Monday, March 5, 2012

My "guess" at DJ's reality

My Aussie friend has been more enlightening than I can possibly express.  In many ways, she shares more about her personal struggles than DJ will, and thank goodness because her thoughts give me insight into DJ's struggles.  Granted, DJ is not Miss Aussie's clone, but they both are young women attempting to lead full and happy lives in the face of adversity that takes the form of being born into the wrong body.

I often try NOT to think of how DJ must be feeling about many of the disappointments of her condition because it's too painful to contemplate.  For instance, the deep pain at knowing that one will not be able to reproduce children in the "normal" way because your body, even post surgery, will NEVER be able to function like that, must be ever present.  People are capable of amazing things, including living with bone-deep disappointment and loss of possibility, but transgender people must be incredibly accomplished at overcoming so many obstacles, it boggles the mind if one were to really put some thought into it.

Imagine you are 3 years old.  You feel how you feel.  You know how you see the world, and respond to it, and somehow, some way, you know you're a girl.  How did I know I was a girl? I have no clue-I just did.  Luckily for me, my body reflected that and so the world tended to treat me in a manner that was consistent with how I viewed myself, for the most part, anyhow.  When you're three, maybe you start to realize that you identify more with your mother and that she and you have some differences that you can't explain.  She has breasts and you don't, but you understand on some level that small children, whether they are boys or girls, do not have breasts, so it doesn't matter.  But you have a penis where she has her vagina and perhaps this just doesn't make sense.  However, you engage in the activities you like and maybe it's tolerable, this difference from your mother, for now, anyway.

You enjoy playing with your brothers, whom you adore, and can play with Legos for hours, and when you feel like other activities that seem to hearken to your more nurturing side, you can, because Santa brought you a kitchen set and Aunt Bean bought you an Easy Bake oven.  And otherwise, 3 years olds tend to enjoy similar activities outside of those, such as running around, playing in the sandbox, swinging on the swings, so maybe this nagging feeling of something not being right just isn't that prevalent.

But you get older, and you start to attend more mainstream activities on a regular basis-namely school.  The division between boys and girls is glaringly sharp and now you really start to understand, if you didn't before, that you MUST act like the other people known as "boys" because you've been told you're a boy, you have a boy's name, and after all, you have a penis, so it must be true that you're a boy.  But it doesn't feel right.  You may start to realize that somehow you just know you're not a boy but the die has been cast and it seems like you have no choice;  maybe, just maybe, you question yourself and think you MUST be wrong because, after all, you have the parts and the name that say you're a boy, so you do your very best to act the part because at this age, you put more stock in your parents' opinions than your own.

You get older and that feeling just won't go away and you really know that you're a girl and have no clue what to do about it.  You spend more time alone in your room because at least you don't have to pretend there.  You have lots of friends who are knocking on the front door asking you to come out and play-sometimes you will; many times you won't because you get tired of acting like someone you are not.  Halloween and birthday parties come and go and dressing up like a knight just isn't that fun, but you try to act like it is.  Picking out clothes is a drag, because what you really want to wear is not even on your mother's radar, and you can't possibly tell her how you really want to dress.

You're a happy person outwardly because you were made that way and that helps dispel some of the darkness of having to pretend you're a boy, but you would be truly, bone deep, happier if you could just stop cutting your hair and start wearing pretty colors.  You make some last ditch efforts at "being" a boy by joining a football team, but this "mega" form of "boyness" is just too much, and fortunately, your parents let you quit partway through the season because it's apparent how much you dislike it.

Childhood wanes and adolescence begins and it's horrifying. Yet, it's socially acceptable for boys to grow out their hair at this age, and you do.  You are old enough to be left at home now, so when no one is there, you try on "female" accessories and it feels so right.  You know you are supposed to be a girl and are increasingly tired of pretending otherwise and so you make other attempts at appearing female that you explain away.  Male athletes shave their legs for various reasons, so you do as well, and offer what seems like a hairbrained explanation, but your parents just shrug their shoulders, "Kids will be kids, at least he's not going Goth."

Then you meet a special person and experience your first feelings of romantic love and believe you can trust this person with your deepest secret.  She takes it well enough, so it gives you hope that others will take it well too.  So you tell your other closest friends who you have been hanging out with since you were six years old. They want to be cool, progressive teens and they seem to accept your newly shared "truth."  You are so DONE with being this fake guy, and these recent successes make you feel hopeful about telling your family, so you work up all your courage and tell them.....and it's stressful as HELL, but it actually goes fairly well.  You expect to be able to come out in full force and immediately start outwardly appearing and acting like your true self, but your parents don't put as much stock in your friends' acceptance, or your peers' acceptance, as you do.

