This guest post is provided by a person in the process of transitioning from male to female. The story is frank and powerful in its openness and honesty. The story also touches on many coping themes and principles that we talk about in this blog: the perils of denial and avoidance; the importance of, and satisfaction that results from, acceptance of truths about oneself; the need to develop empowerment actions that remain within one’s circle of control; and, the vital support that can come from others. We are grateful to the writer for this contribution to our coping discussion.
According to Psychology Today, Gender dysphoria is defined as strong, persistent feelings of identification with another gender and discomfort with one’s own assigned gender and sex. Dysphoria can manifest in many forms, and not all transgender individuals experience dysphoria in the same fashion. I have been asked many times what dysphoria feels like.
Think about your shoes. You have a right shoe and a left shoe. Now imagine that you only know how to wear your shoes on the wrong feet. It’s not comfortable, it can be painful, but you can still get around, walk, drive, and live your life. This is all you know. Then one day you realize if you switch your shoes, not only is it more comfortable, but it’s easier to get through the day; you can move around better, and you begin to get involved in the world and people around you. You’re Happy.
Since I was young, I’ve felt different. I enjoyed a lot of the typical boy things. I played sports, I built forts to play army, and enjoyed my matchbox cars. Yet, I still didn’t completely relate to the other boys. I found my interactions with the girls much easier and more comfortable.
It was during these early years that I started to experience depression, although I didn’t have the word for it at that age. I remember going to my mother when I was around nine telling her how I had been feeling sad. Her response is burnt into my memory. She told me she also felt like that sometimes, but it goes away and I shouldn’t worry about it. I didn’t have the ability to explain that I felt this way more often than not. I accepted that what she told me was how everyone always felt, and chose to ignore it.
As time went on it never really went away. Until one night in my early teens, while waiting for the shower to get warm, I tried on a pair of my mother’s underwear. It felt right and I was happy. The first time this happened I was enjoying it so long my Dad knocked on the door to tell me I was in the shower long enough. I got my head wet, dressed and shamefully left the bathroom without saying anything to anyone. Shower time was my new favorite time of the day.
Eventually, wearing my mother’s underwear wasn’t enough. Looking in the mirror with them on there was still a visible reminder that I wasn’t a girl, a bulge in the front. This led to my experimenting with tucking my genitals to prevent the bulge and standing on the edge of the tub (because I was too short) to see myself naked in the mirror. There were many nights I cried in the shower because I knew I would never be a girl. I started to push these feelings away and ignore my impulses to dress.
I did well putting the feelings out of my head. I even forgot all about them for a long time. The impulses were still there, though. When in high school chorus, the men’s chorus was going to sing “Pretty Woman,” by Roy Orbison. Someone thought it would be fun to dress one of us up in a dress and have the others sing to them. My hand was the first one up, although I didn’t really know why or remember the times in the bathroom. I borrowed a dress from one of the girls I knew. Cute white dress with blue polka dots, and a cute dark navy-blue trim. It was form-fitting and it felt really nice to wear. I told myself I enjoyed it so much because I thought it was going to be funny. I also had to walk around before the performance so everyone could see me in it, because it felt so good.
High school and college were tough times for me. I had several girlfriends throughout that time. I did truly care for each of them, but I was never faithful. I couldn’t stay still. I was constantly depressed and the only solution I came up with was sleeping around. At least until I discovered alcohol and started experimenting with drugs. I spent many years in this cycle. I dropped out of college. I associated with less than reputable people. I contemplated suicide. One thought kept creeping up in my mind: “Wouldn’t it be great if reincarnation were real and I could come back as a woman?” I did not like me.
Somehow during this time of self-loathing, I met and became involved with the woman I now call my wife. She saw a lot more in me than I ever did and I slowly began to pull myself out of the self-destructive behavior. We married, moved to NH, and started a family. I didn’t have thoughts of suicide or self-harm anymore. My only specters were the nagging depression, which was no big deal because everyone feels that way, and the constant thought of wishing for reincarnation to be real.
I kept busy. Often, I worked two or more jobs. I told myself it was because we needed the money. I can recognize now it was to keep my mind busy and distracted. Eventually I decided to go back to school. I completed my bachelor’s degree from King’s College in 2010. I then continued on for an Associates in Nursing. Nursing school was very demanding and my depression became worse. I started on antidepressants for the first time in my life. Once I was done with nursing school, I stopped taking the medication, convincing myself it was only due to the stressful situation of school and work with minimal family time.
