Early in my transition I was asked by several people why I can’t just accept the way I am. I find it a really hard question to answer in a way that is satisfactory, and that they can understand. The problem is that they’re looking for an answer that can’t be given. The fact of the matter is that transgender people who come out as transgender are finally accepting who they are. Possibly for the first time in their lives they’re doing exactly what the people asking that question are asking them to do.
Unfortunately, that isn’t what people want to hear. What they are really trying to ask is “why do you have to change?” or perhaps “why can’t you accept the way others see you?” Which are honestly just as confusing questions. The transgender people who come out as transgender aren’t changing. At least, not in their eyes. Sure, changes happen throughout the process of transitioning, but it’s not a change.
There is a dichotomy between the perceptions of transgender people, and those around them. It’s especially true for transgender people who were deeply closeted before coming out. Living with someone is vastly different than that same person living with their self. It’s impossible to know what’s going on in someone’s head, and when it comes to something like being transgender, it could be years, or even decades, that thoughts have been circling but never spoke out loud.
The outward signs of being transgender aren’t obvious. They’re the sort of signs that might not even be apparent until after coming out. This is how it was for me. I was deeply closeted, but to those who know what to look for, and that want to look, the signs have always been there. The problem is that not everyone knows what to look for, even if they wanted to.
The most refreshing feeling when I came out as transgender was when my closest friends started talking about all the little things from my past that they saw as signs that validate my identity. I can’t thank them enough for that response, because they’re the only people to give it. I can’t fault the others who didn’t react that way and that can’t look back and see the signs though. It’s not their failing, it’s mine. I was too closeted and too uncomfortable being myself to anyone but s select few people.
The people who ask why you can’t just accept the way you are, are often people that just don’t get it, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It’s something that is almost impossible to get unless you’ve lived through your own similar experiences. People who are in the LGBT community understand, and can easily empathize. The mental struggles with dealing with your gender and your sexuality are extremely similar. I would also argue that those who struggle with anxiety and depression have very similar journeys. People who are straight are going to have a hard time understanding the mind of LGBT people just like people who are neurotypical are going to have a hard time understanding people who have depression and anxiety.
Just like depression and anxiety, thoughts of being transgender can’t just go away by accepting who you are. Once you realize that you have depression and anxiety, the only things that can truly help are medication and therapy, which are coincidentally the same things that help being transgender. My struggles with depression and anxiety are the subject of a future post, but before getting them treated I had the same kinds of struggles that I did with being transgender.
I’ve always had thoughts about wanting to be a girl, and wondering what it would be like. I just assumed everyone had those same thoughts, and struggled with the same things. I’d look in the mirror, and wish that I had breasts. I’d wonder what it would look and feel like to have long hair. I’d envy women’s fashion. I’d lament that it’s not socially acceptable for men to carry around purses. It was a constant mental struggle. I assumed that this was all normal, but apparently it isn’t.
I don’t know what being cisgender and neurotypical is like. I can’t know, because I’m not cisgender nor am I neurotypical. I do know that those thoughts aren’t the thoughts of someone who is cisgender, or at least those thoughts aren’t more than a passing thought.
Accepting the way I am meant accepting those thoughts as valid. Accepting the way I am meant understanding that maybe my brain wasn’t wired the same as everyone else’s. Whether it’s purely a mental miswiring or a physical miswiring is a problem for people smarter than I to solve. To me, the specifics of why I am the way I am don’t matter. What did matter is what to do after I finally accepted myself, or at least started accepting myself, for the way I am.
That is when I came out to my wife, and my wife convinced me to seek out a gender therapist. She’d been unsuccessfully trying to convince me to see a therapist since we first met, but after coming out she finally convinced me. I started seeing a therapist, because I was struggling with my gender. I specifically went out of my way to find a therapist that specializes in LGBT issues in order to face my gender struggles head on for the first time in my life. I knew it wasn’t something that I could do alone, and at the time I wasn’t convinced that I had the support network around me to do it without professional help.
That is what it means to be accepting of who you are. Coming out as transgender means you aren’t settling for society telling you who you are. Coming out as transgender means you aren’t settling for a life of depression, anxiety, and struggles that can’t be solved. You don’t get a broken arm and think “gee, I wonder if this will heal on its own.” It won’t. If you get a broken arm, you seek professional, medical help. Coming out as transgender means doing exactly the same thing. It’s about getting the exact help that you need, whether that means transitioning medically or not.
Last January, for the first time in my life, I accepted who I was, and I took the steps necessary to truly be that person once and for all. I decided that I wasn’t going to allow anyone to tell me who, or what, I was. With the help of a therapist I decided that yes, I was in fact transgender. I decided that the positives of coming out as transgender, starting hormone therapy, and being myself for the first time in my life, outweigh the negatives.
I may have been born male, and presented that way for 32 years. That may be how people closest to me still see me. I can’t help those perceptions, and I can’t erase those memories of maleness even if I wanted to. I can only hope that in the future those who care about me start seeing me for who and what I really am. That they are accepting of who I am, and the way that I am, even if that requires them changing their own perceptions.