Four years ago, I found myself spending a weekend with unlikely friends in a small Kentucky town, 11 hours from where I was living at the time. A few years before, I had come to Kentucky from Oklahoma City with my friend Heather to meet her twin sister, Ashley. Ashley played soccer at Union College nestled between the Daniel Boone National and Kentucky Ridge State forests. This was one of several spur-of-the-moment trips Heather and I loved to take, and as they usually did, this one changed my life.
While there to meet Ashley on homecoming weekend, I met several other girls, with whom I fell in love. These girls adopted me, and I them, and I kept coming back with and without Heather to see them. I still go back, years after they’ve graduated, because I continued to meet new soccer girls each new year, and the process of making new friends repeats itself.
The trip four years ago, last week, was another of those reunions. It was a low key weekend, and we spent most of the weekend cooking, playing typical college drinking games watching movies. I loved my time with these girls. They knew who I was, and even though I sported a goatee at the time, they could see my female heart and mind. They accepted me as one of the girls.
In the moment, I thought about how fortunate I was to be in the company of young women who really saw ME. I was grateful for them and their deep love for me. I thought about my gratitude. At the time, I felt so trapped, and was miserable with what I saw as a no-win situation. I knew there was nothing I could do about being female, but not being able to express it. This feeling of gratitude because of my girls, was a stark contrast to the misery I otherwise felt.
At the end of that weekend 4-years back, I was feeling philosophical about what I saw as a choice to focus on the positives in my life, rather than the negatives. Indeed, I chose happiness simply by driving hundreds of miles to surround myself with positive friends. I wrote something about this juxtaposition and posted it to Facebook.
I’m going to take a short break and let you read it, because I think you can better see what I’m talking about:
I have had an amazing weekend with four amazing friends. We are unlikely friends. We live 11 hours away, and two are here from other countries. In thinking about how much I love these girls and how much they love me, I wondered how we became friends at all. We met over two years ago by chance of a decision I made to visit my friend’s sister whom I had never met at her college. Why are we such great friends despite only meeting a few times? Facebook and Twitter have something to do with it, but very little. In part, it’s because of shared interest and quality of character.
We all know people who are miserable. They are the ones who don’t have any real friends, because nobody wants to be their friend. Who wants to be around someone who is miserable?
Like most people, I’ve had reasons to choose misery. Like most, I have suffered loss and tragedy. I won’t bore you with details. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been sad, or even depressed. It means I didn’t let sadness and depression take hold. In each situation where loss or tragedy occurred, I made a conscious decision to make the most of the circumstances and simply move on.
I apply the same thinking when I make a poor decision. I’ve made much more than my share! When I realize I’ve messed up, I just make the best of it and move on.
Because of these conscious decisions, I believe I am happier. I believe people enjoy being around me, in part because of these decisions.
Despite loss and tragedy, I am the most blessed and fortunate person I know. It’s because I have the most amazing friends. Far too many to name. Friends I will cherish as long as I live. And I don’t hold back saying as much. Sometimes, I think they are taken aback by this unbridled announcement of love. Soon though, they accept it as just who I am. I truly do deeply love each one of them too.
Happiness is a decision. When bad things happen, I believe people choose between misery and happiness. Fortune follows those who choose happiness.
Here’s where the meat of this post begins. In the past two weeks, the themes of gratitude, happiness, frustration and “chips on shoulders” have come up with surprising frequency in conversations with various friends and coworkers.
Last night, a coworker remarked about how differently I come across to people I meet than other transgender individuals she’s seen on TV or met. She said she’s noticed that some trans people seem to have a chip on their shoulder or an axe to grind. It’s true, there are some who do seem that way. But I reminded her that my life was different than that of so many other transgender people. I have, not just a job, but a fulfilling and rewarding career. I also have an outlet with this blog, and with what I do in my career, that affords me the ability to educate people. Rather than feeling like I have no control over what my life is like, I feel like I can affect the outcome of my life.
Many transgender people feel both discriminated against and disenfranchised on a daily basis. It’s difficult to go through life when you feel like you don’t have a fair shot at it – when you are judged for simply being the person you are. Throw into that mix the lack of being able to do anything about it, and you get frustrated pretty quickly.
The conversation brought me right back to the choice between happiness and misery. I have to come clean. It’s not in my nature to be positive all the time, it’s something I’ve learned over time. There have been times in my life when I’ve been miserable. I was especially miserable when I believed I couldn’t do anything about being transgender. I believed it would be a selfish act to put my family and friends through the pain of even knowing I was transgender! How much more selfish it would be to actually transition!
Even post-transition, I get down in the dumps. Yes, I am thankfully employed by a company that fully supports me, but I experience discrimination and disenfranchisement outside of work. People say some nasty things under their breath in the grocery store. Some use male pronouns for me, deliberately. I’m in much greater danger of being assaulted because of my appearance. I am on the receiving end of mean comments on social media. I see several new negative things about being transgender in news stories, every day. If you focus on it, it drags a person down.
I’ve been fired before, my heart has been broken, people I thought were my friends have taken advantage of me, people have been downright mean to me, and I’ve been physically assaulted numerous times. I’ve experienced, and still do, things that would cause many people to be bitter and to hold onto anger. But several years ago, I discovered I had the ability to choose either happiness or misery.
Believe me, I’m not great at making the choice, still. I’ve had to practice. Also, I’ve surrounded myself with certain friends who simply will not allow me to throw a pity party. I’m talking about you Mary, Marisa and Artemis, among several others. These ladies won’t even give me a chance to complain, sometimes! Well, not much of a chance, anyway. These are the best friends a girl could have. They hold me accountable and don’t let me simply complain, without a solution.
Here’s where I get preachy, but believe me I’m preaching to myself, too. Admittedly, I spent decades in misery, feeling trapped, without seeing any way to transition. And it’s easier to make the choice to be happy with some negatives, than with others. There’s a big difference between focusing on happiness when you stub your toe, than it is when you lose your home to a natural disaster or a loved one to violence. But eventually, we recover to the point where can choose happiness.
I truly believe every single person has the ability to make this choice. Some are much better at it that others, like this writer. It’s not an easy thing to simply choose! And sometimes it’s really difficult to see any positive upon which to focus your energy, but I promise it’s there. Growing hurts, and learning is hard. Difficult things will always come our way in life. The one thing in our power is how quickly we decide to force ourselves to seek happiness and make that choice.