The Pain We Cause Our self

You can’t be hurt unless you care. That’s something I’ve known for a very long time, but it also comes with the caveat that you can’t enjoy unless you care.

I lived most of my life in an emotional void. Very little really permeated that void, about the only thing that could was anger, and even then it was present but often subdued.

It’s hard to predict what will happen when you start feeling, it’s hard to know feelings and emotions work when you’ve never known them before.

I didn’t know how much pain I had endured.

I didn’t know how much interest was owed on that pain.

I really didn’t know that I was going to have to work through a quarter century of pain and suppressed emotions without any particular control.

I knew I was broken, I knew I couldn’t feel, but knowing something is broken is not the same as fixing it. Transitioning fixed it, it opened the flood gates, and it started the pain.

If I read through what I’ve written here, which has seen some pretty unfortunate events recorded in it, I see that the event itself was not the sum total of my pain. It’s not the pain of the event in question, it’s the flood of pain from a lifetime of events similar to it coming through. My anxiety is not just the fear of the current situation, it is also untold moments of fear before it coming to the surface.

All of this pain, is my pain, I have blamed others for it, but it is my own anxiety, it is my own fear, it is my own anger, it is the sum total of every night I cried myself to sleep as a child wishing to wake up a girl, it is every friendship that I blamed my friend for not being strong enough to help me, it is every member of my family I blamed for not seeing the real me and helping me.

All of the pain I hold onto is the pain of a life of regret. All of the pain I wish to release is the pain of a child, then youth, then adult holding them self to an impossible standard in order to survive.

As a child I wished for my life to end, I ran in front of cars hoping they would strike me, I was assumed careless when I was really apathetic. I ran away from home at eleven years old, I woke up early in the morning, packed everything I would need to start what I thought would be a new life. I planned to bicycle to a cousin who lived 100km away. I made it about 10 km before realizing I hadn’t packed water.

I went home, I’d locked myself out of the house I waited on the steps for my parents to wake up. My mother was furious when I told her what I’d done. She said we’d talk about it later. She went to work. I sat in the kitchen, not knowing if I should go to school or what to do. I stewed and I thought and I pondered.

We never spoke of it again.

I tried to kill myself a few months later. Again I woke up in the early hours of the morning. I didn’t want to be stopped from what I planned to do. I’d brought a knife with me to bed. I was eleven years old, I didn’t have some grandiose plan, but I knew that I could hack myself up well enough to die. I held the knife to my skin. I waited longer then I probably should have.

The only thing that stopped me, was a single thought, someday I can be myself. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew that in eight years, when I was 19 I could move out on my own, and start figuring out my life. Everything from that day on was about survival.

I had no idea what puberty was going to look like. The struggle and pain that would be. The hurt that I would push down until I couldn’t feel anything at all.

I’ve blamed almost everyone around me for the pain. As if they should have known and maybe, just maybe saved me. Ultimately it’s just me that hurts. Those around me aren’t wounded by the pain I hold in my heart.

I’ve always carried the burden, I knew with absolute certainty that what I was, was wrong, was disgusting, was something to hate, was something to hide.

I grew up ashamed of who I was, I can’t remember a time I wasn’t ashamed of myself. Even now that shame still haunts me. And it hurts. It hurts so much.

I can blame every little moment for making it worse, I can tell you when things have felt worse and better, but ultimately, it’s the pain that I cause to myself that hurts the most. It’s the childhood I regret not having, it’s the milestones in my life that I will never achieve. I will never, ever have the full life I wanted for myself. I will never get to enjoy some of the simple pleasures of growing up. I lived a life for everyone but myself to survive. and I hate that it was the choice I had to make. I hate and resent those around me because I feel like I lived a life for them and they don’t appreciate it. I stand as I am today in spite of their fears and hatreds. Yet they don’t know the pain that I feel in my heart. They don’t will the pain on me, it is pain of my own creation.

It is the pain I’ve attributed to others because of the shame I’ve felt in my own heart. Every moment of weakness growing up when I had to express some degree of femininity, like some sort of addict under the influence of a great compulsion.

