Linking Together

As Thanksgiving comes and goes, I’ve been reflecting on the things my dad would do to make sure everyone was connected. He would take the best part of a day out of his weekend to make sure he called everyone and kept people up on whatever news we had. He would send things across to us in facebook group chats. He was the one with the finger on the pulse; he knew what was happening and he was the person that kept us together.

Now he’s gone, communication is more sporadic, particularly between me and my brothers. The main issue for me isn’t to do with my dad not being there in that respect; I found myself with a lovely girlfriend and weekends became precious. The time difference makes weekends the time we can all connect, and now that I have a job that is busiest over the weekend it’s doubly difficult to keep in touch. My mum and I have had to work harder to stay in touch, but its’ been OK.

It’s a classic case of not noticing what people do until they don’t do it. There was a time when I didn’t worry if I hadn’t heard from everyone in a couple of weeks because I knew they were about and in touch with Dad. If I couldn’t reach them, I knew he would be able to fill me in. My dad was also the most constant presence for me in my isolation.

It was innocent, but my ex never quite let me have a private conversation with my family. It was one of the many innocent things she did that added up to my being controlled. She was always there and she would often pick up conversations after the phone went down – and, later, she would interject as I was speaking. It’s hard to talk about this kind of abuse when you know it wasn’t on purpose, but it happened.

I can’t help but wonder: what wasn’t said? Even if it felt normal, I was aware that someone was sat next to me or could hear what I said through a wall. And my family knew I wasn’t alone, exactly. They knew that half the time I had them on speaker just out of convenience – what did they not say? In the case of my dad, what will I never get to hear?

In this way, my ex robbed me of my dad’s last ten years or so. Things we never shared. Things he didn’t feel he could tell me. I’ll never know what I missed. I hope it wasn’t too much, but the sense of loss is immense. Just a long list of things I never knew I lost and will never fully measure.

I do treasure how my dad kept me in touch. How he would ring me every week or two without fail. How he’d stop through on his way to whatever conference and make sure he had a day in London to hang out with me – we did get to chat privately at those points. Most of my stories from that time include my dad. He helped me keep my world.

I never realised how hard he fought for me. I only see now how bad it was and how much he worked to keep my head above water. I hate that he never got to see me break free. So many things he never got to see that I hate. He never got to know his only daughter and he never got to see her grow and flourish. I never got to rediscover our relationship as I have with mum and my brothers. And I don’t know how to make meaning of that.

I suppose that’s the hard part when bad things happen: making meaning. I know it means something. I know it changed our relationship and I know that we missed out, but I also know we gained from the struggle somehow. It’s hard to know how, but nothing is absolute – he fought for me. He spent time keeping me connected. I was ignorant of it at the time but that gift helped me grow despite my terrible circumstances. I just need to figure out how; to find the moments where I was able to see the outside.

On Thanksgiving, my dad would always ring me as he was sitting down with his guests (family or otherwise), set the tablet on speaker and place it on the table so I could join in the conversation. The holiday itself is a thing I am only vaguely conscious of – I’d forget it completely if I didn’t have birthdays to think about around then. But I’d get the usual reminders a day or two ahead, and there would be the customary call.

It was a small thing but I miss it. It kept me connected to him; the rhythm of his life. It let me have a presence in a place I’ve largely let go of. A heritage I only occasionally remember. Odd to think that Americans have their own heritage as they spend all their time honouring whatever ancestry they have from elsewhere, but they do. I do.

I wish I had taken the time to tell him how much I depended on him, but I didn’t know until he was gone. I hope he can see that I am finally free. I hope he didn’t miss out on telling me as much as I fear. I hope I was able to tell him enough for him to know how much I appreciated him. I don’t think I did, but I hope he knew anyway.


Reclaiming Myself

A couple of weeks ago,  I was given some transphobic abuse at work. It had its normal effect of reducing me to tears for a bit. There was the normal day or two of melancholy, and the general pulling together that follows these sorts of incidents. They’re rare for me, thankfully. This incident had some differences from those in the past – particularly those at work – that I’ve written about in an article for transgender universe.

The day after the attack, I was sat there looking in the mirror doing my makeup. I closely examined myself as I usually do – checking for rogue hairs. The daily dilemma these days is whether I need to shave. The incident was on my mind and I just had a thought pop into my head. I turned to my fiancée, “I just don’t understand how anyone could not see what I see in the mirror.”

She misunderstood, “Well don’t worry you know, this takes time and you’ll see yourself more and more as you are as time goes on.”

I smiled, “But that’s what I just said: I do see what I am. I don’t get how other people don’t.”

The exchange went on. Hugs were involved and I just dwelt in the moment of revelation: I saw what I was. I didn’t get how anyone else could see anything but what I saw. This is new.

