Once in a while, I look in the mirror and I don’t see myself. I see something that looks like I do, but it isn’t me. It’s a random occurrence. I have no warning or triggering event. I’ll just use the mirror to shave what little facial hair is left or do my make up and I won’t see a person looking back. I see a collection of planes, shapes and surfaces that should be me, but isn’t.
This isn’t me seeing a boy in the mirror. That’s something I’ve had described to me by others. I don’t see a boy. It’s also not a point of me seeing something I’m not used to. I do get that feeling, that’s different. Euphoric. It’s just a thing that isn’t me. Not a human being; it’s like a spiritual dissociation. And when it happens I just fall apart into a dysphoric mess.
I won a genetic lottery. My face was quite feminine even before hormones. Now, the brow is heavy and the eyes are hooded but the features many want surgery to correct aren’t there. There are things I could do. I could raise my brow and make my nose smaller, but I don’t have to. I want to do my nose but I probably won’t; it’s one of those things I list as a hypothetical change. If someone asks me what I would do if I could do anything without consequences or expense, my nose is what I mention. I know I look good.
I also have the hair and make up skills to make myself look better. But it doesn’t matter. Just once in a while, I’m dressing up that thing. I do it because even if I don’t see me, I understand that’s the face I wear. That’s the most horrible thing about it: I have to take my time and do the thing’s face. Make the thing look OK. Smile, it helps. Or they tell me it helps. It doesn’t help.
Where do I go? Why am I not there? Truth is, I don’t know. I just suffer and occasionally look in a mirror throughout the day in the hopes that the thing is gone. Take selfies. I do let people know that it’s happening because all the emotional turmoil that comes with it is difficult to bear alone.
I sometimes wonder why I bothered to do all this if I still look in the mirror and see the thing. Part of my relief in transitioning was that I don’t see it as often. Occasionally as opposed to all the time. The feeling of disgust is gone, even when I do see it. I do hate myself when it’s there, but the thought that it’s somehow my own flaw is gone.
I first remember seeing the thing in the mirror when I was very young. Either almost four or just turned four, at my mum’s house in New Hampshire. There was a hall mirror; one of the few I could see myself in on account of my height. I remember hating what I saw, just the visceral wrongness of it. I would stare into that mirror and sing a song into it. A nonsense song, one I would be later teased about by my family. They meant well, but it was a coping mechanism. I couldn’t deal with what I saw so I tried to disarm it with a silly little song. It upsets me to think about the song now.
I avoided images of myself. Pictures, mirrors, reflections of any kind. I would get uncomfortable with mirrored walls and avoid places that had them or make sure I was situated so I didn’t see them. I didn’t shave because it meant seeing my face. I didn’t want my hair cut ’cause it meant facing a mirror. And I just hated having short hair; it made the thing more obvious.
When I came to England, I did start shaving. I still hated it but I decided it was preferable to having a lot of hair on my face. My ex was glad of it. I was still unhappy about photos and even was relieved when my ex said she didn’t want wedding photos. We did have them anyway and I put up with it.
Banishing the thing was a huge burst of euphoria for me. I felt free and I enjoyed playing with make up. Making myself look good – my self – was new. It still is. And yet it still lurks around and emerges every few weeks. I don’t know if I’ll ever be totally free of it.
It wasn’t a reason for me to transition, but it was affirming when I could look in the mirror and see me. I’d never seen me. Always this thing that wasn’t a person. And while it does make me question my transition when I see it again, I realise that banishing it to the corner it’s gone is such a vast improvement that I know this is right.
It might always be there, but I’ve managed find a cage for it. I can only hope the cage gets stronger; maybe some day it will go somewhere else and torment me no longer.