The fires I started in the bathroom as a teenager to hide the fact that the nail polish remover I was using wasn’t for some pyrotechnic thrill but to hastily scrub and clean off the nail polish I’d put on my nails so I could see my hands as a girl’s hands, for even a second. The hastily applied make-up at lunch time in junior high so I could try and see the woman that might lie ahead. The burning astringent I used to take it off, stinging my eyes.

I was ashamed of every moment, the second of joy would be accompanied with days of guilt and shame. Each second I’d let the polish dry the anxiety that i couldn’t get it off later would grow but still I watched it, one of the only escapes from my male presentation.

The constant dread and fear of one of my parents coming home and catching me. The very real terror when it happened. My hurried run to the bathroom and panicked cleanup to hide the evidence of my crime. The hasty excuses and half believed reasons I was in the bathroom for so long. My parents ignoring or not noticing my red and raw skin.

This is part of my pain. A life not lived, and even a moment to enjoy was filled with sorrow and pain. Momentary relief, a compulsion I couldn’t understand and feared. An entire false person-hood I wore around me like a costume, so that I could feel safe enough to survive. Longing for some as yet unknowable and unforeseeable future day I could meet myself.

Some people long to meet someone, a celebrity and deceased relative, a friend now gone. I longed more then anything to meet myself, in some impossible future where I was me.

A future I’m now living. That teenager, so alone and scared, and full of rage and hatred and fear and loathing, mostly of herself because she didn’t see herself as that. Because she saw a young man growing out of her body and hating it more and more. With no way to believe that things could or would get better.

That is my past, my legacy, my life is one of pain, and I attach it to others because the truth is. That I hate myself, and now that I can feel and so desperately want to be able to love myself, and worse still I sometimes do, I’m afraid I never will. Because I’m so scared, and afraid, and ashamed of who I am. I wish I was stronger, I wish I was better, I wish that I could love myself.

Someday I will.

 

Damned regardless

I had an interesting case of being misgendered recently. It was interesting, because the only thing that I can really think of that triggered it, was the fact that i was not particularly coy about having an opinion.

I was being a bit of a bitch, I was in a store, they’d changed a membership program that I’ve always paid into, and in some respects, not for the negative. It just somewhat stuck with me, that they were changing it, and I didn’t like it. So I was vocal about it. I said I don’t like it. I said I don’t want to change, and was somewhat assertive about it.

Which is apparently far too masculine a thing to do, because then the he and him started.

I’ve talked about it before, but one of the elements of my transition that I have struggled with is sexism. This is really just a different outcome then usual.

Often what happens is I’m perceived as a woman, thus when I act in accordance with my own desires and not of those around me I’m the one who is hurt when I am suddenly and viscerally put into my place. It’s an internal problem for me, and something that I have to deal with the consequences of. Because people do not like a woman with an expectation of respect.

In this case, what happened was there were no real consequences, they just took my femininity. They denied my womanhood because I dared to have a meaningless opinion and stick to it. Not out of some designed attack on my womanhood, but by merely accepting my somewhat ridiculous stance on a meaningless topic, but they only accepted it and moved on because they had labelled me as male.

So I must now contend with the fact that my options whenever I assert myself are to experience sexism, or transphobia. If I’m too assertive then I’m too male, I’m too masculine, I’m not a real woman. If I accept my proper role in society and stay silent when I could speak up I’m propagating sexist ideals.

I know this is a conflict most women face, that dilemma between standing up for yourself and being abused, or enjoying some peace in your day and being disrespected. What is different for me is that I don’t get to hold onto being ‘that kind of woman’ when I stand out for expecting better. I’m not an angry feminist. My womanhood is denied and I’m placed upon some male throne momentarily. Much like most trans exclusionary feminists accuse trans women of doing. The uncomfortable truth about this. Is that I don’t get to choose when this happens. Nor do I enjoy it when it does.

It’s decimating to me that someone sees me as a man for expressing an opinion. You know how many terrible things that means for our society? I don’t have an exact answer but a lot. It means a lot of terrible things for us as a society that assertiveness is so masculine a trait that it overshadows my entire presentation in the eyes of others.

It’s not right, and it’s harmful for all of us.