A year ago I had a similar happening at work and for the next few days I didn’t see me in the mirror at all. I saw the thing. That thing that isn’t really a person. The thing that looks like me but isn’t. It’s not a man either, it’s just the product of total dissociation. Eventually the thing goes away, but while that’s what I saw, I had a terrible time navigating the world. This time, I just saw me and felt a little confused.

This is the point I’ve come to, and it’s strange to think that I just take myself for granted. There is no thought, no moment of recognition anymore. No worry about what I might see in the mirror that day. I remember what that was like, but even that is slipping away, a bit like how I don’t actually remember what testosterone feels like.

As I express my identity and my old trappings fall away, I find that my personal context changes; things integrate. This extends back to memories of childhood, how I interacted with old girlfriends, how my thoughts and feelings were in a given scene. I remember feeling certain ways and thinking certain things, but the way I felt them and thought them is now part of my context in the now – and I know that’s not the way I thought and felt those things at the time. But I can’t put myself in that place anymore. That context is gone, just as my impression of self when I looked in the mirror is slipping away.

One concern my mum has with memory of me, particularly regarding names and pronouns, is that she doesn’t want to revise history. I understand what she means, but it’s too late for me. My state of being no longer allows me to understand fundamental things about myself at the time. I don’t find recounting with my old name etc distressing exactly but it’s stressful and I dissociate. I can’t go there, even if I can in my own context.

Maybe it should bother me that I’m shedding things as I reconfigure. That there is a quality here that is being lost and my own personal history is, in effect, being changed in subtle, ineffable ways. But I’m not. If anything, I feel like I’m being more honest about myself and my past. I feel as though I’m lifting a veil and exploring a whole depth of myself that was outside my reach.

Perhaps this is more a reclamation than a stripping away. The aspect of The Tower: allowing the old to fall to dust so we can make room for the new, but also making space for me. I’m in the enviable position of transitioning with only responsibilities to myself and my fiancée. Of retaining my old ties with my birth family and being able to draw strength from them. Those things come to me at a high cost: ten years of abuse, the loss of my only child. But I am free to rediscover without the fetters most folks my age have.

That hard earned freedom is why I proceed to act like a huge child. Why I am properly reckless, without direction or inhibition. Now is my time: I feel immortal and all around me are opportunities to explore. Some friends say I need to be more cautious, and I have (hilariously) got myself in a little too deep for my ability to process. I’ve needed help and I struggle to cope – but what teenager doesn’t? And make no mistake, I am a teenager.

There is resistance, of course. People see a thirty-eight year old woman (though I was asked for ID buying wine yesterday so I guess some see a twenty-five year old woman. I’ll take that). They don’t expect me to act like a crazy nineteen year old. Or a twenty-something. Whatever. Loads younger than what I am. And some people go ahead and fail to see me as I see myself – or choose to use what I make absolutely no secret as an insult.

And through it all, I am me and I see me. I don’t worry about other people seeing anything but what I am; I’ve turned that full circle and I no longer doubt what I am. Dissociation to confusion – victory is sweet.

How It Happened

“Can you just go into the shops and get those things?”

It started with that request. She drove, I went in. It felt a reasonable transaction; a practical one. It was kept from being an absolute by coming in with me for certain things and at certain places – places she felt safe or things she had to look for. It seemed harmless. She was grateful.

“Well it’s their house.”

It started simply with the idea that I was the newcomer. Not a guest exactly, but it was their house and I was staying there. We tried to move out of her parent’s house three times. The first was relatively early in our relationship. She lasted a night in our new flat. We were lucky to get most of our deposit back. I had to quit a job before I started. I was angry, she was upset that I didn’t understand. But the relationship was new and I was willing to let it go. It’s just a job; it’s only money. I loved her.

“Since you were Skyping to your brothers the other day, I thought you would be with me tonight.”

It sounded innocent at the time. Making plans seemed normal and making time for each other is important. I did want to spend time with her and she seemed to be wanting me around after an evening when I was occupied. It was nice to be wanted and I liked being with her.

“I worry when you go out too late.”

She was working on her anxiety: took some medication and had a therapist. She started calling it anxiety and we had talked about how it was an illness. It seemed reasonable that I get home early where she was working so hard. I wanted to help her and she appeared to be helping herself.

“My parents aren’t as adventurous as you are. You have to be more sensitive.”

She was getting complaints about my cooking. I started offering to cook one night a week, just as a way to contribute. It didn’t last long. They eventually stopped asking and I stopped offering. That was the explanation: they didn’t like my food. I didn’t want to cause upset; I was trying to help. So I stopped.

“You always give me this disgusted look.”

I was accused of pulling faces. I don’t really understand what she meant and others didn’t either. It got to the point where I would ask people if I was pulling faces at them or being disparaging. They would say no, but then I would get home, say something basic, and get accused of being aggressive, angry or otherwise disgusted with her. Even after I finally said I didn’t know what I was doing and I wasn’t able to stop something I didn’t understand, she persisted. I shared less.

