A few days ago, I came across a reddit post where the redditor asked “How can it be worth it?” As I read their post about their upbringing and situation, I found myself nodding and feeling a strong similarity to many of the things they described. I wrote a reply and ended up writing a short story of sorts which might help explain some of my experience, so I decided to share it here.
To give you the background of what I was responding to, here’s the original post:
My parents said that if I had been born a boy, they would have named me Matthew. I always liked that name. When I was little, I never liked playing with the other girls. I wasn’t scared of spiders and I preferred playing kickball with the boys over dolls. When I got a little older, I tried my best to be feminine, but I couldn’t be. Even when I dressed in sparkly shirts and short shorts, I felt like I was lying to everyone around me. Femininity seemed like a forbidden fruit- I longed for it but when I approached it, I regretted everything. I was uncomfortable in dresses. Rumors spread that I was a lesbian, so I was very vocal about my attraction to men. Eventually, as I entered high school, I developed my own style, a more androgynous take. It was freeing, but I began to wish what I had been to scared to wish for before. I wished, more than anything, that I was a guy. That I my breasts were gone and I had male anatomy. That my name was Matthew.
But everyday, stories show up in the news about trans people banned from bathrooms, put in prison, murdered. Everyday another of my friends makes a casually transphobic remark. And everyday, I realize again why I haven’t transitioned, why I’ll never transition. I want to be a politician when I grow up. I want to be an actor, or a writer, or a comedian. And it’s going to be so much harder to reach those goals if I’m trans. I’m 5’2 with feminine features. I wouldn’t pass, or be an attractive man. I like men, so if I transitioned, I’d be gay. I want to fall in love one day and get married, and that’s going to be harder if I’m trans. I’m an attractive girl, and I don’t want to give that up for being an ugly guy. Everything is so much harder when you transition, and I don’t understand how it can be worth it. I’m a junior in high school now, and in two years I’ll graduate a girl. I’ll publish books as a girl, I’ll run for office a girl, I’ll get married a girl. I’ll keep my hair long and pretend I like wearing dresses and makeup and high heels, and no one will ever know that I’m any different from anyone else.
Thanks for reading
Wow! I could have written this when I was 16 or 17 (with genders reversed). The fleeting moments that I allowed myself to entertain the notion that I was a girl (before my subconscious hunted the thought down and violently threw it back in its cage), I had all the same reasons not to transition. I’d gone most of the way through (male) puberty and couldn’t even begin to hope to transition successfully into an attractive woman. And so I allowed my subconscious to police my thoughts and repressed the hell out of my gender.
And it worked. I finished high school. Met my future wife. Went to college and graduated with a degree. Landed a job before I finished college and have worked in my field ever since. Got married. Had kids. Focused on building the perfect life, as a perfect husband and father. And I was perfectly miserable!
I made it to my 40s and everything went to hell. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so anxious about my feelings of wrongness about my gender. I was always cranky and tired. All the joy of working in a job which inspired me had left. I had a hair trigger temper. And I wasn’t able to keep the woman inside of me in the cage… not all of the time. She came out at night, when I had (not-so) secret “cross dressing” sessions, and later, when I began to freak out about my gender. She came out on my birthday every year; when I blew out the candles, my one and only wish each year was to be a woman. She came out on the holidays: at Halloween, she begged to be let out for just one evening – “let me be the woman I’m not allowed to be, just for one night! Please!!!”; on Christmas, opening the presents and all I ever got were ties and dress shirts – they might as well have been a chain around my neck and a boat anchor – while at the same time, I watched the women in my family get pretty clothes, perfumes, lotions and soaps, jewelry… while all I could do was sit silently, hoping that one of these years, some of those gifts would be for me. She came out on Mothers Day, when she would beg to be acknowledged, and on Fathers Day, when she would rage at the unfairness of the existence we led. She came out on Valentine’s Day when, as the dutiful husband and father, I collected various gifts for the women in my life, making sure to include some special thought and attention to ensure that each one would know how much I love and appreciate them; she begged for just a fraction of that attention – to get flowers, just this once, please!
But I was a man, and I worked hard at being a man. And it worked… until it didn’t.