My depression continued. A few years ago, I almost slipped back into my old behaviors. I began to fantasize about being with other women and had reached out to an old friend from high-school. This was a very low point in my life and marriage. I realized at this time I needed the antidepressants for long-term use.
It took several tries of multiple medications until my provider was able to help me find the right combination. I started to feel better, happier, and less anxious (I didn’t even realize I had been anxious). It was around this time that the aha moment occurred for me. One night watching YouTube videos I came across a male to female transformation video and watched it.
She had such an amazing transition. She was pretty, she wore lovely clothes, her eyes were bright and happy, and her smile was so much bigger in her after pictures. I wanted to watch more. As I kept watching a switch flipped for me. Videos led to blogs on line. Blogs led me to numerous subreddits. Then the flood gates opened: The feeling of wishing I had been born a female and the sadness I had as a child; the memories of wearing my mother’s underwear; tucking and looking at myself nude in the mirror; the constant wishing for reincarnation.
I began to question everything I knew about myself. I panicked. I took any online test I could, validity be damned. It wasn’t possible. I’m not Transgender! Finding a therapist who specialized in gender dysphoria was difficult. It took several months to find one and to set up an appointment. Work was no longer a distraction. I spent my spare time on my computer researching article upon article on gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder, and treatments for transgender individuals.
I finally saw my therapist for my first appointment. I was shaking and sick to my stomach. I sat in her office hunched forward in my chair, legs crossed in front of me, wringing my hands. I burst open. I spilled my guts and cried like I don’t ever remember doing so (men don’t cry). It was so hard for me to finally verbalize to my therapist my truth — I AM TRANSGENDER.
I was free. The stress, worry, anxiety just left me. I acknowledged me. My therapist told me that was great; she was pleased that I could finally verbalize it. Then she said, “Now you have to tell you wife.” Good bye freedom, hello stress, anxiety, and nausea. She wasn’t wrong, though. I went home that night exhausted and spontaneously hugged my wife for the first time in too long. I kept hoping she would ask me about my appointment so I could tell her, but she never did.
New Hampshire winters are cold, very cold. Every year since we moved to NH in 2000, I have grown a beard. Not a cute little trimmed pretty-boy beard, but a bushy, lumberjack make-a-sea- captain jealous beard. This winter was no different. Now that I admitted my truth to myself, my dysphoria began to grow. I began to recognize things that triggered intense episodes, such as facial hair. A week after my appointment I couldn’t take it any longer and shaved my beard off completely. My wife was very surprised because it was just the beginning of winter. That is how I told her, two days after her birthday. We’ve been through counseling together and each have our own individual counselors. We told our son together as well as our close friends and our families. I am truly blessed to have the people I do in my life. I was met with so much unconditional love. I’m almost ashamed because it has been so hard coming out for others.
After several months, I came out publicly. I am still not presenting female full-time yet. It is very important to me to be able to “pass” as a woman. I don’t have the confidence for this yet, but I’m making efforts to get there. I’m learning how to do my make-up. I am starting voice lessons. I’m getting laser hair removal for my beard. Finally, I am currently 2 months into my hormone replacement therapy. The hormones have been the best change for me. My mind is much calmer than it used to be and although it is a process that takes years to complete, I am noticing some small early changes, such as softer skin and tender nipples from breast growth.
This is a long journey for any transgender individual. Not everyone takes the same path. There are many options for transgender people for their transition. Female Facialization Surgery, breast augmentation, orchiectomy, and vaginoplasty are all options., and not all male to female transformation people go through them. It is a very personal decision, one that should not be discussed unless the individual opens the door to that conversation.
Since coming out publicly I have had many people ask me to forgive them ahead of time for accidently misgendering me or using my “dead name.” Many transgenders hear this. Most would just appreciate a quick correction and then move on with the conversation. The last thing we want is to bring attention to the change. I fully expect misgendering to happen. Truth be told, I do it to myself. Not because I’m unsure, but because I have 44 years of programming to overcome. If can I make mistakes, why wouldn’t I expect others to as well? The key is to remember, we just want to be treated as our correct gender. We never changed our gender; it was always there. We’re simply changing our shoes so we can be more comfortable.