“I don’t know what to do with your dad.”

He stopped by the UK often on his way to this conference or that. He wanted to come see me. It was his way: drop in on friends (with a bit of notice), stay a night or two, take them out – just enjoy being. He stayed with us once. She retreated to her room and waited for him to go away apart from the obligatory meals and the odd day trip. Leading up to the visit, I finally had to ask her to stop making me feel bad about seeing my father. Every comment had an edge, every observation a barb. He wasn’t welcome.

“You just get so loud when you play D&D.”

It was the one touchstone I had with my brothers. Every Sunday afternoon, D&D night with them and my oldest friend Sweeney. She would hammer on the wall constantly, trying to tell me to quiet down. I never did and I never gave ground, but it made the event stressful. Jokes, fantasy and fun in one ear, aggressive knocking in the other. My laughter was sometimes false – a thing I persisted at as a challenge: she wasn’t having this.

“Don’t tell me when I’m bad. I know when I’m bad.”

I mentioned that her anxiety seemed bad off the back of a reaction. But I couldn’t say ‘anxiety.’ She could, I couldn’t. Her anxiety was bad when she said it was and only then – I had no input in the exchange. I was upset and frustrated. I knew she was ill and I could see when it was getting to her. But I couldn’t act on it or talk to her about it without an angry dismissal. I gave up.

“I don’t get why she would do that. I don’t think she’s what she seems. If that were true, she would have…”

Said of several friends and family members outside the household. I had no explanation or contribution, but I often didn’t have any context either apart from the time we were all together. I was often left to talk to them and keep things to myself. What could I say?

“It’s easier if I do it.”

When we eventually started just doing our food separately, I got excited about trying to cook again. But she didn’t want me to. I offered a few times and she would tell me it’s easier for her to just do it – apparently I wasn’t welcome in the kitchen. She didn’t want her parents to complain to her about me; she wanted ‘an easy life.’ I stopped offering.

“Mum is upset at your suggestions for the garden.”

I offered ideas when asked. I was sat watching a conversation between her and her mum about what to do with the garden that year, and I piped in with an idea. It was discussed. I thought no more of it but later she told me I shouldn’t do that. I stopped joining in.

“Just be careful what you say.”

She would coach me about what to say and avoid saying when guests came over. Family things mostly, Christmas, birthdays. Once a year her auntie and uncle would come up from Spain. She would tell me I’m not like them and I needed to be careful or it would turn the conversation sour. Dinner didn’t happen without a quick brushing up on what conversation I was allowed. I resented it but kept quiet. I didn’t want an argument.

“There’s no way we could get a flat on what you make.”

It’s true that with her not working and me working little jobs that didn’t particularly fly high, it would be a struggle. But that’s not what she had me believe. It was not a thing we could do. I believed her and I never felt I could try to go – where would I go? What chance did I have, a teaching assistant unable to afford a place to live? I stayed and made do.

“I’m not happy with my life.”

Neither was I.

Life Goals

I don’t want to grow up. I’m having too much fun in my extended adolescence. I’ve found that I’ve had to do some adulting despite my better judgement. Rent needs to be paid. I need to make sure I have enough savings to float through illness or a day off for a gig. I want my expensive make up so I need to make money for that. I mean, we all have priorities, right?

I’ve never been the one handling the money. I realise now that part of my most recent relationship was my ex’s control of our finances as part of a way to control me. That wasn’t true previously and my ex before that was also much better with money than I was – I just let them crack on. They’re good at it, I’m not. Makes sense, right?

Course my serial laziness has led to me now, living on my own for the first time, getting in trouble with money. ‘Cause I’m bad at it and I always avoided it before. I mean, my fiancée is better with money than I am so that trend could continue, except I’ve insisted we keep our finances separate. I don’t want to be controlled again.

So. I need to keep track of money now ‘cause not keeping track landed me in trouble. I felt pretty bad about that to be fair. That other household calamities happened on its heels didn’t help – fridge broke. Dull adult stuff. Yeah I need to email lettings agents and go be responsible. It was fine! Honest. I got this.

This is all part of the process. I never grew up – refused to. I’m still pretty wary of the idea… it seems half baked, but with my body cooperating and developing in a way that makes sense to my brain it’s not so scary. My feelings make more sense and I am an anxious thing – something I had to realise about myself and just figure out (you never figure it out) – but the mortal terror of having to do adult stuff is dulled to a sense of dread.

Is this what teenagers do? Or maybe it’s what we do when we finally find ourselves managing our own stuff. I never did that until now, but most folks get over this crazy in their twenties. I think. I’m not actually sure if any of the people I know get over this, but they seem to pay for things and not worry so they figured out something.