 

Finding Motivation Pt. 3

In continuation of my discussion around finding motivation, finding purpose, finding meaning. I find myself itching to discuss this when my motivation is at it’s lowest. In August I talked about this topic specifically, if you’d like to read them they’re linked below.

Finding Motivation

Finding Motivation Pt. 2

So I talked there about finding purpose and meaning and ultimately motivation beyond the prescribed methods. Material fulfillment is limited in a world that legitimizes discrimination in many different and subtle ways. Social fulfillment can be fleeting or difficult to grasp when confronted with the fact that your presence makes people uncomfortable, not because of anything you’ve done but what you represent to them. Spiritual fulfillment can be almost impossible when your existence challenges the basis of most modern religions.

Without a lot of external support, we’re left with only what we muster ourselves. I’ve said this before, but finding motivation has come down to what I can put forward for myself. There’s very little pushing me to succeed, what I mean is that there’s little expectation to succeed, and when I fail there’s a general acceptance that I shouldn’t have expected any different. Nobody goes, ‘well I think you should have done better, let’s see what went wrong and see if we can help you next time.’ instead I’ve come to expect ‘what did you think would happen?’

It’s amazing how pervasive the expectation of failure can be, it infects me at times. So if my earlier writing was about finding motivation, I guess I just need to elaborate that it’s not a one and done solution, you don’t find motivation and then you’re good forever, finding meaning and substance to what you’re doing. Finding a reason to do what you do, is a process that never stops. When no one expects you to do well, then you’ve got to fight everyday to not believe them. It’s hard, it’s tiring, but it’s the most important thing you’ll do.

A life of contemplation, a life of purpose, a life of meaning, a life of substance. A life worth living.

 

Finding Motivation Pt. 2

I talked last week about how I’ve lost access to a lot of the typical motivation and incentive systems by transitioning. I talked about the environment that unfolded, but today I’d like to go further and talk about how it affected me, what I did internally to find motivation, and the struggles I have with staying positive.

If you’d like to read the first part it’s right here: Finding Motivation

I had to go through a pretty intense period of melancholy and hopelessness to get to where I am now. Growing up, and going into my transition I held on to one idea, and it’s an idea that kept me in the closet longer then I probably needed to be. I never wanted my identity to hold me back from accomplishing whatever I wanted to do.

Well that happened anyways, so that was jarring and I had to unpack that. I moved past it because I’ve already had some incredible experiences, made some completely unexpected connections, and found a community that I could share my experiences without reservation with. So what I lost in the hetero-normative and cis-centric world around me, I gained in the queer community many times over.

It took me some time to realize that, and to let go of what I’d lost. I still vividly remember a few months ago when I gave up on having any sort of financial success in my career. I may still progress roles, take on additional responsibilities, I may have opportunities to learn. This progress has taken on a different perspective to me though. It’s because of personal growth, it’s because of the opportunity to learn, it’s not because of a raise or a bonus, it’s not because of what I will get materially, but what I will gain as a person. Which is somewhat depressing, because some would say that this represents exploitation.

I’m talking about doing more work for less pay. I’m talking about not being recognized for my talents. I’m talking about fighting to hold on to a job that I was told I did very well before I transitioned, and now that I have transitioned I’m constantly being reviewed, and found wanting. I’m talking about accepting discrimination.

That’s a depressing thought, and this is why I’ve had to find ways to motivate myself, because I’m living on a knife’s edge. If I don’t accept that I am constantly dealing with discrimination, that who I am is considered fundamentally lesser then others, and by people I have and need to respect then I’ll break. So I have to persevere, and accept what I can’t control.

I think the hardest part of this is that it proved a lot of my fears rights. I am treated differently, being trans has impacted my life, and in negative ways.

So what have I held onto?

I hold onto the present, my responsibilities to my clients has been the only thing keeping me going some days. I’m damn good at what I do, and have only gotten better since transitioning. So now it’s almost like the gods called my bluff. I said I got into finance to help people, well, that’s one of the first things I hold on to.

