist and got myself on anti-depressants. It lead to this thought that I'd be on my path to finding inner-peace.

All during that time I couldn't figure out what my problem was with my gender and my sexuality. I knew somehow I was queer but just could never put my finger on it. 

I soon started to date my first long-term partner of whom I would later ask to marry me. During that time, I would meet this aforementioned trans woman and thus began my slow spiral; this was not her fault of course! It was a slow burn and even after that incident I gave it a thought but eventually after my car accident in 2010, I started to reevaluate everything.

I was off the anti-depressants and truthfully my time with the medical professional was absolutely useless, but I had convinced myself months before the car accident that I was fine. After the car accident, I found myself back at the same point I was in 2007 if not worse. When I remarked to my mother that I wanted go to back on the medication, she gave me a rather milquetoast response that very much discouraged me from trying again.

My partner and I broke up in mid-2011 and I felt like maybe this trans stuff in my head was in fact nonsense. I didn't find men attractive so why the heck would I be transgender? The trans women I had met before were all ambiguous about their sexuality and as such I left myself with the false impression that they were straight. I briefly flirted with the idea of transitioning around this point although it was the first time it was serious unlike before it was a "what if".

So instead of doing the right thing, I tried to reinvent myself. I had friends help me choose out new clothes and I started to toy with doing my hair differently. I bought a suit for a wedding and felt like I could own myself. I then met a woman at this wedding and we began a long-lasting relationship. We were engaged in 2015 and married a year later; all the while I kept going back to thoughts about why I was born a "man" and not a "woman". The idea of me being trans was still absurd until I was sick in the summer of 2016.

My wife was out of town and I came down with a nasty case of bronchitis. I couldn't work at all so I found myself reading all sorts of random things. An article I came across was by a trans woman about being closeted and how her life had improved once she came out. She described who I was to a T and it was outright unnerving; she had help me complete my knowledge in the separation between gender and sexuality. I didn't know what to do so for months I distracted myself with whatever I could and it shifted the spiral towards its steepest.

My sexuality was no longer the problem; my gender was however. Sex has always been broken for me in some capacity, but it had become hyperaware to me at this point. I couldn't face myself in a mirror anymore and the idea of me being any photos by myself bothered me immensely; this was a problem before but it really felt significantly amplified by this point. Everything was just outright broken in my head.

My self-image of myself had always been skewed. For example: I've always hated my facial hair.

I tried to grow it out while living in Edmonton, but after a week I found it absolutely awful and went back to shaving it regularly. I made many quips about wanting to wax my face to my partners, but they all said it was a horrible idea; I just never wanted to see stubble. The way I approached my genitals at the time was slightly different albeit the same, but I am not up for elaborating on this.

Side-tracking here a bit further: it's sort of funny how we assign gender roles right at birth based on what is between the legs, allowing for zero self-determination since at the start we're already telling the child what they're supposed to be. This scene (at 3:40) from Monty Python's Meaning of Life exemplifies the absurdity of it all.

I remember after the 2016 American election (or debacle), I went to sleep that night negotiating with myself that maybe I could transition but only in a decade or so; I don't know what initiated it all but I imagine the completion of a bottle of whiskey was at play.

Maybe things will be better, maybe I'll get over this, or maybe I'll "come to my senses" and figure out that this is just a really absurd fever dream and that I just need to "pull up my socks". I was really drunk and at the same time failing to fall asleep; it was probably the worst night's sleep of my life.

It was at this point the obvious anxiety attacks started; I would later realise that I have had anxiety attacks of this severity before but not at this frequency. I would spend Christmas and New Years just in a complete panic, doing my best to keep myself together at least on the surface.

Work was my only outlet really, finding myself just spending all day at my day job doing as much as I could tolerate. However, I was reaching close to burn-out and opted to shut down a service I was running in the hopes I could refocus. I tried to spin up new, smaller projects and had some decent success but couldn't keep the momentum going. I was burning the candle at both ends basically.

In desperation, I joined a gym to help destress from everything and while it did improve some things for me, overall it didn't really help; I lost 14 KG (30 lbs) between February and April. All during that time I was on anti-depressants again and I was visiting a psychologist.

There were two things happened in March that changed everything.

First, my psychologist said something profound: "all anxieties are rooted in something; we need to find what it is in your case". Second, my wife said, "we used to be on the same page, but now I feel like we're in different books". We had agreed to buy a home but a few nights before we had a fight over going ahead with buying one at the time and we spent the car ride home from where we ate in absolute silence. Everything was stressing me out and I was starting to break and break hard.

The week off was approaching and I felt like it was going to "reset" me. In fact, it was the end of this spiral and the start of something new. I managed to get through the first day off by doing things I wanted but the second day was a hard start. I decided to go for a long walk from my home to the city centre. I came to the Pattullo Bridge and began to walk up the path for no apparent reason, stopped, and then found myself presented with those options.

It would be the last time I would visit a pub and consume several pints in the middle of the day; but I did make a decision. I was about to mess things up, yet I didn't know what else to do other than tell the truth--or at least everything that I had thought about up until that point as I didn't have the luxury of retrospection like I do here right now.

I wanted to write about my coming out which was on April 13th, but I am still dealing with the aftermath of that ordeal. Most people in my life have been fairly chill about it and in some cases relationships significantly improved, but I have one aspect that is in complete tatters and I am still working on sorting out my thoughts on the whole matter. It has resulted in me seeking counselling and while it's making things better for me mentally, I still have a long ways to go. There are people I want to acknowledge that have done so much for me since but until I can make amends with others or at least myself, it'll need to rest.

These people do know who they are and I love you all and cannot express enough the gratitude I have for your patience and friendship. Some of you have done more than for me than I could ever expect especially considering how difficult our past relationships may have been. Seriously it means a lot to me.

Revisiting this spot for the two photos was really jarring. I didn't want to stay much longer than I needed to and I found myself crying in the car for a little bit after this experience. It hurt and even as I am writing this the pain is all too real. There was so much pain involved in my coming out but what I will say is that regardless of the hardships I still face, I don't regret it. Nothing is perfect now but things are better. My only regret is that I wish I did this sooner and perhaps I could have handled things better when I did come out in the first place; but it did happen and well there is no do-over now is there?

I've basically "unlearned" gender and it has been quite a trip to say the least.

I think that 2018 will continue to be a good year for me as a person and I hope that in 2019 I can talk about some presently unresolved issues in a positive light. My door is still open for most who are still "coming around", but I won't allow for myself to get hurt.