I do believe some of this reaches back to when I was a child and I was asked to grow up perhaps a little too quickly than I was meant to, but circumstances demanded it. That sense that I wasn’t ready and didn’t want to mature was solidified by wrong puberty: I didn’t want this. Everyone said this was just part of growing up and that made it painful and something to avoid. My body didn’t let me avoid wrong puberty, so I would avoid the bits I could. I would not have a career, I would live such that I didn’t have to manage things, I would let people do that for me. I would perpetually stay in school.

And now I’ve learned a way of life that I don’t really want to give up. Growing up isn’t a life goal of mine, even if there are things I need to learn like how to make sure my bills are paid and how to keep enough in the bank to cover emergencies – which is the most recent issue, really. So I need to learn this adult stuff, even if being an adult isn’t a thing I want.

But I don’t want to be controlled again. That means taking charge of the things that I let other people control, so beyond practical concerns I need to grow a little. But up doesn’t sound good. I need to grow out. Fill out.

Filling out in life doesn’t seem that hard. I think I can do this thing. I did some maths and I figured out stuff about what money I had to have and so on. Only one week on the new budget and I did it! Course I was more proud about fishing my purse out of my bag without wrecking my newly painted nails than I was about discovering I was making this adult thing happen. Life goals.

Life isn’t so bad. I messed up and I fixed it. I’m such a big girl. Or something. But actually growing up is still a thing to avoid in my mind, even if components of it don’t seem so bad. Maybe as I move through life from here, it will feel safer to just do the dumb stuff I have to do. Maybe I’ll be able to accept other things as this stuff becomes easier. I mean, it’s not like I have much choice, living on my own. Nobody’s going to manage this for me.

Come to think of it, there’s a lot of adult stuff I never really had to do until now at nearly forty. Partly out of rejection, partly out of circumstance, partly out of laziness. But as I grow in the right direction and things feel more natural for me, the basics of adulting aren’t so scary and I’m growing. But not growing up – never up. Always out.

Hey Dad,

Hey Dad,

It’s been a weird week. I’ve kind of fucked up my money and Mia’s had to help me. I feel terrible about it. I had a stupid, hormone fuelled argument over semantics with a newish friend so we’re not talking now. I’ve hit a wall with my next short story. I’m just not connecting properly. I feel like everything I say is being misunderstood this week, that words are failing me, and I’m not used to that.

I did make a few new friends. Well, I hope they fall that way. This lady came into the pub asking for Belgian beer last week which made me immediately talkative – I’m such a geek. Anyway we had a lovely chat and we started talking a bit online so that was cool. Then her mum died – it was mentioned she was in a bad way – and I found myself chatting to her the day after. Just crazy what we go through. I was touched to be included really; I barely knew her. But I guess when this stuff happens we lean on whomever we can. I did what I could.

I thought of you a lot at the meal with her and her two friends; they reminded me of you. Passionate, caring, academic, politically minded. You’d have liked them. Maybe we’ll get together again; we’ll see. Nothing is certain, least of all with humans.

I still haven’t been able to read your book. I’m sorry. I loved the manuscript I read and I do want to read the finished thing… it’s just hard. My writing is mostly going OK. I’m still finding my feet with the more formal articles. I struggle sometimes with whether it’s more personal and meant for the blog or what. But my editor keeps saying it’s great and seems really enthusiastic so I guess it’s OK.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Lucinda Williams lately. Makes me think of New Hampshire. Sat around the cabin hanging out, helping with dinner. You always had some puzzle or something. Crosswords! I’m so bad at them – totally didn’t get your skill. The little things that we never remember specifically ‘cause nothing actually happened. Just life.

I signed up to do a psychology degree, after so many years of just not doing it. It’s just a BSc. You know what the British higher ed system is like: gotta start at the start. But I don’t mind. So that’s a third degree to work on. I need to just bite the bullet, get my PhD, and go work at a university. I probably will but I can’t think of a question I want to answer that badly. It’ll come.

They say you go through puberty again, and it’s true. I have all these doors around me and I don’t know what ones to open. My life feels like it stretches ahead forever and I have so much time. It’s not just tits and periods and skin issues. It’s life. My current strategy of just opening all of them isn’t going to work for much longer. I can feel myself running out of energy; I can’t sustain what I’m doing physically, emotionally or mentally. But I’m really having fun doing it all so I don’t know what to stop.

I know you worry about me when I get into financial trouble and it’s clear I can’t keep doing what I’m doing. I know it’s shit of me but I’m figuring it out. It’ll be OK and it’s not like before with girlfriends gone by. For the first time, life just makes sense and I feel like I’m worth it. Someone is supporting me for a change, and that’s really weird.

Anyway. I hope you’re proud of me despite everything. I’ll keep working hard and something will come of it. Things will settle, I think. We’ll just see how it falls.