I hold onto the future, I believe I have a responsibility to other trans folk. I managed to push the door open a small crack, I’m doing what I want to be doing, and I’m doing it at a level that I don’t think would have been possible ten years ago. If I want kids growing up to see that trans women can be professional women, and have the career and live the life, have the title and the corner office that comes with it. Then I’m still accomplishing something. I often joke that I didn’t break the glass ceiling I’ve gotten myself crushed against it, it might not have broken, but if I can withstand the pressure it might just crack, and someday shatter. I’m hoping it happens before I break.

I also hold onto the past. The more trans and queer history I read the more I realize in someways I’m lucky to be able to be fighting different fights. fifty years ago trans folk were fighting against police brutality and a criminal code that mandated adherence to gender roles. If my ancestors had the courage and bravery to stand against dogs and batons and incarceration for being true to themselves. Then I can find a way forward, step by step, day by day.

The big issue I’ve run into is that straight cis people don’t like an uppity Queen. There’s an expectation for folks that identify as a gender or sexual minority to not be too… I’m going to use the word different. As long as you’re not too gay, too excited, too opinionated, basically, too different from what a straight cis person would do then you’re begrudgingly accepted. So if you’re trans, there’s a pressure to not transition, and if you have transitioned. You’re held to a very high standard in upholding the gender role and norms that you have transitioned too. If you’re gay that’s fine as long as no one ever has to think or deal with that.

Any deviation from this in my experience has lead to accusations of negativity and toxicity. That my queerness, that the messiness of a transition is unprofessional. That I can identify how I want so long as it has no impact and requires no effort on the part of those around me. There is incredible pressure to hide and repress any part of my trans-ness, my gay-ness, my me-ness that doesn’t conform to cis and straight culture. Which isn’t a whole hell of a lot, my lived experiences are usually pretty different from those around me.

So it’s hard to be positive, it’s hard to be motivated, and I think the most important thing is that I’ve worked through enough of it to be okay with myself when it’s hard, because I’m not crazy for thinking it’s hard to keep going forward. There’s more against me then with me and if I want to change that then I’ve got to find the strength to get through it. If at the end of the day I don’t have much left in me, then I know why.

In a lot of ways I’ve internalized what I said months ago. I’ve gotten used to not being okay, but at least now I know why, and I have reasons to keep fighting. I’m not alone in the fight, and that’s enough for now.

 

 

On Dysphoria and Modern Trans Youth

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually specifically spoken here about gender dysphoria. I’ve been thinking more about it lately. Not because of my own experiences, but from working with some trans youth.

I’ve started volunteering with a youth group for LGBTQ+ teenagers predominately. There’s several trans kids in the group, they’re all trans boys but what they say gives me a lot to think about.

My own experiences with dysphoria were far less nuanced. It wasn’t something I had time or space to really elaborate on. I always experienced it as a general malaise, a feeling of wrongness, there were parts of my body I didn’t like. I didn’t enjoy what puberty did to me by any stretch of the imagination, and I longed for things I never thought would happen. I thought about my transness in a very general sense, and not hopelessly, but in a way that I understood that these were far off dreams. That transition wasn’t somethign that could be entertained as a teenager.

Transness was viewed as fundamentally wrong in the world that I grew up in. I was in high school ten years ago, and I truly believed that my safety would have been at risk if I had of transitioned. I don’t know what would have happened, but I knew at the time that it would be bad. That I had to hide any sign of femininity from my behavior or I would out myself.

The energy I had to deal with my dysphoria was focused on survival and hiding myself, not growing and realizing myself. So it’s interesting to me how much the world has changed.

I’m in awe of the fact that we live in a world where a fifteen year old comes out, that’s incredibly powerful to me. They are so incredibly brave, I can’t express how proud I am of these kids.

One thing that I have found interesting though, is that they have the opportunity to deal with gender dysphoria in a very different way then I know I did, and from conversation I think other trans folk my age and older did.

Dysphoria to them is a very active and real thing that they’re dealing with, sort of as it happens. They have this very sophisticated way of speaking about it, they don’t just experience gender dysphoria as this overwhelming weight or burden, this foreboding sense of shame or a crushing wrongness. They are able to speak more finely about it, as if it’s something that comes and goes, and rears it’s ugly head but is ultimately a part of their lives that they can deal with.

