Each of us has a very unique story to tell. I believe that in telling our stories over and over, we eventually get them right. They ring true and we find the positive in them. They, in a sense, are our teachers. Our experiences in life combined with self reflection are at the core of what makes us wise. Our stories, all of our stories, are vitally important. We can tell them in many creative ways, such as through our writing, our art, our music, our dance, our poetry and in relationships. We can share them, or we can keep them private. But by creating and recreating our stories, we learn to integrate our life passages into a whole – a whole-self aligned with a whole world. This is what integrity is: bringing all the pieces together, so they match. Every aspect is in harmony with every other. Honesty rings its bell and we smile at the beauty of its truth. Our story is not who we are, but it is our teacher. When we get our story right, and we learn the lessons from it, we are able to move forward.
I will share but a glimpse of my story here, in particular those pieces where I found my life to be challenged and others helped me through. As you likely already know, I am a transgender woman and that aspect has colored much of my life. It is but one aspect, but gender is a primal organizing principle in our lives. So not having freedom of gender expression caused a deep amount of shame throughout my life. My growth steps in life were partially about gender and confusion of identity, but also about family and relationship challenges.
Family systems psychologists tell us that the youngest in the family is the most likely to be the rebel or the scapegoat. That is because they often act out any unspoken familial conflicts, because they are unable to verbalize them. I was the youngest and I certainly would have been considered what we call today an at-risk youth. This is probably why I spend so much time with kids today and relate well with those who are in trouble. In my adolescent years, I turned to drugs, tobacco, alcohol and loud music as the coping mechanisms of my choice. More than once, I spent time in jail and served probation for my behavior. I attended individual counseling and a teen alcohol abuse psychoeducational group to try and work through my issues. What we really needed though was family counseling – most families do.
In college I fell in love with a wonderful gal and got married at age 19. We were both in college until about the time our son was born and we moved to Texas where I found employment as an engineer. Our marriage was quite happy and we developed a loving and caring relationship with each other, though we had our growth steps of individuation and intimacy as well. When I was about 26 or 27 years of age, I went to see a counselor at the suggestion of a coworker. I was struggling with who I was then and because I did not have my proper self expression, I knew at some level that I needed a growth step. Gender was difficult for me to talk about and it took me about eight months to open up to my counselor about my desires to transition to female. Through my exploration of gender, our marriage stood on shaky ground, and we separated for several months. I dropped out of therapy feeling like a sinner for my behavior and wanting most of all to get my family back. I was not ready for a gender transition and I resolved to live as a male, hoping that religion would keep me “on track”.
Well, I think it is safe to say, that for anyone, living contrary to their desired gender role would cause much internal strife. But for trans individuals, I believe we internalize a great deal of shame. Our voices and lives are being lived falsely and we have a constant craving to take off our masks and let ourselves live openly and honestly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to live a life that is not fully your own. We are not characters in a play, but that is what is expected of us when our gender and sex are said not to match. I went back into therapy when I was 40 years old. I was scared. My partner was too. No matter whether I transitioned or not, I knew I would have to come out of the closet as transgender. My sexuality and my gender were all up in the air.
It is not easy making life choices, because they affect the rest of our lives. We don’t have 20/20 vision as to what will happen, so it is scary to risk making any choice. It is also risky not to choose. This is a real existential dilemma. Would transition to female be right for me? One cannot know until one experiences the reality of transition – it ultimately takes a step of faith. But that is little consolation to our minds that want assurance ahead of time that we will be okay. The best we can say is that if we gain control of our minds, we can learn to move past our suffering, no matter what our choice may be.
Indeed I spent time with many mental health professionals – a psychiatrist, a psychologist, social workers, addiction professionals, a marriage counselor, ministers and licensed professional counselors. I can’t imagine going on this journey to self – what Rilke says is our only real journey – without others to help me clarify my thinking, to challenge me on my behavior, and to sit with me as I feel my pain. I can’t imagine this journey out of the closet and into the world without someone there to care for me and be with me. It was because of these wonderful people in my life that helped me in my own distress that I wanted to do the same for others. It is because of all the painful issues I have faced in my life that brings me to a deep level of compassion for all people. It became my vow to honor fully each and every human being no matter what they have done or what they are doing. I am dedicated to serving and caring for others, as well as myself and my family.
I did go through a divorce – after 22 years of marriage. That was the hardest part of transition. Though we had a friendly divorce, it was still painful. Especially, because we had a son together. Nobody wants their children to have divorced parents – that is ingrained in us from our childhood. But some relationships do need to end, and I am a believer in divorce when there is no hope of reconciliation. Still, the divorce came at a time that all my relationships were strained from coming out of a closet, to my parents, family and coworkers. I was fortunate to be part of both group therapy and individual counseling as they were essential to my well-being. We need others like ourselves to make us feel normal when we feel so alone.
I suffered through much anxiety and depression and I felt like my life was crumbling and I felt suicidal and a bit insane at times. Being an engineer, I was used to analysis and I turned that objective engine upon my own self. I could not solve my own gender dilemma and I created a great deal of suffering for myself. I learned the power to control my own mind through meditation and discovered that my emotions were the result of my own thought patterns. It is simple, but yet very complicated. Our own mind has no desire to be shut down. It wants to think. When I discovered the joy of quieting my own mind, I could not be more blissful. I was so at peace.
My consciousness went through the roof. I was alive. I just could not believe how peaceful I could be. I discovered that I absolutely loved to dance. I felt very energized and as loving as I could ever be. It was at this time, while in my dance, that I realized that I could transition for my own joy. I didn’t need to, to be happy. I did it simply because I wanted to. So I did. And it was one of the best life changing decisions I have ever made. I had several surgeries, and they all went well, but we do ask so much from our bodies when we go through gender reassignment. It is NOT for everyone and there are many other wonderful options available.
Life today continues to be fulfilling and in all that I have been through – through the fear and the security, the sadness and the joy, the shame and the pride, the loneliness and the togetherness -the good and the bad – I find myself more than ever in a place I want to help others. I have a few personal life goals I hope to fulfill yet, in my writing more than anything, but it is in helping others that I find the most spiritual need. We are here for a purpose to awaken, say the teachers, and that is what I hope to help others with most.