I love you


Growing Together

What can I tell you about my fiancée. I can tell you I didn’t think she was interested in me – or any woman – and I was afraid my feelings for her would get in the way of our friendship. I can tell you how she has been my rock ever since she told me she fancied me too; that she gently anchors my life just by being attached to it. I can tell you that we had no plans to get engaged at all, though actually I found out later that she had planned on asking me after we moved in together.

There are so many things that I find myself owing to her being in my life, I don’t know how to begin. But the thing she did more than anything was she gave me room for hope. Up until I met her, I had no hope. I hadn’t the emotoional space for hope. I needed to focus on the grim certainty of the moment and keep moving forward. Faltering meant death.

It sounds melodramatic, but it’s true: I was battling suicide and the way I did that was by keeping my eyes forward. My mind on the next step, always with the understanding that letting the periphery into my mind wander to whatever problems there may be would be my undoing. Allowing myself to think too far ahead was inviting uncertainty and with that came the desire to simply stop.

She showed up and, against all expectation, said she fancied me too. As I’ve written before, I threw myself into the relationship with a certain reckless abandon. But I loved her and she said she loved me. You have to trust these things. The alternative is to be alone, and I can only be the woman I am. I didn’t want to be alone.

Today last year, I hadn’t spoken with her. I hadn’t confessed my feelings. I was very worried about her: she was in for surgery and not communicating with anyone ‘cause anaesthetic. Having your face taken apart and put back together again is serious business. I needed to know she was safe in that way you need to know your parent or close family is safe. I didn’t sleep.

I knew it would get weird. I knew that she wasn’t interested in women and I was going to get weird. I knew I had to clear the air with her. I hadn’t quite worked out that ‘clear the air’ is the same as ‘ask her out.’

Our journey has been blissful but not without our challenges. I’ve had to get used to this quiet, soft spoken lady that didn’t share until she was sure of what she was sharing. I’m a firestorm by comparison; she’s had to get used to my intensity. I’ve never had a partner treat me like a girl before and it’s sublime but also a learning curve. She’s not had a long term relationship before and I can tell that she feels off balance from time to time.

When I had my big scare a few days ago, I knew I had to stay alive so I could marry this wonderful person. I hoped for our future; hope kept me alive that day. It’s not the first time I felt hope for a future wth my fiancée, but it’s the first time I allowed that hope to carry me through a dark moment since my life fell apart just over a year ago.

That significant moment caused me to fall in love all over again – something I do all the time. Every time I see her, I fall into those eyes. I get wrapped in those arms and I  fall hopelessly in love. This was a different kind of adoration. This time, our bond kept me safe from real danger. When I went back upstairs in terrible pain, scared out of my mind and more lost than I’d felt in months, she was there and I knew I would be OK, even if I couldn’t bring myself to promise that to her at the time.

Relationships are hard work. The traditional vow, for better or worse, isn’t a cliché. It’s the grim truth. Falling in love for worse was different than the times I’d fallen in love for better – it was in many ways more powerful. Us coming out of that moment together as a unit reaffirmed how much I wanted to be with this woman for the rest of my life.

And now, a year on, we celebrate our first anniversary for probably the last time – we have our engagement anniversary in March! All I can do is look back in awe that she could see past the emotional train wreck of last year and see someone to love. She came to me in one of the darkest moments of my life and she brought light into that bleak space.

In many ways, she saved me. She gave me room for hope, and hope drives me more and more the more time we spend together dreaming about the future. Life is hard but good; the future is bright. I am hers in ways I don’t understand. I doubt I ever will, but I love discovering the new depths, ways and means of our relationship.

So happy anniversary to us. The journey has been eventful, scary, troubled, and difficult. The company, however, has been beyond compare.

The Can of Worms

Growing up, I had quite a lot on my mind. Nothing all that unusual, but it was hard for me. The divorce took me a long time to get to grips with as a kid, and then puberty was horribly traumatic for me. Once that was mostly settled, my dad had a massive heart attack and we had a scary year while he recovered. I emerged from drama after drama mostly OK. I think.

I had a brief peaceful time at age sixteen. I moved in with my mum while my dad and brothers went off to Spain to live for a school year. I was the only one of the children in the house, which was a first since I was around eleven. Stuff just made sense, though it wasn’t without the usual family bickering and bit of drama. I found myself with a job and a girlfriend. I reconnected with a bunch of friends before I left my mum’s place the first time around.

Looking back now, I think that was the point where I felt the most feminine. I assumed the role of the ‘sensitive boy’ because it seemed the easiest thing. I made a lot of female friends and life went on. I didn’t do brilliantly at school but I did well enough. It was fine. My oldest friend got me through PE – a trauma from my preteen years onward.

My first girlfriend was a tall, beautiful, dark haired girl of staggering intelligence. We met through a friend briefly and I found out she thought I was hot later watching over that same friend’s shoulder on a BBS. I remember calling her up and asking her for a coffee shortly after. Our relationship was pretty typical: we’d meet in town, hold hands, hug, eventually kiss. Talk about all kinds of stuff for ages. We would drive around and blare music – Rob Zombie, Nine Inch Nails, etc. Your basic teenage relationship, really.