There might be days that their voice is the concern, and other days it’s not as bad. It might be something about a mannerism or how they speak, or it might just be the pitch of their voice. Either way they’re dealing with their trauma in real time, not repressing it all. So they’re able to take these bite sized problems and address them to give themselves some comfort.

It’s so incredibly inspiring to me that we might see the first generation of trans kids grow into adults without the shame, and fear that I know I grew up with. To come to terms with who they are and to try and deal with the effects of their transness in a safer environment.

Their road is by no means easy, but they’ve got such strength of character already, I hope that they’ll grow into fully realized adults, ready to take on the world.

I don’t have much objectively to say other then, wow, just wow. I am so proud of the steps these kids are taking and it’s inspiring to me that they have the strength to be who they are at an age where I was so afraid.

It’s nothing short of incredible.

A New Normal

I’ve written before about this but I wanted to take a chance and continue the conversation. I’ve written about having to learn with being okay, with not being okay.

You can read the first post here: It’s Okay Not To Be Okay

It’s a theme that I’ve touched on through out these posts, and it’s something that holds itself in my head.

The world is heavy for me. I went from living a life pre-transition where my major sources of stress and anxiety were internal. I didn’t know myself, and therefore I struggled.

As I dealt with that whole trans thing and came to terms with myself, and was able to rest for a moment and realize that, I’d been held back a lot in life, and that I had to do a lot of work to learn to be myself, whoever that was. In a very unsafe place. When we talk about children growing up, we talk about how they make mistakes, and they learn, and they grow. It’s what that point of your life is for. To suddenly find yourself an adult, with this huge chasm where your mature person-hood should be, is terrifying.

It takes time to build yourself back up. All of the stopgaps and makeshift personalities you’ve littered around you like confetti to distract those around you from the fact that you’re not really a fully realized person stops very suddenly, In my head it looks like the day after a festival, you can tell there was something there, you’re not quite sure what it looked like, and it was definitely temporary and meant to get people away from the business of living their regular lives.

Except that was my regular life. So as the carnival comes crashing down around me. The reality that you have to carefully stitch yourself back together and start moving through your life is a huge weight.  Because there’s times that I’m messy, and I can’t help it. There are times that I wish I could just scream but I can’t. I’d love to throw my hands up and just give up sometimes, and everything would still be okay.

But I’m an adult with responsibilities and if I give up than there are consequences.

I guess what I’ve learned is how to persevere, and to start understanding a bit when I’m a mess, and have started to learn to cope with my messiness. I struggle at times not to impact others, because it’s not fair to them. At the same time I know I need that support. That sometimes, I’m just so out of my league and depth, and I’m so scared and lonely, that I just need a friend. But I hate that my friendship comes with a price to those I care about.

I’m moving forward, and I’m finding some center and calm. I’m learning to be me, and coming to terms with what I am and what I am not. Which is so rewarding. I feel, oh how I feel! The highs and lows are dizzying, the depth is rich. The palette of feelings is so varied and interesting ,and even in times of pain and sorrow. I relish that I have an outlet for that now. I’m not limited to just bottling it all up until it all melts into rage.

I love that I can love things. Even the warmness of a hug doesn’t elude me anymore. I can feel that reciprocation of expressions now. Beyond knowing what to feel, in a very artificial and intellectual way. I care deeply, but there’s so much more passion now. It’s an incredible and mind boggling experience.

Life ain’t easy, and that’s my new normal.

 

Discrimination: Why Do You Need To Be Different?

I want to have a discussion about privilege today. It’s a topic I’ve somewhat avoided because I have a difficult time quantifying it at times. My own lived experiences are all I’ve known, so from my perspective, life is as difficult and easy as it has been, knowing that some people have it easier and harder is easy to understand, but difficult to really put into words.

But then I had a conversation with one of the partners at my firm, and there was a lot to unravel and work through, but one of the topics we discussed centered around privilege, and I don’t think he understood it at the time. He was pretty openly flaunting his privilege, and wondering why I felt a need to be different.

The example the conversation started with, was a man that my boss had worked with a long time ago. The man worked in the office next to my boss and for two years he had no idea he was gay. Which my boss took to be a sign of ultimate discretion and professionalism. Because your sexuality shouldn’t matter right? So he didn’t disclose he was gay, so that’s a positive!