You start your transition in earnest and are so full of happiness and hope, you practically glow.  You are home schooled for awhile to allow you to get used to your new meds and for your parents to assess the safety of your wish to return to school, full time.  You are so certain that they are overreacting.  They don't know your friends and how awesome they are.  Parents always overreact to everything.  It will be fine, and besides, even if some people act like jerks, you know who you are and you feel certain you can shrug off any non-acceptance or biting remarks.

Luckily, the nasty remarks are infrequent but it's because most people don't even acknowledge that you are even in the room.  You went from being universally loved-you are used to people running to you from down the hall because you are so well liked by so many people that they rush to you-to being "invisible."  You don't exist to them and you start to feel nonexistent.  You now become sure the reason people avoid you is YOU.  So you go to great lengths to be prettier and thinner, thinking that will make them "see" you again.  When that doesn't work, you find a way to "feel" real. When you scratch yourself with something sharp and see the scratch become red, you "know" you exist and it gives you a small measure of peace.  "I am not invisible."  Invisible people don't bleed.  Thin, beautiful people get noticed too, except you don't.  It's not working. You're desperate and just want the hurt to end and like many people who feel hopeless, you see only one way out and hope that no one will notice if you take your brother's pain medication following his wisdom tooth surgery.

Call it self preservation, or wanting to live, but you tell your best friend your thoughts of wanting to take all of your brother's pain pills and she, luckily, does not keep your secret.  But you've already fallen off the cliff, or more likely, were pushed by your reality of invisibility.  You are clinging madly to some obscure crag in the cliff, however, and your parents are practically weepy with relief, which irritates you because you feel responsible now for their pain.  And let's face it, you aren't worthy of their love and attention.  Somewhere along the line, you "bought" someone else's reality about yourself-that because you are "invisible" you don't matter.  And if you don't matter, then you have no business causing your parents their worry and taking their time and money.  Hell, you are not even sure you "deserve" to eat and have anything good in your life.  Somehow, your experience has placed you outside of the bubble of rightful existence in the world.  You must fight your way past the wall that someone else erected and convinced you is actually there so that you can believe anything good about yourself. And it's a hard climb up that cliff, often on a minute- to- minute basis,  and on many days.

But there is a hopeful situation on the horizon-surgery to remove your horrifying male genitalia, and to build what should have been there all along.  You look forward to not having to wear long shirts that cover your groin and to being able to wear a bathing suit without wearing shorts over it so that the "telltale" bulge, in spite of the "special" panties, won't show.  And oh my god, the hormones are working and you're actually growing small breasts and it's wonderful.  The surgery won't fix everything, but it will solve many problems.  Your birth certificate will be changed to the truth, you can fly on an airplane without fear, use a women's restroom without fear, be allowed to stay in a girls' dorm in college.....the list is endless.  But the most important thing-that "it" will be gone.

But you will never bear children and somehow, you must learn to live with this too.  You will always be transgender no matter how you look.  This will be your truth that you must share with whomever you choose to love and hopefully he/she will accept you.  So, while the surgery fixes quite a bit, you still have the reality of having to deal with other people's issues about how you started this life for possibly the rest of your life and this casts a shadow on your hopes.  You start to wonder if people really do accept you, or are they just faking it to not hurt you.  Maybe your parents aren't even really buying it.  Some days it seems like you are surrounded by signs of non-acceptance, even from the people who say they love the "real" you.  And when they don't get it, or drop the ball of acceptance, you feel responsible AGAIN.

This is my best guess at what DJ and my lovely Aussie girlfriend experience, or have experienced, to varying degrees.  Family, friends-if we are not willing to truly love the person and treat them and SEE them as they see themselves, we are a noose around their necks.  If we project our feelings about how they should act and feel and present, we are tightening the noose.  If we stall our acceptance and put conditions on our love, we are figuratively and maybe even literally, digging their graves.

We are connected to each other.  We each have the ability to help others achieve happiness and unfortunately also have the ability to hinder their happiness.  We must not ever take that lightly.  There is nothing, NOTHING, more important than truly loving each other.  And love is accepting the persons in front of you EXACTLY as they are.  Not just tolerating them, but embracing them, because of their uniqueness and not in spite of it.