After we were together a year, sex came up. It never really did before that. I personally wasn’t that bothered, except when we hit the year mark something happened to me where I suddenly cared that we were together a year and I was nearly eighteen. I remember having these long, mostly one sided conversations in the car about what to do and do you want to etc. It was kind of pathetic, as I recall. I was happy with the relationship. I didn’t really care about sex, so why did I care then?

I don’t really know. I just felt like it was the next thing to do and I felt like I should. I’ve written before that sex was the one thing I did to try and stay male; it was expected of me. Though, thinking about it, it wasn’t. It was my perception of where I should be, and it was messed up. Just my view of where my life should be. What I should be.

The first time wasn’t pleasant. I freaked out and got all intense, she was (quite rightly) upset with me for how I was behaving. It wasn’t a good scene. Eventually she went home and I sat there feeling like an asshole, but we talked about it later and it was fine. We were cool. We carried on.

My mum told me a month or so later that having sex would open a whole package of emotions. I remember smirking inside ’cause I all ready did that, but she was right. Not quite in the way she realised and actually, not how I realised either. My life started to spiral out of my hands around the same time I started having sex regularly and hindsight tells me I was using it to try and ‘be normal.’ I felt it was expected of me.

None of this is to say I didn’t have fun, because I did. Nor is it to say that I didn’t want to do it, because I did. But the reason to start was artificial; my own silly ideas about what relationships should be combined with my sense of what men were supposed to be like. It messed with my head. In the end, I let that strange matrix of self doubt, self expectation, and the usual hormone storm wreck that relationship, but that’s not really the point of this post.

Sex would go on to be the thing I did for the sake of it. I felt I was supposed to care about it. Supposed to pressure and initiate. I did have fun, but it would quickly get weird and forced. Mechanical. And that anxiety I had in that first time never went away – I managed it, but I never got past that need to prove myself.

Now, I still have sex anxiety but it’s different. I still have something to prove, both to myself and my partner. But where before I felt the need to impose, now I feel the need to explore. I’m afraid much of the time. Vulnerable. I trust my fiancée to keep me safe and I want her to feel she can try things with me, but that doesn’t stop me feeling that pressure.

I think this is a more normal feeling. Essentially, I’m learning sex all over again. It’s all new and frightening and exciting. It’s a whole package of emotions I never knew I had – almost as though I never really learned in the first place. Probably because I never did. My experience at seventeen opened a can of worms but it didn’t teach me anything about how people figure out sex. It taught me how to play the role I felt was expected of me.

I joked that I would be a forty-year-old virgin after surgery. Truth is, I’m a virgin now. I’ve got the interest and the fear. I’m unprepared. I have no clear idea how to be – and I’ve said this all before, but it’s clearer now than it ever was.

Breaking Free

Coming Out Day fell, coincidentally, at a time when I found myself considering my own coming out in ways I hadn’t previously. The spark was not the holiday but rather a communication from the court about my divorce – should be over in a few months – that was followed by a nasty lapse into the place I was shortly before coming out. I won’t get into that incident here. Suffice to say I scared a lot of people, including myself.

Before I came out, I was clinging to life by my fingernails. I didn’t know that at the time. It took escaping and more than a year of processing to realise how close to the edge I was, even with the understanding that I was actively planning my own death shortly before. I just didn’t really grasp the sheer depth I sank to and how far I had to go to pull myself out of it.

I had been planning on breaking out of the relationship for a some months. I kept saying to myself one more year. One more year and I’ll finish my teacher training and get a good enough job to go. One more year and I’ll finish my master’s degree. A big part of my prison was the impression that I would never have the money to live outside. That it was too expensive to think about and I needed to either get a job that paid a lot more or get lucky with council housing. It ended up being false, but I believed it at the time.

I’ve said before that I knew my ex and her family would not accept a transgender person. I also knew that I identified with transgender people I saw on TV or heard about, but it wasn’t until not too long before my coming out that I discovered that I was transgender and that I wanted to transition. As I’ve said before, I knew that when I came out the relationship would be over.

What I haven’t said, because I didn’t realise it myself until just the other day, is that I came out to my ex specifically to end the relationship. In the moment, I didn’t quite know that. But I didn’t have to come out to her that next morning after coming out to my family. I could have kept it to myself. I could have waited until I was better off – I had said one more year all ready, surely I could keep to it. But I didn’t.

My reason for saying something as I did that morning is complicated, but at its core was a desire to create a situation that was uncomfortable enough for my ex and her family to send me away. I was dependent on them; their comfortable prison. I had only very few friends, I knew nothing about surviving on my own. I hadn’t ever lived by myself before. As miserable as I was, as close to death as I was, I needed them to push me.