So let’s break that down a little bit, because that story has a lot of elements that break my heart. The first of which, is that straight people feel absolutely no hesitation in discussing their straightness. my boss who told me this story, has told every client I’ve ever sat in a meeting with about his wife. Was that unprofessional of him? I don’t think so, it’s a relevant and relatable piece of his life. We are generally made better by our partners, not diminished.

So the assumption that this former co-worker of his was professional for not disclosing his sexuality, is part of the whole structure that keeps workplace cultures hetero-normative. What my boss failed to realize is that this man took two years to develop enough trust to disclose, a rather fundamental element of his identity. I can only presume that my boss had very quickly and early in their interactions disclosed his straightness.

That’s part of the problem with privilege, because my boss hasn’t ever had to consider whether to disclose his sexuality, because it’s socially acceptable for him to have a wife, he doesn’t notice when he does it. He has no idea that the professionalism he expects from a gay or trans person, is not a standard he himself can uphold.

Which is why the next part of the conversation, where I explained that no matter what I do, I will always be a lesbian transwoman advisor. That every client I meet with I will need to be aware of that, that I will have to hold myself to a higher standard. That I will work harder to prove myself to my clients. That in every meeting I will have to make decisions whether to disclose aspects of my life to my clients.

Because I am caught between two hard places. If I pass, and my clients correctly identify me as a woman, and then ask about my husband. I am confronted with a decision. Do I disclose that I’m gay? If I don’t pass and they misidentify me, I inherently disclose that I am trans. For the clients I dealt with before coming out, they are aware of all of this. I don’t know their opinions and feelings. So I must be guarded and receptive at all times.

What my boss doesn’t understand is that I must navigate a difficult identity with my clients. I must be aware and ready to handle situations he will never find himself in. He will never have to be an example of excellence at all times. He will never have to handle the pressure of being honest with his clients and himself, while also being respectful to the person across the table, whatever beliefs they may hold. he will never have the uncertainty that I have.

So his response that he doesn’t define himself as a straight white male advisor was pointless. Because he does. With his clients he is free to openly disclose his sexuality, and his gender. Why wouldn’t he? They’re acceptable socially, and in many cases considered preferable. Every time he mentions his wife he can do so without recourse. He can walk into a room assured that there will be no issues or concerns about his gender identity. From the way he walks and talks to the way he dresses. He informs everyone he is a male.

Yet I must walk a tightrope. When I meet a client for the first time and have to explain that ‘the man on the phone’ was actually me, while hoping I haven’t outed myself by my voice (which frustratingly seems to drop an octave over the phone, like it needed to be any deeper.)  When I have to explain I have a wife not a husband, when I have to explain to a client who doesn’t quite remember me that I’m not my own wife or sister. I have to have a discussion about gender identity and transitioning. I don’t choose to have these conversations, but I accept that they are a part of being out and openly trans and gay.

So it’s simple to say, “why can’t you be a professional and separate your personal and professional life.” Yet, that’s not how people work. Our clients expect some level of personal connection, one of the most important things I can do with a client is to develop a relationship and build trust. Without trust I can’t know my clients and I can’t advise them well. That requires a personal connection, not a professional one. Our clients need to understand who we are so they can make a decision on the motive or reasoning for our recommendations. Our competency and skills are filtered throug ha personal lens that requires them to know the type of person I am. Whether I care about them, or have concern for their hopes and dreams, their goals and objectives. That requires a personal connection.

What my boss failed to recognize, is that his definition of professional, is a straight and cis centred world view. I can’t speak as a racial minority, but I understand they can’t choose not to disclose their background if it is visible. They are no less professional then I am. Professionalism does not mean hiding who you are, it means being who you are and caring for your clients. Professionalism should mean doing right by those you are in business with. Professionalism should mean you hold to the facts and treat others fairly. Professionalism should mean focusing on the task at hand without compromising the long term vision. Professionalism does not mean being quiet about your identity. It does not mean that a closeted queer is better then an out one. Professionalism has been a shield to protect those who benefit from the status quo. If your idea of professionalism is not inclusive, then it is an oppressive ideal.

I have no time or patience for oppression.