This is the second of two posts about the time coming to terms with being transgender and leading up to my transition. If you haven’t read Part I, click here.
The stories we tell ourselves might as well be reality. They’re like movies that play over and over in our heads, and each time the movie plays out, it reinforces itself. My personal movies were ones of hopelessness and danger. Just a couple years ago one of my movies was, if I transitioned I would alienate my family and friends, I would lose my job, become unemployable, I would end up homeless on the street, and would soon thereafter be dead.
Transition seemed like such a selfish thing for me to do, to put everyone I loved through the trauma of having to deal with finding out that their child, sibling, parent, friend and coworker was transgender. You see, I had stigmatized that word just as much as anyone ever had. I viewed being transgender as something that needed to be fixed. Despite me knowing she couldn’t, I had hoped my therapist could somehow make me feel better about my current circumstance – that she could magically make it all go away with one piece of psychological trickery. Maybe she could fix me, I remember hoping.
What I learned from her, is that being transgender isn’t some sort of disorder or mental illness. Current thinking among medical and psychology fields is that being transgender is a “normal” phenomenon. It’s like having arthritis, or being short and having brown hair. It just is. And the old thinking that nurture was somehow involved, or that you could medicate it away or otherwise cure someone who is transgender, was pure fiction. We don’t completely understand yet what it is that makes people like me feel like we aren’t the gender we were assigned at birth, but we do know it isn’t a disorder, mental disease or anything close. You can’t make it go away, but you can help a person deal with all the things that come with being transgender, like disenfranchisement and discrimination. In some cases, you can prescribe hormones and even perform surgery to help that person become who they were meant to be.
A few other things happened along this journey of discovery. About the time I was going through counseling, retired Navy SEAL and transgender woman Kristin Beck’s book and documentary came out, and I devoured both several times. Knowing her story melted away some of my arguments against transitioning. She’s a war hero, for crying out loud! The fact that she went from fighting terrorists for two decades to what she is now, paled my protestations. Of course, it wasn’t easy for her to transition. She actually did lose some things during and after her transition, but what she gained was so much more, and it opened my mind to an alternative ending to my personal movie.
I watched the interviews she did for CNN and others, and I eventually reached to to Kristin. What I discovered was someone with a very similar history to my own. We had both joined the Navy, although my naval career was nothing compared to hers. We both had kids and had been married to women. Both of us had tried desperately to compensate for our feelings of femininity by being hyper masculine. Kristin told me that this was common. I found in her, someone for whom I had immense respect, and someone I could relate to.
Also during my counseling, Amazon’s award-winning show Transparent debuted. I was blown away by it! The entire show was a reflection of me playing out in a relatable story, and winning awards along the way! Beck’s story and Transparent were two huge trans-related events, and both were lauded. I reached out to Ian Harvie, a transgender actor and comedian who played the part of a transgender man in Transparent. Ian was open and generous with his own story, and that put me at ease. I felt I could be open about mine. He became a dear friend, and I’m incredibly lucky to know him.
Along with counseling, both Ian and Kristin proved to me that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I didn’t need to be fixed. To be sure, I felt completely broken, but I realized it was a feeling, not reality. Psychotherapy and these two amazing people helped me to see my path to transition. I slowly began to calm down and became increasingly more at peace, and more peaceful to be around.
When I finally and firmly made the decision to transition around the 2014 holidays, the pressure cooker released its remaining steam. It was no longer the bomb that would have taken casualties. It was vessel that had changed my thinking. It had changed the movies in my head from horror stories to something lovely — from the story of someone tormented, to that of someone happy and finally at peace with herself.