People often come out as a matter of survival and my story is no exception. I knew if I stayed in that place I would kill myself. I knew that if I had to continue to tend my ex’s mental illness, I would break and run dry. I knew that I didn’t have what I needed to escape on my own.

The one part of me that was not entwined in their web was my gender. It was the one part of me that didn’t bend under their pressure to conform. I never fit in with ‘the guys.’ When ‘the men’ went of to do things, I didn’t go with them. I didn’t like being with them so I either hung out with the women or I would keep to myself. I often did this under protest from my ex. Sometimes I would go along with ‘the men’ but I generally broke away from their group, came home early, or found my own thing to do. My gender was mine. I didn’t quite know I was female in that time, but I knew I wasn’t one of the men.

So I came out. I came out to my family because I wanted them to help me. I came out to my ex and her family because I wanted them to get rid of me. When their initial reaction was as expected, I almost eagerly told my ex then I’d go. I remember her surprise at my reaction. She expected me to try to talk about it. She expected me to try and stay, to compromise. I didn’t.

I also don’t hold any real anger about being thrown out – something my mum expressed surprise about to me. At the time, I couldn’t explain it either. I just didn’t. It all felt very natural and sensible – and what I know now is it felt that way because that was what I wanted.

Another thing I’ve told people is that I can see a scenario where I never transitioned and I can. Once I let that out, that scenario faded into a what if. At the time, I told people that I wanted to go as far as I needed to. I wasn’t easing people into an idea; I meant it. I didn’t know that I needed to go all the way to the other side at the time. I just knew I was transgender and I needed to do some things to feel better in myself. I wanted to try things and see. Get rid of the face hair and move from there.

Using my gender as a wedge, a weapon, had its cost in that it unlocked a whole range of feelings far more quickly than I originally meant. As much as anyone can mean these things. Being thrown out catapulted me forward. It put me in a position where I had absolutely nothing to lose. My gender feelings sustained me through my grief and insecurity. They gave me something to hold on to, a thing I never would have held on to had I not come out as I did. Had I compromised, I wouldn’t have had that lifeline. I wouldn’t have had that insecurity, either.

That lifeline, borne of that set of circumstances, made for an exceptionally quick early transition despite the tangle of feelings that I’m still learning about. My process of discovery is months behind my process of self actualisation; I have regular realisations well after the fact. This scare shook a few things loose and I’m glad I’m still here to find what fell.

I didn’t just come out to live authentically. It was about survival, but the prison was my old life in that big comfortable house surrounded by people who valued me as a shield from the outside world. Coming out, for me, meant freedom to express not just my gender but my thoughts and feelings without worry that I somehow created a problem for a loved one – and I did love her. I loved the whole family even as they shrank my world to fit into that house.

In the end, my gender saved me.

Filling the Gender Space

Everyone’s transition is different, but there’s always a bundle of feeling that comes with the genders. As the wrinkles are smoothed, the bundle just gets smaller. That’s the point: a transition’s purpose is to eliminate dissonance. To feel nothing as opposed to something. Or at least, to move into a state where one’s feelings about the genders are unimportant – to simply be. But when that happens, what happens to that space?

I’m not even sure there is an answer, but for myself I’ve gone through an existential space where I kept asking, ‘What am I?’ Not so much how am I seen, though those questions creep in too in the form of, ‘Do people think I’m trying too hard?’ It makes your brain run in circles.

So. What am I? I have no answer. I am. Woman? Yes. But what does that feel like, really? Impossible to say. And if that’s all true, how do I know I needed to transition in the first place? I’m happier. I feel less.

The concept of feeling less is the tricky part. There is such a thing as gender euphoria and that is definitely an experience I’ve had, but on the whole I’ve gone from something to nothing. Which is great because the something that was there was horrible. Just a nasty dysphoric depressive anxious mess of unbelonging.

The odd thing is we miss things, even the bad stuff. In a weird way, I miss feeling nasty, dysphoric, depressive and anxious. I miss not fitting in. Good job, brain. Way to play games with me – why on earth would I miss feeling rubbish? What was it about having that emotional knot?

At this point, the blank space is new. I don’t know what to do with it, but I can’t leave it empty. Continually questioning my being isn’t really doing it for me. It’s unhelpful, not to mention exhausting.

I had a friend point out that she felt a little like this when she wasn’t feeling depressive. Maybe this is just what happens when someone unravels a knot in their mind. Where we get used to being a certain way, there’s an adjustment to not being that way anymore that is tricky for anyone, genders or not.

My brother, a physiotherapist, says often knots in muscles don’t hurt until we loosen them. At that point, blood starts reaching the sore part and at that point we feel the pain. That’s what’s happened here: the emotional muscles of my mind have loosened, and I feel that there was something there that needed attention for a very long time. My mind wanders over it, wondering what to do.