She’d had enough. She wasn’t going to live like that anymore. It turns out she was never in a cage. Whatever constraints my subconscious had placed upon her, she brushed aside like they were made of tissue paper. She’d been strong enough to escape her prison all along; she just loved me enough to stay there all those years, trying to make things easier on me. But she began to lose hope, and she was losing her will to live. She began to die. But I soon found out that I couldn’t let that happen, because it turns out, we share the same heart. As her flame began to flicker and become dim, so did mine. As she began to die, I began to, too.
So one night, she and I finally talked. I finally acknowledged that she exists, and she kicked my ass for ignoring her all these years. We got angry at each other. We fought. But every blow that I landed on her, I felt – as though I were hitting myself. I realized that I didn’t want to die, and I didn’t want her to die. And since we share a heart, I had to not just let her live, but love her!
In the following months, I let her out more and more, and things got better. The more I let her out, the more the stayed with me all the time, until we became one again, as we should have been all along. We finally forgave each other, and are working to put everything right.
You see, it turns out that all my worries about transition and “being a beautiful woman” were unfounded. Being who I’m meant to be is beautiful, regardless of the external appearance. I’ve found a joy and peace I’d always lacked before, and those are more attractive than having the face and body of a supermodel. But more importantly, I’ve found a reason to live, and I’ve regained hope.
In my teens and twenties, I was concerned about the wrong things. I placed a lot of value in appearances. I wanted to be good looking. And according to many of the people in my life, I was a good looking man. But I wasn’t whole. I’m finally allowing myself the freedom to become whole, which I’m only able to do by releasing the femininity that I’d held in for so long.
As hard as a transgender existence is, it is billions of times better than keeping such an important part of me hidden away to keep up the pretense of being cisgender.
So is it worth it? Hell, yes!
To be clear, I’ve never experienced anything like “him” and “her” as separate entities – this is simply a useful metaphor and imagery for what I experienced. When I was first wrestling with my gender, *femininity* felt like a distinct thing – I had days where I felt more feminine than other days. As I explored and figured out what was going on, I came to realized that what I’d been perceiving as “feeling feminine” was actually feeling *dysphoria*, and “feeling masculine” was simply the lack of dysphoria. And about a year ago, I finally realized that I wasn’t experiencing my gender shifting between various places on the spectrum, but that my gender is stable, and it is female; my dysphoria shifts in focus and intensity as I make my way through life.
But the image of an imprisoned woman resonates strongly in me. For a long time, I kept a fundamental part of me completely hidden – the part of me which knew I am a woman and wanted to express that. The occasional times that I was able to express my femininity felt like I was on furlough – able to be free, but just for a limited time, and with some pretty strict rules… so really not all that free after all.
And since accepting myself as transgender, it feels like I’ve received a pardon of sorts. No, not a pardon, but an exoneration; I was never guilty in the first place! But it’s hard to shake the sense that there isn’t any fault with being transgender. Sometimes it still feels like I’m doing something that’s against the rules. Julia Kaye, who writes the UpAndOutComic, had a strip which describes the feeling well (especially the lower cells):
Wearing a dress in public is still an amazing feeling for me. For so long this was taboo. For so long, I felt I didn’t deserve it. For so long, I couldn’t understand why I felt compelled to wear distinctly feminine things when it was so unacceptable for me to do so. And now that I can, I do, and it is so validating!
Being transgender and living authentically is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. It has given me some of the lowest lows that I’ve ever experienced. But it has also given me some pretty high highs – I know myself more intimately than I ever knew a person could, I’ve found answers to questions which plagued me all my life, I’ve found validation I didn’t even know I needed. And I found hope for myself – hope that my future won’t be a continuation of the drudgery and misery I had grown accustomed to for all those years; hope that I can be happy – truly happy!
Getting back to the question (is it worth it?), my conclusion is yes! Yes, of course it is worth it! How can it be futile to find hope, to find love, to find life?! How can that be a wasted effort?
And how can it be worth it? Because before I accepted myself for who I really am, I had a price on me. I could calculate the value of my life in dollars and cents. I knew exactly what I would be leaving behind if I were to leave this life, and what I left could be easily measured. But since then, I’ve come to find that my life has a value that can’t be measured. I have rediscovered the promise of the future – that I can do anything, that I can be anything. But even more, I’ve found that I can have an impact on the people around me that I never had before; I can laugh with them, I can cry with them, I can feel with them, and that gives me the ability to be a force to heal them. And by doing so, I’m also healing myself. And that’s not something that can have a finite “worth”. That’s priceless!
Until next time,