A considerable amount of personal resources went into managing my case of the genders before I broke, came out, and started expressing myself. Still more went into finding and maintaining my new presentation. Now I’m here, fifteen months on. My look is changing but I mostly know what I’m after. The public automatically applies the right gender to me – the dissonance is gone. Even the people who know I’m trans – pretty much anyone who stops to talk to me for more than ten minutes – treat me as anyone else would on the street. Victory is sweet.

Now that I’m on the other side, medical procedures notwithstanding, we’re back to the empty space. So much free energy! So I work. I write part time, I do my support work part time, I’m a barmaid full time. Still more energy so I’ll go ahead and sign up or that psychology degree I keep looking at. That’s three full time job commitments, but they don’t feel like work so bring it on.

What I’m discovering is that being busy is not what my emotional makeup requires. I’m learning, discovering, growing. I’m having to devote more resources into maintaining myself: creating space where I’m not working, keeping myself fed, rested and exercised. It’s filling the gap in that way. But it’s a survival level – I’m pushing myself to a place where I can’t feel, even if it’s a far more positive outlet than suppressing my gender.

So what can we take from this? This started as a fairly declamatory little piece on emotional spaces and it’s turned into a bit of a ramble about coping mechanisms, filling life and growth. It started trying to be about anyone in any moment and ended up being about specific people at a specific time. I was originally going to submit this to Transgender Universe but it became too personal.

I have no magic, no answers. I have an emptiness that I notice, but it’s better than what was there before. I’m wearing myself out but in a positive way that I’m enthusiastic about. I’ll find my breaking point and back off. In a weird way I look forward to that.

Yet again, I find myself becoming something I could never have anticipated.

On Heroines And Dreams

Last night, I met cartoonist Sophie Labelle. I didn’t have a proper conversation with her, much as I would have liked to. I listened to a Q&A discussion and asked her to sign a poster. Got a selfie. I floated home full of thoughts and dreams. I was taken by the humility of this lady who made remarkable comics. I want to touch lives as she does.

I’ve always wanted to reach people. To communicate. I’ve pursued interests that inherently do that thing: theatre, teaching, writing, psychology. The sweetest experience is speaking out into the world and being understood. Being heard. To connect. It’s the link we find with another person that is sacred. The topic is secondary.

Listening to Sophie talk about her journey, I heard a kindred spirit insofar as she had no plan. No real aspiration for her life to take this direction, yet here she was. I have no plan either and I can’t call myself as successful by any stretch, but sometimes we just land where we fall. We make the most of what happens, and that’s how I resonated with Sophie.

I came away thoughtful and reflective – because I come away from everything thoughtful and reflective – and thinking to myself how much I wanted to reach people on that scale. It wasn’t all roses, that much was made clear. I knew about her doxxing and the harassment from her posts on Facebook. I’ve stumbled into horrible subredits looking for specific comics with google. It’s terrible what people say, what they do. Put your soul out into the wild and people will tear it apart.

As my identity emerges more and more online, I admit I feel that fear. First my first name on Facebook and attached to my email address. That seemed harmless enough: the surnames were aliases. Later, my middle name being used in some places. Most recently, my full name on transgender universe along with an email address to reach me on that site. I can feel myself becoming more vulnerable, though I haven’t met the kind of success or gained the attention necessary to make that vulnerability matter. Yet.

I felt that vulnerability this evening as people criticised the title of my review of the event. It was a witticism made by Sophie, a quip about her career. It was a joke she repeated often at talks, according to her running commentary, and I loved the play on words. The idea of cross dressing as a a profession is hilarious. People didn’t see it that way.

In the end, I held firm because I loved it so much and I felt that it conveyed the lightheartedness of the evening. The easy going way the talk went that inspired me so much. The casual play on words, the off hand use of potentially dangerous language. I liked that it was dangerous. I liked that it provoked people. Invited discussion, caused people to pause.

What I didn’t realise is that exact thing would make me a target. Not a very big one: the comments are largely restricted to the comments page on Transgender Universe’s Facebook.  Pretty tame, compared to what Sophie’s faced, but it cut me up a bit. I wanted to reach people and I alienated them. Sort of my worst nightmare, really. Much of my personal anxiety surrounds rejection.

I say to myself that I won’t please everyone. That I will say things that upset people. That nothing I say is truly harmless. Anything I put out there will be judged and I’m not always going to be understood.  But I still hate that those things happen.

So. Inspired, I took a risk. Not a very big risk, and it had the effect I half expected, in hindsight. I didn’t set out to inflame or upset anyone, but I picked a line that might have been made clearer. I had a go being like Sophie; try out her wit… and proved I was no Sophie Labelle. Yet.

Like her, I think I’ll take this opposition and use it to spur me forward. I’m still very new to this publication game – that was my first attempt at journalism. I’ll figure it out and find a place for myself eventually. Until then, I’m going to continue to let myself be inspired by my heroines to chase my dreams.